Give Technology a Chance

The sun is shining, teal-blue-green waves are whooshing softly on the shore, and I can all but see the suntanned waiter appearing, pina colada in hand.

Actually, it's raining out, but on my computer screen saver, it's just another day in paradise. The programmed-in ocean sounds soothe my work-frazzled nerves, and it occurs to me, if technology can bring a taste of Tahiti even to my crowded little office, what miracles can it work in today's kitchen and bath showrooms, where conjuring dreams is just business as usual (see related story, Page 64)?

I decide to call a few showrooms to find out.

My first call is to a friend who has a stunning showroom that's constantly being updated; her product displays are so cutting edge, customers jokingly suggest that she must be part psychic. Surely she'll have some good insights into how to use technology to enhance the showroom environment, I think.

"Don't ask me, I hate technology!" she announces from her cell phone. "It's just so impersonal." Since her cell phone is the only way I've been able to reach her in the past three years, I find her response puzzling. Unfortunately, she can't talk she's late for
a teleconference with an architect from Australia, and has to stop at an ATM machine en route. "But, if I can think of anyone who can talk to you about how they use technology, I'll e-mail you," she says.

Next, I place a call to a dealer in the Silicon Valley area. "Oh no, we avoid technology like the plague," he informs me. "Our clients are high end, they want to deal with people."
"We've never gone for that techno-gadget-y stuff," adds an East Coast dealer, whose tone suggests I've proposed roasting a live pig in his showroom. (Then again, perhaps not a Hawaiian luau might be considered trendy right now, and certainly, no one can argue that it's not personal enough).

It occurs to me that it has become enormously fashionable to dislike technology. Even people who Webcast their weddings, take virtual tours of Graceland and sell their unwanted relatives on eBay claim to hate technology.

Despite the "e revolution," they insist that, in the kitchen and bath industry, people want personal, and high tech isnot personal.

It's a perception that's been around for a while. Bolstered by years of poorly written tech manuals, bad sci-fi movies and computer viruses that claim they love you and then eat your hard drive not to mention the crash of the dotcoms the perception of technology has increasingly become that of an imperfect science: incomprehensible, unfriendly and unstable.

However, this image has little to do with reality. Technology, people seem to forget, exists to make life easier, simplify business, save time and money, and enhance communications. And, today's technology does all that and more. So why the bad rap?

Perhaps the problem is that people still don't seem to understand what technology is. Even cell-phone-using, eBay-addicted folks seem to equate it with robots taking over, replacing all human life forms, until visiting the showroom will be like getting lost in an endless voice mail loop where your only choice is "Press one"

Yet many of these same dealers use surround sound to give life to their home entertainment displays, Power Point to create exciting client presentations, motion lighting to guide customers through their showrooms or teleconferencing to keep multiple parties up-to-date on a project's progress. They showcase high-tech appliances and "live" kitchen hook ups, and use big-screen technology to broadcast cooking shows or product information in their showrooms. All this while insisting that they don't like technology.

Technology, it's clear, needs a PR makeover.

Consider the benefits: Technology can educate prospects, create a more inviting atmosphere, even "virtually" enlarge a limited facility by allowing the display of a multitude of products via online or kiosk displays.

"But technology eliminates actual relationships!" dealers insist.

Don't tell that to independent designer Susan Serra, creator of KitchenBathPros.com. One of the most interesting features of her new Web site is an area of online message boards where designers can share experiences, ask or answer questions, get emergency advice, enjoy camaraderie or just vent about the business to other kitchen and bath designers from all over the U.S. How much more personal does it get than that?

The NKBA has recognized that technology is something of a stumbling block to many in our industry, and has appointed a Sub-Committee to help bring our industry up to speed.

However, like everything else in life, it starts with attitude. We need to let go of the outdated negative perceptions and embrace technology for what it is: a many-faceted tool that allows us to enhance our communication, our business and our bottom line. It doesn't get any more personal than that.

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