Satisfaction

Mick Jagger’s “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” is more than just a classic rock and roll song; it’s become something of an anthem for a nation of dissatisfied consumers. After all, who hasn’t at one time been aggravated by know-nothing salespeople, product warranties that only cover things that aren’t broken or companies with endless voice mail loops that never lead to a live human being?

But while Jagger could only get “useless information supposed to fire my imagination,” consumers remodeling their kitchens are finding quite the opposite. In fact, today’s consumers are not only getting plenty of useful information to fire up their imaginations, they’re also getting plenty of satisfaction when it comes to their kitchen remodeling experience. See Related Editorial

That’s according to a recent consumer survey conducted by Kitchen & Bath Design News and sister magazines Qualified Remodeler and Residential Design & Build, which polled 500 consumers across the U.S. who have recently engaged in a major kitchen remodel.

Even when unexpected challenges arise, consumers are largely relating positive feelings about their kitchen remodeling experiences, with the vast majority giving their dealer or designer high marks for customer satisfaction. In fact, nearly three quarters (73.1%) said that, based on their remodeling experience, they would refer their dealer or designer to friends or relatives (see Graph 1).

Additionally, on a scale of 1 to 10 (with 10 being most satisfied), consumers rated their overall satisfaction level at a solid 8.

This is in spite of the fact that more than half (55.2%) said they experienced unanticipated problems during the course of the project (see Graph 2). Those problems ranged from unexpected delays (53.4%), added costs (15.5%), conflicts with the designer, dealer or installer (13.8%), product shortcomings (10.3%) and undue disruption of home life (8.6%), among others (see Graph 3).

Yet despite these problems, satisfaction levels stayed high, suggesting that dealers are doing a better job of educating their clients, managing client expectations and communicating effectively.

In fact, according to the survey, more than three-quarters of those polled rated their dealer or designer as “good” or “excellent” in terms of providing product information and explaining the work (see Graph 4), while nearly 70% rated their dealer or designer as either “good” or “excellent” in terms of responsiveness to the client’s questions and concerns.

Nearly 75% gave “good” or “excellent” marks to their dealer or designer for the quality and supervision of installation, while some 55% rated their dealer or designer as “good” or “excellent” at post-job follow through. Still, there’s clearly room for improvement here; 17.9% of those surveyed felt their dealer or designer did a poor job at post-job follow through – a critical juncture of a project, as it’s the dealer’s last opportunity to leave the client with a positive impression.

Price Acceptance
Consumers’ perceived “sticker shock” has long been viewed as a potential challenge for kitchen dealers and designers, in large part because consumers often have no idea what a new kitchen costs. Unlike home prices, which are constantly in the news, or car prices, whose price-driven ads saturate newspapers, radio stations and TV, the price of a new kitchen can be more complex.

While product prices can be pretty straightforward, many consumers have no idea how many other elements there are to a remodeling project, from design fees, fabrication and installation costs to fees for electricians and plumbers, costs for getting permits and other incidentals. As a result, price misinformation can be a problem, and the result has often been that consumers feel “ripped off” simply because they didn’t have realistic price expectations.

But that may well be changing as kitchen remodeling becomes increasingly mainstream, thanks to design TV, massive advertising campaigns on the part of home center chains and design firms, and a growing emphasis on the home. In fact, one of the most notable results of the survey was that the majority of consumers (74%) rated the price and financing for their kitchen remodel as “excellent” or “good” (see Graph 5). Another 14% rated it fair, with only 12% giving this a “poor” rating.

Consumers surveyed also gave designers high marks when rating the fairness of their prices, rating them an average of 7.6 out of 10 (with 10 being most fair). This suggests that kitchen dealers may be making inroads into overcoming one of the major challenges that has plagued the industry in recent years.

That’s not to say there were no price surprises. Some 42.6% of consumers surveyed said the overall cost of the project was higher than what they expected. However, more than half (50.9%) felt the cost of their project was in line with what they expected, and another 6.5% said it was lower than what they expected (see Graph 6).

This suggests that dealers and designers are doing a better job at educating consumers about price expectations, which may well be contributing to the overall increased satisfaction ratings dealers received.

