Getting Set for the 'New' Consumer

A new chapter in American history began Sept. 11, 2001.

As expected, the effects of this tragic day have changed all our lives both personally and professionally. While consumers in the past few months have exhibited more reserved spending tendencies, we know that the kitchen and bath industry and, more broadly, the entire economy is apt to rebound. The question is, when? And what should we be doing now to prepare for it?

While it would be great to have a crystal ball handy now, it's un-doubtedly more productive for us to step back and re-examine our priorities, our inventories, our selling tools and our customers. With a better idea of how we can satisfy consumers' needs, and with careful planning, we can gain their confidence and make sales, even when the market is tight. In addition, formulating a master plan now can give kitchen and bath retailers a jump start when consumers decide they're ready to remodel or build.

Thankfully, our business has not come to a complete halt. However, there's no question that consumers have slowed their harried lives, noticing the small, simple joys. As individual lives change, history changes, and so do consumer trends in all areas. In effect, 2002 is bound to witness the emergence of an entirely "new" kind of consumer.

During this period of change, you may not feel comfortable making dramatic alterations to your showroom. On the other hand, this might be the perfect time to deal with the nagging issues you have not had the time to correct.

However you look at the current consumer spending respite, it's certainly the right time to pause and ready yourself for the waiting consumer.

Start by dusting off your master plan and taking a walk through your showroom. But don't just mentally walk through find an associate to accompany you on this quest. Bring along a note pad and pen to write your suggestions as you make observations. Consider organizing your ideas into categories such as immediate, short- term and long-term, or displays, graphics, work areas, and the like. This helps when deciding how to allocate budget dollars, too.

Some guidelines

During your showroom tour, keep these guidelines in mind:

  • Examine your displays. If you have some that are older than three years, consider updating or replacing them. Updating can be as simple as changing out hardware, wall coverings, plumbing fixtures and accessories. When making decisions, ask yourself the question: Are all models of the products you're showing current, or are some discontinued?
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  • Out with the old, in with the new. Eliminate the outdated and add freshness. Are you showing the current sellers and emerging/ future trends? Ask your vendor representatives and manufacturers. They should be able to provide you with plenty of insight.
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  • Simplify the selling environment. How much clutter do you and your customers see? Look at everything, down to the basics: curbs, doorways, signage. Then, see of you can try to gain a bigger impact with less.

Make it easy. Are like items gathered and displayed together to facilitate the selection and sales process? If they are not, now is a good time to reorganize. Perhaps it is time to put together a better selling selection center, or to adopt the manufacturers' ready-made versions. Is your logo easily read from the street? Make sure your business is well positioned so consumers will be more likely to choose you from among the many alternatives they have.

  • Design with efficiency in mind. Can you condense or rearrange your displays to show more and improve the selling presentation?

It's predicted that Americans will spend more time in the future gathering at home, instead of taking part in solo leisure activities. Since they'll be spending more time there, consumers will be reviewing the like and dislike aspects of their homes. This is great for business!

In response, make sure you're marketing and displaying solutions for family gathering spaces. Most families today consider the home computer a need, not merely a want. Don't miss the opportunity to impress them with a functional and beautiful home office display. Consider showing an ample work space with efficient storage built into a media wall.

Also, keep in mind that what might have been traditional and recently considered "old" may now be seen as a "simple pleasure." Let your prospects and customers know that something a bit safer and more comfortable can still be the right choice. For those who might be tempted to delay their purchase, dusting off the tried-and-true classics could provide just the security they need to buy now. For example, if your business is cabinetry, do you have the best and newest raised-panel design on the floor? Or, if you sell plumbing, have you placed the best-selling biscuit or classic white products in good light? Of course, this is not to say you should neglect the upscale, multi-feature models. Those who are seeking higher-end and trendy will still seek those products.

Now and in the future, remodeling will grow in importance. Some homeowners will choose to change only a few things. Others will embark upon an extensive remodel or additions to make their homes more of a retreat for socializing. To satisfy the consumer's comfort zone, offer both ends of the product spectrum in a positive light. In other words, give your customers a reason to buy with easy access to both classic staples and newer, unique designs.

Finally, this may be a good time to add a new product to bring the consumer out of hiding. Give your customers a reason to attend a family-friendly, simple, pleasurable experience that can spark interest in a future remodeling project.

For example, create a public relations opportunity centered on a local celebrity chef or an exotic or gourmet appliance, such as a cappuccino machine. Host a demonstration or food sampling. And, whatever you do, don't forget'to advertise!

CONSUMER NEEDS

As we emerge from the current spending pause, what will the consumer want? A number of things readily come to mind as logical key trends. Among them:

  • More family gatherings, entertaining. This could mean expanding or remodeling the family-friendly areas of the'home including the kitchen,'family room and recreation room.
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  • Americana and nostalgic influences. Keep design ideas and d'cor subtle, not too over-the-top or literal.
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  • Sensory appeal. Continue to work with nature-inspired, warm color palettes, but don't be afraid to add brighter accents to enliven and refresh the visual terrain.
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  • Comfort and the simple life. When planning your advertising, think "nurturing." Remember' the kitchen you came home to'after school? That's the feeling'you should be trying to recreate for your customers. Ads, marketing venues and display accessories should be geared more toward cookies and milk, not cigars'and martinis.

These recommendations are not a knee-jerk reaction to what has happened to all of us over the past several months. In contrast, the changes we've faced will last beyond a typical "fad." Business could grow and be very active soon, or it might evolve slowly. Exactly when is the part we don't know . . . but there's no question that business will get stronger.

Now is the time to prepare. Even if you don't put all your plans into motion immediately, at least you'll have a plan to follow. Be proactive, and be prepared, just before the consumer is, and you'll be ready for their remodeling and building plans. Wait too long and your competition will be one step ahead.

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