Technology has had a dramatic impact on the kitchen and bath industry for the past several decades in terms of product function. People often visit showrooms to view the latest and greatest that manufacturers have to offer with regard to technological advancements in appliances, plumbing fixtures and functional components.
But what about the showrooms themselves – and the companies that operate them? For years, designers relied on their drawing skills to create kitchen designs, and salespeople turned to catalogs and literature to find product information to relay to customers. The advent of computer-aided design and online catalogs and ordering systems streamlined operations, and left dealers and designers wondering about what technological tools were on the horizon.
Well, many of those tools have arrived, and kitchen and bath dealers have been quick to not only embrace them, but implement them, in their showrooms. Software to handle contracts, order placement and accounting are current mainstays, with back-up systems and remote access gaining in importance.
But technology in the showroom has gone a step further. CAD drawings are now available in 3D, and in some instances have moved from the small to the big screen. Online assistance on the Web now ranges from simple directions to full electronic access. And, high-tech appliances wow customers in fully operational displays.
The benefit of these advances in technology is two-fold for kitchen and bath showrooms that implement them: easier and more efficient business operations, and access to a whole new customer base.
‘Virtual Vignette’ Presentation Screen Brings Client Designs to Life
At JP Kitchen Design Studio in Oconomowoc, WI, “We understand that the world of technology is converging upon traditional kitchen design, and we try to show practical ways of embracing that technology and using it to better the lives of our clients, not control and frustrate them,” comments Sean Jacobs, co-owner and surfaces specialist.
Jacobs notes that the cornerstone of the firm’s success is its “Virtual Vignette,” a 10' projection screen that brings client designs to life, in life-size detail, before they become reality. The “Virtual Vignette” is powered by a Media Center multi-media computer that contains dozens of digital pictures of past projects, showing both before and after photos, Jacobs adds. “The before and after shots act as our digital resumé, and usually seal the deal,” he remarks.
A library of industry photos that shows different styles and trends is also part of the offering. “The number of selections to make for a kitchen remodel can be overwhelming, but this makes the selection process faster, more precise and more fun,” notes Laurie Peirick, the company’s co-owner.
“We’re able to make changes on the fly and in front of the client relatively quickly,” she explains. Customers have commented that this service was instrumental in their choice of companies. “Customers can interact with us…and we can share ideas and feed off of each other.”
And clients can even roll up their sleeves and get involved in the design process. “The clever part of the Virtual Vignette is that we project onto a dry-erase marker board, which gives our clients the ability to draw their ideas and share their vision over the top of our projected ideas,” explains Jacobs. “It’s very interactive, and it gives our clients a sense of control that they have input in this process.”
JP Kitchen Design Studio continues to implement new technological offerings, and now has the ability to e-mail clients a digital slide show of their finished project. “We include before and after shots, and even include a musical background with their photos,” comments Jacobs. “We use a Web site called Smilebox, and we encourage our clients to forward the slide show to their friends, family and co-workers. [It’s great for clients,] and it also acts as a great promotional vehicle for us.”
High-Definition Televisions Provide Detailed Visualization of Design Projects
Technology not only plays a role at Virtual Kitchen Concepts, Inc.’s showroom, it is the focal point of its operations. A 37" HDTV welcomes customers to the Pennsylvania-based kitchen and bath showroom, with a scrolling program that displays hours of operation, photos and information about the cabinet lines offered, and the services the company provides.
Photographs of completed kitchens, baths and laundry rooms are also displayed, “giving consumers a nice visual display of our capabilities before they explore the newly renovated showroom,” comments Barry Murphy, v.p. marketing/sales.
But the showroom’s use of high-definition television technology doesn’t stop there. A 42" HDTV has been incorporated into the designers’ offices and linked to the company’s computer system. “This allows us to display our client’s individual project onto the TV during our presentation,” comments Murphy. Through the use of design software from 20/20 Technologies, Inc., a full-color 3D viewing of the project can be created and then displayed on the screen. “As a result, clients can clearly visualize the finished product,” he adds.
This is key to the overall sales process, he reports, because “we have found that most people have a tough time understanding exactly what they are looking at when we show them a plan or elevation view of their project.” He notes that Virtual Kitchen Concepts has had a great response from every client who has used these services, “because they can clearly appreciate what their finished project can look like.”
The staff at Virtual Kitchen Concepts includes designers who are trained in 20/20 and can quickly make changes to colors, flooring styles and other design details. “It has proven to be a very successful approach to design presentations, and helps eliminate many misunderstandings that can otherwise arise,” Murphy states.
He adds that the showroom will eventually have a 20/20 virtual showroom program available that will offer generic kitchen layouts and allow the user to add and change colors, materials, etc. “It is a simplified program that any novice user can operate, and will be another great tool that clients can use themselves in the early stages of developing their project,” he comments.
Virtual Kitchen Concepts is also currently adding digital picture frames to its showroom. “This will allow us to share a multitude of high-quality images of other products available that we may not have on display,” he explains.
“Our showroom is all about educating the consumer, and we are finding that today’s technology can be the ultimate teaching tool in assisting us in our efforts to fulfill our clients’ needs,” he offers.