The survey also showed a positive trend in terms of consumer satisfaction with kitchen dealers’ ability to stay on budget, with 65% of those surveyed scoring their dealer as “excellent” or “good” at coming in on budget (see Graph 7).

Still, there is room for improvement here; 18.6% of those surveyed felt their dealer or designer did a “poor” job of coming in on budget, while another 14.4% rated this only as “fair.”

Likewise, dealers didn’t fare as well at keeping the project on its promised timeline; a whopping 25% rated dealers or designers as “poor” at this, while another 13% said their dealer or designer only merited a “fair” mark for this (see Graph 8).

Choosing a Firm
The survey also looked at consumers’ reasons for selecting (or not selecting) a specific design firm. And, not surprisingly, the results overwhelmingly confirmed the importance of referrals or positive word of mouth in growing a business, with this being chosen as the most frequently cited reason for going with a specific designer or firm.

Price was the second most commonly voiced reason for choosing a firm, while the dealer or designer’s ability to coordinate the entire job (or offer “one-stop shopping”) was the third most popular reason for selecting a designer or firm.

Consumers were also highly influenced by firms that offered what the consumers viewed as “the best ideas for the project,” as well as designers who showed the ability to personalize the project with unusual products or design elements.

Interestingly, consumers seemed less swayed by the appearance of the showroom, the availability of financing or the brands carried.

The survey also showed that consumers like to shop around before making a decision; consumers said they got an average of 3.75 cost estimates before choosing their dealer or designer.

Why Remodel?
So, what’s driving all of these remodels? Consumers cited a variety of reasons for embarking on a kitchen project, with 18.2% seeking a bigger space and updated finishes and appliances, respectively, 10% needing better utilization of the existing space, 37.3% wanting a combination of these factors, 3% looking to accommodate special needs, and another 13.3% citing “other” as their reason for remodeling (see Graph 9).

The vast majority of surveyed consumers’ projects included cabinets (86.4%), flooring (85.5%), lighting (83.6%), appliances (79.1%) and a sink (78.2%). Almost half (49.1%) of all projects included added storage, 46.4% incorporated an island and 27.3% contained a pantry (see graph 10).

Interestingly, contemporary kitchens seemed to be gaining ground over traditional ones, with sleek lines and more modern styling noted by many as something they desired in their kitchen design.

However, consumers from both groups expressed a desire for a kitchen that would be both simple and classic in its appeal.

Specific product choices showed few surprises: Stainless steel is still the big winner for appliances and sinks, while granite was the number-one pick for countertop materials.

In cabinets, maple was the most frequently chosen wood species, with oak and cherry also cited as popular choices. Again, simple Shaker styles were most popular among consumers surveyed, and while many said they liked decorative moulding and accessories, the trend seemed to be toward more scaled down rather than ornate versions. When asked what made their kitchens unique or distinctive, consumers most frequently cited responses included decorative accessories, mouldings, etc. (42.7%), unusual or specialty lighting (41.8%), undercabinet lighting (37.3%), a built-in recyling area (31.8%), a pantry (27.3%), decorative tile work (25.5%) and a wine cooler or wine storage (22.7%).

Consumers Seen Driving Key Kitchen Design Trends, Experts Note
ORLANDO, FL – Today’s kitchen consumers are driving a multitude of important trends in kitchen design for both new and remodeled homes, a trio of well-known design professionals said last month.

The designers – Kitchen & Bath Design News columnist Mary Jo Peterson, CKD, CBD, CAPS, of Mary Jo Peterson Inc., in Brookfield, CT; Mary Jo Camp, CKD, CBD, CID, of the Rohnert Park, CA-based Standards of Excellence and Connie Edwards, CKD, CBD, of American Woodmark Corp. – said that prominent among those kitchen trends is the increased use of multiple work zones.

Addressing attendees of the International Builders Show here, the designers noted that kitchen work zones are growing in size and number, and are occasionally even overlapping.

And those zones not only include products and space for food prep, cooking, baking and cleanup, but special zones for entertainment (including products such as built-in coffee makers, espresso makers, wine coolers, specialty refrigeration, warming drawers and steam ovens); storage zones that are becoming increasingly sophisticated, visible and accessible; children’s zones and work stations with access to computer hookups, security systems, smart home benefits, multiple phone and cable connections and other technology.

