In the sales profession, the challenge of tapping alternative markets is never ending. Such is the dilemma for kitchen and bath professionals: How to branch into areas of the home outside the kitchen and bath, and how to display such possibilities in the showroom. With American families investing more time and money in their homes, family gathering spaces hold a wealth of opportunity.
So what exactly is a "family gathering space?" Maybe it's a great room, encompassing the dining area and kitchen as well as the informal family gathering area. Perhaps it's the comfortable nook tucked out of view in the back part of the home. It could even be the "bonus" room over the garage, or a finished basement "recreation room." No matter where it is, the family gathering space is a place for sharing time with loved ones, doing things we enjoy: watching a movie, surfing the Internet, playing video games or losing ourselves in that great American pastime television.
For this reason, the built-in home entertainment center is a great addition to a showroom display area.
Perhaps you've shied away from addressing this market because audio and video technology keep changing. While this is true, it's still possible to take advantage of the possibilities within the home entertainment market. To best suit your customers' needs, stay informed about the latest technology and consumer trends, and design your displays to fit your local market.
To get the maximum impact from your home entertainment investment, keep a few rules in mind when planning your displays:
- Know your market. As always, this rule is of utmost importance when considering changes/additions to your showroom's product and service offerings. Do you have the customers who will be willing to spend the money a home entertainment package requires? Do you have the talent and/or product offerings in-house, or can you partner with a home entertainment design specialist to deliver what your customers want?
- Wherever possible, incorporate home entertainment options into your showroom. Ideally, at least one or two displays should be dedicated solely to home entertainment. But, knowing how precious space usually is, modifying existing displays or reception areas to include functional home entertainment options might be more realistic. Consider installing a plasma screen TV (perhaps on loan from your home theater partner, see below) in a multi-use area so that it can be used for video conferencing, staff training or consumer product education. A similar effect on a smaller (and more budget-friendly) scale can be accomplished with a 32-inch TV housed within a wall storage configuration or an even smaller TV within a kitchen display.
- At the very least, display the basics. To effectively display basic home entertainment for the entry-level price point, consider a stand-alone configuration that includes a tall cabinet to house a tube television, stackable components and CD/DVD media storage. It could include additional cabinets that flank the main unit, but not necessarily. While the TV should be concealed behind solid pocket doors, components should be covered by glass to facilitate remote control function. Other options to consider are a cabinet-mounted TV swivel and speaker-cloth door inserts.
The most important thing to remember is that customers at this price point will shop around in an "apples to apples" comparison at kitchen and bath showrooms as well as office supply stores and stereo or appliance outlets. Therefore, home entertainment units must be priced right to capture this market.
n Set your business apart by offering options in product and design. Because customers at the mid-range price point work closely with the designer to create their own space, competition from office or appliance stores is not as common. However, it is worthwhile to display and offer options that allow flexibility and functionality. An example might be a trim kit that can be used to accommodate larger tube television units, should the customer choose to upgrade within a few years. Little "extras" such as this give customers peace of mind and increased value for their investment.
At the mid-range price point, remodeling or new construction consumers are probably seeking a slightly more upscale, stylish configuration that fits their busy lifestyle. This unit likely will house not only the TV and stereo, but also a computer/desk area or possibly a video game center. One good configuration spans an entire wall of the family space. Its dominant presence within the room allows the unit to become an attractive focal point or an architectural anchor. Aside from the functional necessities of an efficient entertainment center, remember to include fashionable molding treatments and other adornments for that built-in furniture feel.
- Partner with a home entertainment specialist. Especially at the higher-end price point, forging partnerships with such professionals is a good way to build your clientele. If possible, arranging "satellite showrooms" through a mutual display trade and referral agreement increases both partners' potential for reaching additional customers. In addition, displaying your partner's upscale home theater equipment in your showroom allows you the opportunity to work with costly items, such as plasma televisions, which you might not choose to purchase for your own displays.
The sky is the limit at the upper end of the pricing spectrum. Along with plasma televisions, built-in surround sound systems and hidden home theater components comes the possibility for outfitting non-traditional spaces, such as the master bedroom, with extravagant entertainment systems. While these highly specialized spaces are almost always planned for new construction, at this price point it is also possible to include them as part of a remodeling project. Such projects provide unique opportunities for kitchen and bath designers to work with their home theater partners to create one-of-a-kind solutions.
Out of Sight
According to Matt Ratzlaff, designer and salesperson for Fresno Land Inc., a custom home design and construction firm in Fresno, CA, an emerging consumer trend for upscale home entertainment is keeping it out of sight. Ratzlaff says clients who want their home entertainment equipment hidden from view can disguise even a 40- to 60-inch wide plasma screen TV. Because the flat-screen units are only a few inches deep, they can be inset into the wall within an art niche over the fireplace and hidden behind a curtain or doors.
Camouflaging the television redirects the focus within a room toward another visual centerpiece, Ratzlaff adds.
Another advantage to the plasma TV is that it requires only electricity and a video feed to operate, so audio/video components need not be adjacent to it. Homeowners can house components within a unit that does not look like an entertainment center, such as a buffet or linen cabinet. The same goes for normally bulky speakers now six-speaker surround systems are built flush to blend with the wall.
Originally very costly, the price of plasma TV units has already decreased as much as 80 percent since their introduction. Now about $3,000, the cost of plasma televisions is expected to continue to decrease in the coming years, increasing their popularity. But until then, traditional home entertainment configurations for tube television sets remain in demand. These include stand-alone units as well as wall-to-wall built-in configurations that serve as an architectural anchor within the room.
The home entertainment unit is just one part of the family gathering space. With consumers seeking more time with family in family gathering spaces, the possibilities for displaying home entertainment options is limited only by your imagination and, of course, your budget.
If you find your business lacking in any of the areas previously mentioned, don't despair. It's not too late to take advantage of the opportunities afforded by this emerging trend. Creative thinking and effective networking can alleviate some of the space limitations and budget difficulties you may encounter. Start your research today and formulate your own strategic plan for capturing your share of design projects for family gathering spaces.
Sarah Reep, CKD, ASID, CMG, is the director of design for Middlefield, OH-based KraftMaid Cabinetry. An award-winning designer and nationally recognized leader in the kitchen and bath industry, Reep is a renowned speaker and educator.