Tradition, and a Return to Quality

Christmas is coming, and the goose isn't the only thing getting fat. Probably I should stop baking holiday cookies by the dozens, stop mistaking chocolate Santas for breakfast food and stop attending parties where egg nog is omnipresent.

Unfortunately, it's harder than it sounds. Like many people, I'm a sucker for traditions holiday and otherwise.

If the kitchen and bath market is any indication, I'm not the only one enamored with tradition. In fact, when Kitchen & Bath Design News charted readers' most-asked about products for 2002, traditional styling and classic Old World looks scored consistently high on the list (see related story, Page 55). Furniture-style vanities, hand-carved and hand-painted furniture, decorative hardware with a carefully created patina of ageold hasn't been this "in" since Anna Nicole Smith made marrying an octogenarian the newest way to gain fame, fortune and a TV series dedicated to the romantic exploits of one's poodle, Sugarpie.

I ponder this fascination with all things traditional while cutting out paper snowflakes, decking the halls with boughs of holly and hanging stockings by the fireplace with well, not all that much care, actually, since the fireplace lining rusted out and crashed down onto the hearth months ago, precluding any chance of a roaring fire that might require care. Which is a shame, since a warm and cozy fire might be just the thing to dry out the water from the leak that sprung in the "practically new" roof over the den, which happened mere days after the "practically new" washing machine blew a hose and flooded the basement.

They just don't make stuff like they used to, I grumble in my best Grinch-inspired voice.
And, it occurs to me that this is part of the fascination with things of yesteryear whether it's baking the annual lopsided, tree-shaped cookies, or surrounding one's self with antique furniture-style pieces that hark back to days of old, bringing to mind memories of childhood joys and time-honored traditions that have warmed and cheered generations before us, and will (if my mother ever gets her wish and I give her grandchildren not of the fuzzy, four-footed variety) inspire generations to come.

It's not that "the good old days" were better, necessarily. But certainly there's a perception that, in years past, the world was more focused on quality, craftsmanship and lasting value.

This trend seems particularly prevalent in the kitchen and bath industry where, after years of collecting every gadget and gizmo imaginable, people are suddenly realizing quality is often found in the simple things or that, even when gadgetry is desirable, it's not a substitute for quality.

There's no question that our whole society desperately wants a return to quality. People want to live in a world where products don't break 10 minutes after you buy them, major corporations don't regularly turn up in the news for fraud, people can actually be counted on to keep their promises, and integrity is more than just a word that looks good on marketing materials.

Despite what your TV tells you, it's not about the slick packaging anymore. People want substance.

Sure, in an industry where products have so many capabilities that your shower system may well be smarter than your spouse, it's hard to imagine how anyone could not get caught up in all of the bells and whistles of what we sell. But, when K&BDN recently surveyed kitchen and bath dealers about how they choose what products to specify (see related story, Page 50), the resounding answer had nothing to do with gadgetry. Rather, it was all about quality quality of the product, quality of service and support, quality of deliveries.

Product features, price, even profit ran a distant second to quality. As one dealer reported, "Trust has become the number-one, essential, must-have ingredient in today's market, and to achieve that, you have to deliver quality."

Now, of course, everyone knows that a patina of age doesn't automatically confer quality. But there's something about traditional, Old World styling that makes people think quality and craftsmanship. Things that last. Fireplaces that won't crash down around you in the middle of your holiday celebrations.

If we can give our customers one gift for the holiday season, it should be a renewed focus on 'and commitment to' quality. Trends may come and go, and even traditions sometimes fade with time, but quality, like home-baked cookies, never goes out of style.

From all of us at K&BDN, we wish you a happy holiday season and a joyous and prosperous 2003.