What Dealers Want

What Dealers Want

High-quality products, hassle-free delivery and strong supplier support services continue to drive kitchen and bath dealers' product specification choices, while brand names become increasingly important as well, a new survey reports.

By Janice Anne Costa

Such were the findings of a recent survey by Kitchen & Bath Design News, which polled more than 150 kitchen and bath dealers nationwide with regard to how they specify new products, what factors impact their decision to add, change or drop a particular product line, what types of products they're most likely to add or drop from their offerings, and what role brand names play in their decisions.

Interestingly, while quality (both of product and services) and exclusivity were cited as key factors in the decision to carry or not carry certain product lines, price was much further down the list, suggesting that dealers are less concerned with what a product costs if they believe it has inherent value, and is delivered in such a manner as to deliver value to the customer by ensuring the project flows smoothly, seamlessly and without errors from ordering to installation to post-installation follow up.

Additionally, the survey revealed that dealers are seeing consumers increasingly requesting specific brand names when they come into the showroom, and this increasingly brand-aware consumer is having a greater impact on dealers' decisions regarding which products they specify.

Brand requests are most common in the product categories of countertops, plumbing fixtures and appliances, dealers say.

Key factors
When it comes to dealers' top reasons for adding or changing a product line, quality was the most-frequently-cited factor, with some 76.7% of dealers naming this as critical (see Graph 1). Strong supplier service and support garnered 58.7% of respondents' votes, while another 52% cited the product not being offered by competitors as key. Some 45.3% of dealers listed "accurate and timely delivers" as a top reason, 43.3% noted "uniqueness of product" as a top factor, and 42% pointed to high profit margins.

Likewise, poor quality was cited as the number one reason dealers would drop a product line, with an overwhelming 93.3% of dealer respondents listing it as key (see Graph 2). Problems, errors or delays with delivery was noted by 85.3% of respondents as a top reason for dropping a product line, while negative client feedback was noted by 77.3% of respondents, and not enough or poor rep support was cited by 48.7% of dealers. Surprisingly, low profit margins scored only fifth on the list, with less than half (44.7%) of survey respondents citing this as a top reason to drop a product line.

However, as one Midwest dealer sees it, "You can't just go by the numbers. High profit margins don't mean much if you lose time and customer goodwill due to mistakes."

When dealers do add new products, they're most likely to do so in the categories of kitchen accessories (44.8%), cabinetry (40%), countertops (38.6%) and hardware (35.9%), according to the survey results (see Graph 6).

Conversely, dealers say they're least likely to add new products in the areas of toilets/bidets, ventilation and tubs, whirlpools and shower systems (see Graph 7).

Of those who saw an increased incidence of consumers requesting specific brands, nearly half (49.5%) said it was having a "notable impact" on what product lines they carry.

Still, manufacturers' brand awareness campaigns have a long ways to go before dealers' showrooms are overrun with consumers clamoring for specific brands: More than a quarter of all dealer respondents (29.1%) said that less than 10% of their clients request specific brands, and another 31.8% say between 10 and 24% of their clients come in looking for specific brands (see Graph 3).

As one dealer on the West Coast sees it, "Consumers are more familiar with brand names than in the past, but they also are coming to a designer for a reason: They trust me to steer them in the right direction, pick the right products for their project and make sure they get what they need."

"I don't get people demanding brand names as much as asking about them," says an East Coast-based dealer. "They'll say, 'I heard XYZ brand was good, what do you think?'"

Countertops were the most common product category where clients asked for specific brands (see Graph 5), with dealer respondents rating it an average of 3.5 on a scale of one to five (five being most likely to be requested by brand name). Plumbing products also seem to enjoy strong brand recognition among respondents' clients, with dealers giving this category a rating of 3.1 on a scale of one to five. Appliances were also cited by dealers as a product category that frequently solicited brand requests among consumers, with respondents rating it a 2.7 out of five.

Lighting products, kitchen and bath accessories and flooring products were cited by dealers as least likely to engender specific brand requests, with lighting being rated only 1.7 out of five, kitchen and bath accessories scoring only 1.8 out of five, and flooring products garnering a rating of 2.1 out of five.

Evaluating product

However, respondents showed little consensus about what the best frequency is for performing these evaluations. While more than half (52.9%) believe that existing product lines should be evaluated at least every six months, a surprisingly large portion (38.4%) evaluate these products only once a year, and another 6.6% review product lines only every two years or more (see Graph 8).

Some 13.2 percent of respondents said they do monthly evaluations of existing product lines; 25.8% schedule quarterly evaluations, and 13.9% review products every six months.

When it comes to new product lines, dealers are willing to give products a bit more time, with only 39.1% making a decision about the product in six months or less. The majority (54.3%) said they would give a new product at least a 10-18 month trial before making a final decision about whether to keep or drop it.

Several dealers who do less frequent product evaluations said they believe new products grow on consumers with time, so giving them that exposure over multiple showroom visits is essential to building demand. As one put it, "Products need time to grow legs; you don't want to yank them before you give them a fair chance. Despite what people tell you, even 'overnight sensations' are usually years in the making."

Several dealers surveyed noted that display space is scarce and valuable; they can't afford to waste a year or more waiting to see if something is going to take off, though they said they might wait longer, even if response was luke warm, if they, personally, felt that the product was really exceptional.

Changing ways
When asked if they'd markedly changed the way they specify products in the past 10 years, dealers were surprisingly vocal. As one dealer noted, "I used to sell features and benefits now more emphasis is placed on style and image. The kitchen and bath market has become more of a fashion industry."

Another dealer cited the growing array of products as cause for greater research about each, and said, "I thoroughly investigate any new products , even calling dealers that carry the product in different markets to discuss pros and cons. I will travel to see product displays at other dealers, since the small examples shown by reps don't necessarily represent the actual installed product."

Others said they use data bases to track product feedback from clients, monthly meetings to keep abreast of offerings and a continued focus on "being the first on the block to find new products" because, as one dealer concluded, "Excitement creates need!" KBDN