Thanks for a Miracle Market

American homeowners, midway through a difficult and uncertain year, continue to make a bold and powerful statement about who they are, who they want to be, and how they want to live their life.

It's a statement that's literally rewriting the conventional rules of consumer behavior, fueling the nation's housing market, and reverberating positively throughout the kitchen/bath industry.

Maybe you haven't noticed lately, but the kitchen and bath industry has become perhaps the closest thing there is in the U.S. economy to a Miracle Market.

It's a market that, almost miraculously, remains alive and well in the face of a three-year economic decline that has seen corporate profits plunge, manufacturing slow, capital spending dry up, the technology sector collapse, layoffs mount, and the equities market overrun by bears.

It's a market that somehow continues to thrive in the face of a sluggish economy, the war with Iraq, the fallout from 9/11, unending worldwide uncertainties, and the continued threat of domestic terror.

It's a market that remains buttressed by a once-in-a-lifetime array of demographic factors, low interest rates and favorable lifestyle trends.

And, it's a market that continues its promise of tremendous new opportunities for everyone in the kitchen and bath distribution chain.

Much of this can be laid at the feet of the American consumer, who has come in recent years to view the home as not simply a shelter but as a refuge, a haven, a place to spend time in and money ona sanctuary in which to seek comfort, sanity, intimacy, peace.

It's become increasingly clear in recent months, though, that there's far more than even that in play these days.

Today's consumers are making a clear cut statement. What they're saying is that they're looking for a higher standard of living than ever: Higher-quality products. Larger and more well-appointed homes. A new level of luxury.

You see it all over. In automobiles, clothing, food, personal care products, sports equipment, home furnishings. And you see it in new and remodeled homes that feature next-generation amenities and high-tech options.

It's not just happening at the upper strata of society, either.

Even America's middle-market consumers are trading up. They're shopping more selectively, paying premiums for leading brands, seeking features that were once the exclusive hallmark of top-flight luxury goods, surrounding themselves with products that provide clear functional and emotional benefits.

This "trading-up" phenomenon is being fueled by a wide range of demographic factors, cultural shifts and lifestyle changes. It's a reflection, for sure, of growing incomes, rising home equity, higher levels of education and the availability of premium brands at lower prices. It's also a reflection, however, of a powerful emotional need on the part of American consumers to make a positive statement about their life, their home, their status.

The impact of all of this on the kitchen and bath market is clear. Housing starts and home sales remain strong. Homeownership remains at near-record levels. Home equity continues to grow. Refinancing activity marches on. Shipments of most key products remain strong.

And, the high end of the Miracle Market purrs along.

Sales of custom and semi-custom cabinets are leading gains in the overall cabinet market; average kitchen prices are being reported higher among surveyed dealers; last month's K/BIS in Orlando attracted a record 785 exhibitors and 50,000 attendees.

And, there's more. A striking new study by the National Association of Home Builders reveals that fully one-fourth of home buyers aged 50+ are actually paying more for the home of their golden years than for their previous home in sharp contrast to the past.

You can't help but be left feeling lucky and grateful that you're part of the kitchen and bath market at this point in time. Lucky the market is as vibrant and stable as it is. Lucky that consumers' love affair with functional, beautiful kitchens and baths continues, and that this industry can enable people to feel good about their homes and help shape living spaces that nurture and comfort and bond.

We can only hope that the Miracle Market we're in right now somehow manages to last.

In the meantime, it's up to all of us to be truly grateful, to recognize the immense opportunities out there, and to seize the moment.