Also being increasingly designed into kitchens, at the request of consumers, are “multiples” on key kitchen features, including dual sinks, dishwashers, ovens, refrigerators and microwaves.

Among the other key kitchen trends noted at last month’s IBS were:

  • A continued move toward open floor plans, higher ceilings, more windows and kitchens that relate directly to the outside, with a continual blending of exterior and interior and a greater use of natural materials.
  • An increased use of color to entice the buyer, create architecture, unify spaces, provide a sense of comfort, echo nature and dramatize a space.
  • Cabinet finishes that are trending darker and warmer – and which feature richer finishes, often with glazes.
  • A movement toward cleaner cabinet lines, with simpler door styles and streamlined designs with cleaner moldings and strong horizontal elements gaining favor.
  • An emphasis on aging in place, with more attention paid to improved flexibility, lighting, access and placement of components
  • Decorative hardware that helps set a theme for the kitchen.

Older Baby Boomers: Still Seeking Upgraded Living Spaces, Key Amenities
CHANTILLY, VA—The first wave of the nation’s Baby Boom generation may be thinking of retiring, but they’re hardly the retiring type when it comes to the features they want in the homes they plan to occupy in the future.

In fact, the 50+ population is not looking for housing traditionally associated with that of past aging populations. And, although it’s difficult to make generalizations, most baby boomers don’t see themselves trading down in the future – but, instead, expect to be moving up to the best housing they’ve ever had, even if it means taking out a hefty mortgage to finance their lofty aspirations.

That was the conclusion of a panel of speakers at a recent symposium for seniors conducted by the National Association of Home Builders here.

“It’s onward and upward all of the time” for this enormous and affluent demographic group, said Jack Haynes, executive v.p. of the National Builder Division at Countrywide Home Loans.

“Probably the most striking thing we’ve found over the last few years is that many home buyers over the age of 50 are not simply cashing out on the equity they’ve built in their family home, nor are they downsizing to a less expensive house or apartment,” Haynes observed.

According to a study conducted by Countrywide in conjunction with the Washington, DC-based NAHB, about 25% of home buyers aged 50 and older were paying more for the home of their golden years than for their previous home – and their new homes were likely to feature extravagant, next-generation options and amenities.

It’s a trend that appears to be intensifying among the baby boom generation – the 77 million people born between the years of 1946 and 1964.

“We did not hear the word ‘downsizing’ in any of our focus groups,” said William Feinberg of Feinberg and Associates, an architecture and design firm based in Voorhees, NJ. “These people are looking for a new home as something to treat themselves with.”

Today’s 50+ homeowner “is not intimidated by finance,” Haynes echoed.

According to Myril Axelrod, president of Marketing Directions Associates, leading-edge boomers – some 30 million strong – are not interested in either traditional attached housing or in moving to a smaller house. However, she said, they do want to get rid of any parts of a house that are not being used so that they can enjoy larger spaces in the rooms they use the most.

Lots of open space, fewer walls and plenty of flow are key preferences.

Buyers from the leading edge of the boomer generation are also looking for kitchens with lots of light that double as the social center of the home for informal entertaining.

“And, the men are as interested as the women in the kitchen,” Axelrod noted. “Kitchens with two work areas give them a chance to get into the act.”

Flex space providing buyers with the opportunity to individualize their homes is also a plus, and boomers will spend freely for customized design and upscale features, Axelrod added.

Chuck Covell, president of Greenbelt, MD-based Bozzuto Homes, said that his company discovered the boomers’ propensity for more rather than less quite by accident, when prospective 50+ customers wanted to combine two of the average 1,000-sq.-ft. units that his company has been offering since the 1980s in four-story elevated buildings. Covell said that his empty-nester customers started to request “strange things,” such as putting a shower in the master bath and doing away with the tub.

In preparation for new residential developments targeted at older buyers, Covell said he realized that his company was missing the mark on the standard features it was offering. “You have to be a good listener,” he said, “and focus on things you never heard before.”

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