Tech Savvy

Tech Savvy

Technology is becoming increasingly prevalent in kitchen and bath dealers' day-to-day business dealings, with many expressing more satisfaction than in years past with online interactions.

By Janice Anne Costa

In fact, in a recent survey of kitchen dealers and designers, nearly 80% (79.4%) rated technology as either "very important" to their jobs, or as something they "couldn't live without," while only 2.5% said it was "not that important" (see Graph 1).

The K&BDN survey, which polled more than 300 kitchen and bath dealers and designers from all over the country, looked at the use of technology in the kitchen and bath industry, covering everything from Internet usage and Web sites to design software and online ordering.

Not surprisingly, the vast majority of those surveyed (97.7%) said they own at least one computer, while only 1.4% said they lease a computer and a mere 0.9% reported neither owning nor leasing a computer (see Graph 2). However, today's kitchen and bath dealers and designers don't just buy computers to sit on their desks and gather dust; rather, they are increasingly using them for a host of functions, and finding greater satisfaction in the results of those endeavors, the survey reports.

However, the tide seems to be turning, as more user-friendly, affordable software becomes the norm, often with enhanced capabilities and more options for custom or personalized details. In fact, of the dealers and designers surveyed, a whopping 78.1% said they currently use design software (see Graph 3). And, of the 21.9% who don't, another 42.2% said they plan to start in the coming year.

So, why the change of attitude? Part of the change may stem from the fact that software programs have evolved to become increasingly user-friendly. A shorter learning curve means more designers are willing to invest in programs that allow them to create a host of options for their clients, changing out details with a simple strike of a key. And, with enhanced capabilities that allow for 3D drawings, color graphics and a host of custom details, these programs may actually be the preferable to hand drawings for many clients.

Plus, a good number of dealers still named "better and more user-friendly kitchen design software" as the number one technological advancement they would like to see come to market.

As one dealer explained: "I know we've come a long way... but there still needs to be better design software that incorporates architectural and construction details."

Another dealer expressed this opinion: "I know it gets more complicated when you offer more options for personalization. But you can't go with a one-size-fits-all plan, because that's worse than useless, and it's actually counterproductive to what we do creating unique designs."

"It's not just the software, it's the upgrades," lamented another kitchen dealer. "There has to be a more constructive way to upgrade design programs. The upgrades are always full of bugs, costing time and money to fix them. Although the additions to the
program make it ideally more functional, in reality, it's never a smooth process getting there."

While design software has also come down in price in recent years, a good number of dealers surveyed still felt it needed to be even more cost-effective.

"We need design software that's affordable to even small dealers, and more affordable training, too," said one dealer.

Clearly, having a Web site has become more common; two-thirds (66.3%) of dealers surveyed say they currently have a Web site (see Graph 5), and, of the 33.7% who don't, more than half (58.4%) are planning to establish one in the next year.

But dealers are no longer just putting up Web sites for the sake of having them; instead, they are learning how to use their Web sites to better educate their customers and enhance their business. For example, more than half (51.6%) of those with Web sites noted that they link their sites to manufacturers' sites; 27% have linked their sites to association sites, and 12.7% say they link their sites to existing community sites to increase their business.

Dealers are also slowly, but surely, beginning to figure out how to use their Web sites to help draw traffic, though most agree that this is not the primary purpose of the site.

Half (50.8%) of those surveyed they get less than 2% of their sales leads from their Web site, 37.9% get 2% to 10% of their leads from the Web site, 9.1% get 11% to 25% of their leads from their site, and 2.2% get more than a quarter of all their leads from their Web site (see Graph 6).

Said one dealer: "I believe our Web site generates some leads, but, more importantly, it reinforces our image and helps to bring back existing leads by giving them reasons to trust us."

Of course dealers use the Internet for a lot of things beyond just putting up their own Web sites. According to the survey, 82.4% of those polled said they use the Internet for sending/receiving e-mail, 78.6% use it for researching new products, 76.4% use it for researching product specifications, 34.6% use it for downloading photos, 33% use it for sending project photos and 30.8% use it for researching new design ideas.

Kitchen dealers, like most of the country, also seem somewhat addicted to going online in general, with 41.9% indicating they go online several times a day, 27.4% reporting they go online daily, and 14% noting they use the Internet several times a week. In contrast, only 5.9% say they use it once a week, 3.8% go online only once a month and 7% log online less than once a month.

Online ordering
Online ordering, too, has been slowly, but surely, picking up speed, with more than half of those surveyed saying they order at least some products online (see Graph 7), and 62.5% saying they expect to increase their online ordering in the future.
This is no surprise, since dealers reported a growing satisfaction with the quality of online ordering. Of those surveyed, 17.5% rated the effectiveness of online ordering as "excellent," 65% rated it as "good," 16.7% rated it as fair and only 0.8% rated it as "poor" (see Graph 8).

In fact, several dealers wrote that they wished more vendors and manufacturers offered online ordering capabilities and product availability. "I wish all vendors would accept e-mail orders!" stressed one dealer, who believes, "This is the perfect way to order. No errors due to illegible handwriting, no delays in communicating information, no chance of paperwork getting lost or misplaced, and everyone has a record of what was ordered."

Of course, not everyone is jumping on the online bandwagon. As one dealer complained: "To me, this is just one more headache. The cabinet ordering software is not user-friendly at all, and my staff doesn't need more complicated programs. If technology is supposed to make things easier, why are all the programs so complicated to learn and use?"

Other technological advancements dealers would like to see come to market include:

  • Universal cabinet language on the Internet.
  • Fax machines that are easily adaptable to cell phone transmission, and more capable cellular technology in general.
  • More industry-specific accounting software.
  • Something effective to stop annoying pop-up ads on the Web.
  • A computer and an LCD projector built into a small unit for training. or presentations.

Of course, some dealers just want the simple things. "Give me computers that don't crash or lock up, and I'll be happy!" exclaimed one designer.

Likewise, not everyone thinks "technological advancement" is all about computers. As one dealer concluded: "The biggest technological advancement we could have right now, and it's something we really need more of   human beings answering telephones again!" KBDN