Product is OK, But Put People First

Last month’s Kitchen/Bath Industry Show in Las Vegas, as always, offered a vivid reminder of just how dramatically the kitchen and bath industry has evolved – with exhibit hall displays that glittered as brightly as the city’s famed gambling strip.

A literal explosion of new products, K/BIS once again lived up to its billing as the industry’s premier showcase for the latest in technological innovation, lifestyle, fashion and emerging trends.

All of which should ignite the imagination of product specifiers. All of which should help dealers and designers address client needs and gain a competitive edge. All of which should help fuel an industry that remains vibrant and growing.

But there’s a subtle danger that’s present when dealers and designers experience such an overwhelming flood of new products. It’s not simply that the burden of choice becomes more complex and weighty. It’s that the focus of the design trade shifts to product more than it does to people.

Reminders about that danger were signaled at K/BIS by two of the industry’s key trade associations – the NKBA and the DPHA.

In the latest issue of its finely-done quarterly magazine, Profiles, the NKBA advised members that selling luxury products today is largely a matter of changing the sales focus from products to people.

Said writer Barbara Bonn: “Traditionally, luxury has been about rare materials, elaborate finishes, exquisite artisanship and an air of exclusivity. That was Old Luxury. Modern Luxury has more to do with people and less to do with pricing. It’s less about adding high-tech pizazz to your products and more about adding high-touch value to your customers’ lives.”

In Bonn’s words, selling luxury these days is more about selling the dream than about selling the specs – in other words, connecting to customers on an emotional level. How will their beautifully designed new kitchen or bath really change their lives? How will those projects enrich relationships with family and friends? How will they help customers express their sense of taste and style, their personality, their individuality? How will they make customers feel?

A big part of this equation, Bonn notes, rests with the notion of “discovering” the customer – understanding what they’re looking to experience in their new kitchen and bath . . . not simply focusing on product qualities and features.

Another big part of it rests with creating the right sales environment.

The DPHA stressed that theme at their annual K/BIS breakfast, noting that author Jack Mitchell will deliver the keynote at the association’s Sixth Annual Conference and Product Showcase in October.

Mitchell is a champion of the notion that for any business to achieve sustainable success in the luxury market, the focus must move away from product and price, and move onto the customer.

“Businesses,” observes Mitchell, “have lost sight of the idea that customers, not products, are the most important priority. You have to think customers before return on investment or margins.”

Mitchell understands that today’s customers want and expect more. Not only does he place the customer at the center of the retail universe, but he defines every act of service as a “hug” – the goal of which is to personalize the shopping experience and create long-term, loyal customer relationships.

There are many ways for kitchen/bath design firms to achieve that goal – far too many to be noted here. What’s important to remember, particularly in the wake of another K/BIS, is that the design trade cannot afford to become blinded to the virtues of product alone. While products are certainly exciting, they’re only the beginning of the luxury selling experience.

Being successful in this industry is not just about offering the latest materials, styles, features and finishes. It’s about understanding people and their needs. It’s about evoking emotions and delivering dreams. It’s about the memorable and lasting experiences you can create for your customers.