Value of Kitchens & Baths Tied to Social Meaning, Study Says

While everyone knows that a new kitchen or bath increases the value of the home, today’s consumers aren’t just remodeling to improve resale. Nor are they investing in these spaces purely to improve aesthetics or even functionality.

Rather, consumers today are finding increased social meaning and value in the kitchen and bath, and choosing to remodel for reasons that are as much emotional as physical.

These were the sentiments of Dr. Andrew Tuck, co-owner of Applied Research & Consulting (ARC), a New York-based research firm, who keynoted the National Kitchen & Bath Association Annual Business Luncheon at the recent Kitchen/Bath Industry Show in Chicago.

Tuck recently completed a study that interviewed 42 luxury-oriented, full-service kitchen and bath retailers, dealers and designers and 325 upper middle-class homeowners who had recently gone through a kitchen and/or bath remodel. His goal was to get a sense as to why business remains so strong in this segment, as well as to gain directional insights into the kitchen and bath retail arena.

Using the research as the basis for his presentation, Tuck focused not only on today’s positives, but also on how to improve the industry in the future.

Changing Roles

“Going back a few decades, this was a pretty sleepy industry, because kitchens and baths were the most utilitarian rooms in the home,” he explained. “They were not for guests. They were not to show off. They had nothing to do with feeling good about yourself.

“Today, we are talking about rooms in the house that have taken on very, very strong social meaning,” Tuck clarified. In fact, he noted that one designer made the comment, “I see my business as a spiritual one. It’s all about fashion. We are filling the deeper needs of human beings.”

Today, the kitchen and bath can be differentiated in all sorts of ways to make people feel better about themselves, Tuck reported.

For consumers, the kitchen is now about central control. “The person who is running the kitchen is in charge of absolutely everything in the home,” he observed. “There is the notion that this is the command center.”

In the bath, it’s all about retreat – creating a sanctuary. “In some ways, the kitchen and bathroom play completely different, contrary roles,” Tuck explained. “One is about social control, the other is about personal retreat.”

Market Shifts

Whatever room is the focus, mid-market consumers are splintering into two basic factions. “A lot of retailers are telling us that there is a lot of movement at the lower end, such as with the big-box retailers,” explained Tuck. “However, there’s also a tremendous amount of movement at the higher end.”

Those consumers gravitating toward the high end are interested in a more full-service, upscale experience, Tuck reported. According to the research, 92% of homeowners said they are looking for a kitchen and bath dealer who has a knowledgeable staff, and 91% said they wanted a service guarantee. “They want a high-end service experience, where they don’t have to worry about anything,” he stressed. “They want to realize dreams – in many cases, dreams they didn’t even know they had.”

Dealers and designers acknowledge that they are not selling appliances or plumbing anymore. “What customers are looking for is an intangible. A full experience is now part of the sell,” Tuck explained. “Rather than a process of material acquisition, which is what the industry used to be about, it is now something more akin to other luxury-oriented industries that are more about making the customer feel good about themselves. It’s about inspirational experiences – a beautiful way to live.”

Future Relationships

The key for the future, according to kitchen and bath dealers and designers is to find a relationship with a manufacturer that is going to work, Tuck reported. Dealers and designers noted that manufacturers still need to pay attention to the basics, including superior quality and timely delivery. If these requirements aren’t met, it damages the experience for the consumer.

Reps also need to be well informed, “because it’s essential that retailers be knowledgeable. They are the face of the industry,” he said.

“Higher-end, full-service retailers want to become consultants to consumers, and consumers want this as well,” Tuck continued. Because of this, retailers also want to see the continuation of brand advertising. “It preps consumers so that, when they come into the store, they are already semi-educated about some of the major brands and products, and new trends,” commented Tuck.

“This is more of a service sector now, and dealers need to help customers forge more of an emotional connection with the products through personalization, customization, innovation, unique offerings. That’s going to drive the entire experience,” Tuck concluded.