Evolution Effects Profound Changes

Three years ago, I found the "perfect" house. I fell madly in love with it, bought it, moved into it, and, like so many new homeowners, promptly decided that I needed to change everything about it.

The first month, I worked feverishly, caught up in a sea of exciting renovations. Dark panelled walls were transformed to softly textured rose and mauve. Carpeting was torn out and replaced by laminate flooring. Appliances and window treatments were upgraded.

Within a month, it looked like a completely different house, and all I could think about was how great it would look after a year.

I had plans'gutting the hideous orange and brown bath; replacing the singularly ugly laminate countertops that ruined an otherwise lovely kitchen, perhaps putting in a bay window in the living room...

A year later, though, my house didn't look all that different. Both my initial rush of enthusiasm and my budget had mostly been depleted, real life had kicked back in, and my "all house, all the time" mindframe had shifted to "some house stuff, some weekends, unless something better came up."

The revolution was over, but the evolution had just begun.

Two years later, I'm still planning to redo the ugly bathroom and replace those kitchen countertops. I don't have a bay window. But the house has changed, subtly. There are paintings on the walls that used to be nearly bare; and the plush, cream-colored sofa and love seat I once stared at wistfully in a store window now sit proudly in my living room. I've upgraded the electrical and plumbing, and replaced the roof on the garage. I've taken down wallpaper and put up shelves and knick knacks.

Although the changes are less noticeable on a day-to-day basis, there's no question that the house is a far cry from the one I bought. And while I miss the instant gratification of the initial, dramatic transformation, I realize the subtle changes that have occurred over the past few years are what have truly turned my house into a home.

As a society, and particularly as an industry, we're fascinated by dramatic transformations. Look at the slew of HGTV shows that gain fame almost entirely through the "before" and "after" magic, ugly ducklings transformed miraculously into swans'all in 60 minutes or less. Even our own portfolios bear this out; here's what we started with, and this is the finished product.

Yet, just as the best designers don't just change form, but how the space will function over many years, in real life, dramatic, visual transformations rarely reflect the most profound changes.

This was particularly evident in a recent survey in which kitchen and bath dealers were asked about their showroom practices (see related story, Page 62). Having done these surveys for a number of years, we often marvel at how little some things seem to change from year to year...and then, gradually, we see the small, creeping changes...shifts in attitudes, in practices, that ultimately redefine the industry.

The self-described technophobes suddenly have Web sites...and design software...and then, one day, 60% of designers tell you they're increasingly using technology in their showrooms.

The same can be said of home centers. Just a few years back, many saw them as a potential death knell for independent dealers. Yet in this month's survey, three quarters of respondents didn't rate them as a primary form of competition at all.

Meanwhile, the "destination showroom" is the new buzzword of the day, as dealers talk about adding special amenities to make their showrooms unique, from children's play areas to streaming video. Some dealers will jump into the fray, making frenzied changes to create that destination spot; others will move in more slowly, testing ideas, discarding some, keeping others. Some who were carrying the "destination" banner will never achieve much beyond the first round of surface changes; others will redefine their showrooms over time on a deeper and more meaningful level.

We face challenges, we rush out into the fray, and then, after the initial frenzy of action wears off, we begin to make the more important, subtle adjustments. It's not a revolution; it's an evolution.

In many ways, it's impossible to truly appreciate evolution without looking at the big picture. In this month's tribute to the KCMA's 50th anniversary (see Special Pull-Out Section, Page 37A), we get to see a half a century of evolution'in cabinet styles, wood species, technological innovations and the association itself, which kept in mind the big picture, and in doing so, helped to define an industry.

Many of the changes may have initially seemed minor. Yet over time, and collectively, the effect is dramatic and profound. If we look closely, we can see a reflection of our industry, and our businesses in this.

It's good to get excited about improving and upgrading, whether it's your business, your home or your life. But it's important to remember that the biggest changes evolve over time, always taking into account the big picture.