Getting Inside Your Client's Head

Kitchen and bath specialists have spent the better part of their careers, in most cases, mastering the art and science of design, construction, sales, marketing and business management.

But it's next to impossible to get any real traction in the kitchen and bath market these days unless another important science is mastered.

That science, of course, is psychology.

Understanding what's going on the mind of today's kitchen and bath consumer is essential to gauging precisely what's driving, and shaping, current and emerging market trends.

And responding in a sensitive and skillful manner to that consumer mindset is even more critical in determining success in this industry.

Fact is, it's not enough any more to simply consult surveys that pinpoint consumer buying patterns for products, designs and services. Such surveys like the jointly sponsored NKBA/NAHB consumer poll reported on in this month's issue of Kitchen & Bath Design News' are certainly useful in identifying preferences for cabinets, appliances, countertop materials, plumbing fixtures and other products.

However, kitchen and bath professionals need to go beyond mere surveys when trying to figure out ways to best serve their customers and drive new revenues.

This message about understanding and responding to today's consumers is seemingly everywhere these days.

In this month's issue of K&BDN, for example contributor Dan Chinitz, discusses the need for the kitchen and bath industry to upgrade its professional image in response to public need. At the same time, contributor Leslie Hart (Page 34) addresses the importance to dealers and designers of selling an intangible, a reputation, a sense of familiarity, a relationship, a set of feelings, instead of simply a series of features and benefits.
Similar messages about understanding the mindset of today's consumers have been resonating throughout the industry for months.

We've heard a lot about the post-9/11 consumer, and how that consumer, more than ever, is seeking to transform the interior of the home into a retreat from life's daily stress.

We've heard about the trend toward "opuluxe," the burgeoning sense of entitlement to branded objects, increasingly pervasive among young, well-off homeowners.
And there's more.

We've heard how kitchens and baths have replaced other areas of the home as symbols of luxury, and about how the power of private indulgence is driving the trend toward luxury bathroom design.

We've also heard about the growing importance of the male as a consumer of luxury
products, and as someone striving to reward himself with elaborate outdoor barbecues, luxury wine units and similar upscale products.

Lastly, we've heard about how the kitchen and bath designer's greatest competition is no longer the business around the corner, or even other discretionary purchases, but the consumer's own uncertainty and fear about the wisdom of undertaking a major remodeling project.

All these consumer-related issues are very real today and very powerful.

They're also critical for kitchen and bath designers to get their arms around in order to deliver genuine client satisfaction.

Kitchen and bath specialists can't afford to go into the marketplace these days with a preconceived notion of what the consumer wants, needs and prefers. Consumers are changing. Society is changing. The American home is changing. The kitchen and bath marketplace is changing.

And kitchen and bath pros need to change, as well especially in the way they think about, and react to, today's consumer.

The most important steps in that process of change are getting inside the consumer's head and communicating a compelling response to how that consumer thinks and feels.

It's a question not just of mastering design skills, amassing product expertise and learning to sell. Instead, more than ever, it's a question of psychology.