Affluent Appeal

Affluent Appeal

Marketing to the affluent consumer means not only offering high-quality, brand-name products, but also being a high-quality brand one that provides top-of-the-line service, creative designs and an ambiance of true excellence.

Marketing to the affluent consumer has numerous advantages: Designers can work with top-of-the-line products, enjoy greater creative freedom, charge a premium for design services and work in an arena that is traditionally less vulnerable to economic downturns or competition from home centers.

And, while the affluent market may not be getting larger, per se, the number of consumers who want to be part of it and who are willing to pay more to be treated as part of this "privileged class" is definitely on the rise.

As a result, there's a growing interest in upscale products, as consumers evince a greater interest in upscale style, personalized or "branded" design, and the kind of special treatment once seen as exclusively the purview of the well-to-do.

All of this was evident at the recent Luxury Kitchen and Bath Collection event, held in NYC late last year. The event showcased a host of high-end products, from crystal-studded faucets and faucets boasting precious metal finishes to unique, hand-painted tile and countertops made of unusual materials, such as lavastone.

The Luxury Collection event also included a number of seminars that looked at some of the best ways to understand, target, market to and make your firm irresistible to the affluent market.

High-End Marketing
For design professionals searching for new and innovative ways to reach an upscale demographic, David Kroencke, principal of Dallas, TX-base The Richards Group, has a few suggestions.

Kroencke, who spoke at a seminar titled "Life Views: Marketing and Branding to the Affluent," suggests that in order to differentiate themselves from the competition while simultaneously communicating their brand to affluent customers, it is important for designers to view themselves as a luxury brand.

He noted, "[After all], you represent luxury brands, you sell luxury brands, and you are dealing with people who are used to dealing with luxury brands."

"[The most successful] luxury brands get beyond demographics and are able to look at lifestyle to find the right niche among all affluent people," Kroencke explained.

He pointed out that this technique may actually decrease the amount of leads generated but in all likelihood, the leads will be more qualified based on categories and buyers.

He also recommended that kitchen and bath professionals understand the purchase process, stating: "Most luxury brands that are marketing to the affluent [have someone who acts as a kind of] 'gatekeeper.' When you go into a job, you should understand who is going to be involved. Is there a builder involved or an architect involved? Once this is determined, it will impact how you deliver your part of the deal."

To gain further exposure, Kroencke suggested using direct marketing, e-mail programs, referral programs and some niche print. Speaking engagements can also be beneficial, he added, as can advertising that is targeted at such upscale media as programs for an opera, a ballet or a symphony.

One real challenge to moving into a more affluent arena, he believes, is being able to relate to this clientele. {You have to be able to talk] about things that these people can identify with," he warns, noting that the ability to connect with clients is key.

Other challenges in marketing to this niche include "discipline and the fact that it is more work and more expensive to market yourself this way," he added.

Above all else, he said, "It is very important not to over promise, and to always manage your clients' expectations."

Being the Best
One of the keys to successfully dealing in the high end of the market is creating a business with standards of excellence that will appeal to the consumer who can afford the very best and who will settle for nothing less.
According to Mick De Giulio, CKD and president of de Giulio Kitchen Design, Inc., based at the Merchandise Mart in Chicago, designers have ample opportunities to turn their firm into the best it can be whether it is through business practices or design.

During his seminar, "In Pursuit of the Best," he noted that firms that successfully cater to the high end are known for both stellar business practices and creativity in design.

In terms of design, he believes that firms should focus on the concept of counterpoint, or mixing old and new concepts, to create an environment that will attract high-end clientele.

One of the best ways for designers to achieve this, he stated, is to take inspiration and ideas from other architectural structures observed in their travels, such as boutiques in Europe or five-star hotels.

"It is important to experience [everything you see] with the eyes of a kitchen designer," he suggested.

But the idea is not only to exposing yourself to new ideas, he adds, it must subsequently be passed on to clients. As a result, he believes designers who actively experience the world around them will end up with more creative inspiration and this, in turn, will translate into greater exposure for their firm.

He added: "We need to [do these things] at the luxury level because we are offering a very personalized design and there is not a cookie cutter formula that works. It directly translates into who [the client] is [and the statement they want to make]."

In terms of business practices, De Giulio noted that setting goals for improvement, recognizing trends, developing vendor partnerships and fostering an environment conducive to creativity and excellence are all vital components of building a successful firm. Finally, he added that business practices need to ensure that the firm draws the type of quality employees who will appeal to the high-end clientele. For that reason, offering profit sharing and selecting architects and designers whose style you admire and respect are key to successfully navigating the high-end market.

While upscale consumers certainly want a well-run, professional business and top-quality products, the designer's creative input is also key to making inroads in this market. For that reason, the success of a design is frequently not based as much on what is done, but rather on how it is done.

To that end, an important philosophy for designers to remember is to not only showcase their design prowess, but also express their love of designing a concept that will lead to greater profitability, especially when catering to high-end clientele.

These were the sentiments of a panel of speakers who addressed the topic "For Love of Art or Money...Or Can it Be Both?" at the Luxury Collection event.

For instance, panelists spoke of focusing on what the client wants, rather than what profits a designer the most.
Noted Lynn Knight Jessee, CEO of Pounds and Francs, Inc., based in Tulsa, OK: "We have an obligation to our clientele that we are at the top level of knowledge, and that we inform them of what is available."

She added: "The key is being honest with clients. We give them what we have been exposed to, but they may have had the opportunity to see different things. They might want something they've seen in Europe or at a spa. We have to [be prepared to answer these needs], and to answer the questions when they come."

The panel also agreed that high-end clients have fewer budgetary constraints, and while offering good value is still essential with this market, designers should charge accordingly to the services they provide, remembering that their creativity has real, tangible and monetary value.

Said panelist Peggy McGowen, ASID, CMKBD of Houston, TX-based Kitchen & Bath Concepts: "It is important to brand yourself as a professional when clients are looking for the professional in their area. The luxury client is always seeking professional help. But remember: The luxury client has money but is short on time."

Perhaps more important is to help your clients understand the value of your work, the panelists advised. "The ultimate value is your own unique problem-solving ability," McGowen said.

She noted that designers should partner with manufacturers of unique, high-quality products, specifically focusing on products that are not readily available elsewhere.

"You should be working with products that will enhance your designs and products that you're proud of representing."

To that end, showcases of upscale products, like the Luxury Kitchen and Bath Collection, can be a valuable resource for finding unique, unusual and upscale kitchen and bath products designed to appeal to the upper end of the market.
On the following three pages, Kitchen & Bath Design News looks at a small sampling of some of the high-end products on display at the Luxury Kitchen and Bath Collection event. KBDN