Client Imagination Boosted by Incorporation of CAD Design Details
Two high-definition, 42" flat screen TV/monitors get a workout at Kitchen Mart, Inc., a Sacramento, CA-based kitchen and bath design firm with two area locations. The monitors integrate with the laptop presentation that the designer/salesperson is working with, notes Dave Hollars, president and owner of the firm.
Because the company deals primarily with retail clients, Hollars understands just how important a visual is to making the sale. “Homeowners need to see that presentation up on a big screen,” he remarks. “They need that wow.”
So, instead of looking at the design on a set of plans or sharing a little monitor on a laptop, “clients can see it in all of its glory,” he adds.
For Kitchen Mart, this presentation process is a key part of its business operations. “We advertise it. You get to see your new kitchen or bath come to life on a big screen,” he notes. “We build a lot of excitement around the presentation, and when that picture starts to develop on the screen, you see clients’ eyes light up.
“We use 20/20 software, and we put in all of the bells and whistles when creating a design,” he comments. The designers add background items, such as plants and bar stools, to the 3D drawings as a way to add contrast and drama. “Well, you would be amazed at how many people take the plans and go find those same items because they want the kitchen to look exactly the way our designer came up with it.”
This type of design process not only helps to seal the deal, but aids in providing the add-ons and little extras as well, according to Hollars. “Because the system is so interactive, people will ask what the design will look like with bigger crown molding, or more lights. When the client can visualize the design, and almost smell it and taste what they’re going to get, they’re much more willing to write a bigger check. You’re taking the gray area out of that sales process.”
And, Hollars offers, there is more satisfaction with the finished product when using this technology because people know what to expect.
‘Smart’ Technology and Working Displays Highlight Showroom Operations
When it comes to showrooms, smart technology isn’t just an idea – it’s an element that can be incorporated into the operations. Imagine being able to turn on appliances, computers, lights, even raise and lower window shades, all from a central location, and the concept of the “smart” home will become clearer.
The Salon Blue Ridge showroom in Flat Rock, NC uses its “smart” automation system to keep things running smoothly and impress customers all at the same time. “Everything is connected to a local network for control over lighting, climate, audio and video,” comments Audrey Wilkinson Loder, showroom manager. “Our entire showroom is fully automated using a product called LifeWare, and it is for sale to our customers through our home automation dealer – Digital Home Innovations. We can show our customers how it works through the computers in our showroom.”
Wilkinson Loder notes that the LifeWare system is impressive to clients looking to create a “smart” home. Because the system is connected to a computer system, homeowners can control anything hooked up to the system from within the home or a remote location.
High-tech appliances are also part of the offering at Salon Blue Ridge. Many appliances are on rolling carts, which provides mobility for hook-up to electrical, gas or water. It allows clients to see appliances in action, which is a quicker path to a sale, notes Wilkinson Loder.
The displays in the showroom are working. “In the plumbing showroom we show working showerheads and kitchen faucets, a working THG waterfall tub filler, a working BainUltra bath with chromatherapy and a Jaclo Rain Bar,” she reports. It allows the firm to educate clients about the products it carries, “and having the fixtures and appliances work in real time does that more effectively,” she notes.
For the future, Wilkinson Loder reports that Salon Blue Ridge is looking into the possibility of using a large projector for projecting house plans onto a screen during meetings with clients. “We are also considering labeling every display item and entering them into a handheld PC so our consultants can refer to the handheld when meeting with clients and have all of the information they need right in front of them,” she states.
High-Tech Viewing Rooms Set Mood for Client Design Presentations
Setting the right mood for the customer’s design presentation is a major part of New York Kitchen & Bath’s business approach. NYKB, which has showrooms based in New York City, has specially designed areas in their showrooms for clients to view their kitchen and bath renderings.
“Our showrooms have beautifully appointed viewing rooms where we present designs, illustrate estimates and view video clips from various television programs that have featured NYKB,” reports Ted Pratt, marketing director for NYKB. “This comfortable and informative environment helps customers make informed choices and helps demonstrate NYKB’s expertise in full-service kitchen and bath renovation.”
A core goal of NYKB is to provide customers with a clear vision of what their remodeled kitchens and baths will look like. To illustrate this, the company uses PowerPoint presentations of full-color 20/20 renderings.
“It gives clients an amazing glimpse into what their finished project will look like,” Pratt offers. “Home renovation is an arduous task enough without having to worry about what it will look like. We give customers life-like renditions.”
NYKB’s designers have all been trained to use Google SketchUp, an online tool that allows designers to create sketches using three-dimensional product illustrations. “It’s a powerful tool, and part of its charm is its speed and ease of use,” offers Pratt. “Some designers find Google SketchUp particularly helpful when sitting down with clients and hashing out ideas, because a sketch can be altered as fast as a mouse can be clicked. The application not only makes wonderful talking points for the designer in the design phase, but also helps a client feel more closely involved with the project.
“NYKB has been featured on television as a leader in New York City kitchen and bath design, which is great,” Pratt continues. “But what’s really terrific is that we can both play these aggregated clips on DVD in our sidewalk window display and connect the same clips online to play for customers in our viewing rooms. Potential customers see our examples of our work, before and after, and are duly impressed. It certainly helps us in our business.”
“These technologies have been great assets in selling our renovation services,” stresses Pratt.