The Evolution of Innovation

A woman recently walked into McDaniels Kitchen and Bath Center in Lansing, MI, intending to remodel her bath. While designer Sue Davidson solicited information, she suggested her customer explore the company's large showroom. When Davidson returned, the woman observed, "Do you know there is not one cabinet here that adequately stores the canned items I use?"

Opening a display featuring "Logix" storage from Diamond Cabinets, Davidson asked, "Have you seen this?" The woman gazed at the display featuring door trays and pull-out shelves and cried, "Oh my goodness. Now you have to come and do my kitchen."

This anecdote illustrates three critical issues facing modern homeowners: Storage needs have changed dramatically; yesterday's cabinets do not meet today's needs, and, in many cases, consumers don't know about new features designed to meet those needs.

This current requirement for extensive storage capacity has not always been the case, however. Prior to World War II, people had little need for storage. Mixers, microwaves and myriad kitchen conveniences didn't exist, and since meal preparation involved foods brought in daily, storage needs were minimal.

In sharp contrast, today's homeowners want kitchens to be models of exquisite form and paragons of practical function. What raised expectations?

The catalysts were threefold: refrigeration, pre-packaged foods and modern appliances by the truckload. Quite simply, people now have more stuff. Lots more.
The first major step in the evolution of storage came with the introduction of built-in cabinetry and countertop work surfaces. Initially they were little more than simple boxes with shelves, usually crafted on-site by the builder. Quality construction and beauty were not high priorities.

As families acquired more of the accoutrements of cooking, however, the simple built-in cabinets of the '50s and '60s became obsolete and frustrating to use. All of those handy new gadgets, if not cluttering the countertop, were piled into drawers or stuffed on shelves.

Today, the need for organized storage is increasing at an astounding rate. In an independent study conducted by Peachtree Consulting Group of Atlanta, GA, consumers rated pot lids, spices, gadgets, canned goods and cereal among their top items needing storage and organization solutions. Moreover, the number of homes using built-in cabinet organizers nearly doubled in the three years from 2000 to 2003.

NOT YOUR Mom'S KITCHEN
Not only do people have more, they now do more in their kitchens. Indeed, kitchens are now "command central" for many families. Homeowners pay bills, play games, write letters, do homework and entertain guests in their kitchens, which have also evolved to accommodate modern lifestyles.

"I think we see kitchens being so much more of a focal point and kitchens getting bigger," observes Mike Amato, a kitchen designer with Seigle's, a large building and home center in Mundelein, IL.

And, the more activities people bring to the kitchen, the more storage they need, Amato and others suggest. "Not only do people want the storage, they want it to be more accessible," Amato explains.

Jodi Sigley-Schoenfeld, ASID, of Woodsman Kitchens & Floors in Jacksonville, FL, comments, "Even if you're not a cook, you want the ability to put things away."

According to Davidson, the increased interest in gourmet cooking has led to key changes in design. The additional saucepans, spices and exotic ingredients used in gourmet cooking, for example, all need specialized storage areas. In addition, Davidson believes consumer demand is driven by baby boomers who remember their parents' kitchens. "When we grew up and had kitchens of our own, what we wanted was not what our parents had," she observes.

"We don't want to do the hard work our mothers and grandmothers did," Davidson adds. "We want to make it easy. We want it all to come to us. So the drawers, the roll-out trays, the pull-out trash cans, the pull-out pantries, the turning spice racks, the Super Susans'it's basically an answer to what the customer wants. They're very easy to sell because that's what [customers] are looking for."

At the same time, storage possibilities for dealers, designers and builders are increasing almost daily. Built-in cabinetry is now found in every room of the home. Just as with the evolution of kitchen storage, in areas where free-standing bookcases, entertainment centers and utility shelves once stood, cabinets are now being built in for storage.

"We do television and stereo entertainment centers, computer areas, children's desks, bookcases," says Amato, "not just kitchen cabinetry anymore."

Many new homes feature open kitchens, so the cabinets entail an additional design challenge. "You can see the cabinets from all over the house," Davidson explains. "So, when they have an entertainment center, library or home office, they want to be able to coordinate a beautiful look along with the kitchen cabinets."
Sigley-Schoenfeld points out the storage perspective, "putting a wet bar or butler's pantry somewhere near a dining room or kitchen gives you extra space for storage of things you might not use every day."

UPSELLING STORAGE
From conversations with designers, it seems clear that the preferred technique in selling new storage features is hands-on experience with showroom displays, particular for customers who are unaware of the latest in storage innovations.

Amato, for one, notes that he wants to demonstrate features, "as opposed to people picking them out of a spec sheet or piece of literature. We want them to be able to physically open it, play with it, test it ' give them the 'wow!' factor."

Davidson agrees. "We have them on display in our showroom'and I have people who try the pull-out pantry and say, 'That's what I need. I'm tired of reaching to the back of my pantry and getting items out.' "

It's a simple principle, but it bears repeating and is sometimes difficult to execute: Design should be flexible to meet specific customer needs. And good design incorporates good storage.

Sigley-Schoenfeld offers a few ideas. "If someone has children and needs [the kitchen] to be very functional [for them], maybe put a microwave down low. Or, elevate a dishwasher for someone with back problems."

In addition, features designed for one use can sometimes organize other areas. "How about using a wine cubicle as shoe storage for organization? Kind of fun stuff," quips Sigley-Schoenfeld. "Perhaps you can use a pull-out trash can as a laundry basket or recycle bin. You could also put it in a child's desk; it could become very functional and multi-purpose," she adds, noting that creative approaches like these satisfy clients and generate profits.

THE BOTTOM LINE
The lessons seem clear. New homes with innovative storage for modern lifestyles may sell better than ones with the status quo storage of the past. The same goes for existing homes in need of remodeling. People are moving more now, and even young couples are more sophisticated, and more aware of new features. They've seen more homes and know what they want. Pretty but impractical isn't going to satisfy these savvy buyers anymore.

For dealers, working displays will sell optional storage features (or deluxe lines where these are standard) better than any other sales tool. When customers can operate new features for themselves, more often than not, they are hooked. And, as the price goes up, profits go up accordingly.

A study from MasterBrand Cabinets compared costs for 10'x10' kitchens loaded with storage features versus the same kitchens with standard cabinetry. The loaded kitchens' price tags ranged up to 30% more. So, dealers who don't currently feature operating storage displays should get them. Sales are likely to increase while customers get kitchens that suit their lifestyles. And, satisfied customers are a dealer's best advertisement.

Designers, take heed: Before pencil is ever put to paper, before ever specifying a design, it's vitally important to know a client's storage needs. Homeowners are prone to forget about the items needing storage in their remodeled rooms, so designers must help at the start of the project. It's then you can add the innovative storage features that unclutter clients' lives while improving the project's bottom line.

Learn your clients' lifestyle. Knowledge is the key, not just for an aesthetically pleasing design, but for solving real problems and incorporating features that make lives easier. When design meets real needs, it's truly creative. And clients know they're getting a one-of-a-kind design for them, not just anyone.

The cabinet industry is booming, thanks in no small part to the evolution of innovation in storage. Manufacturers, dealers and designers who respond to customer needs for more accessible storage, in addition to beautiful aesthetic design, are the ones who will ultimately succeed. KBDN

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