A New Spin on the Web

A New Spin on the Web

Today's kitchen and bath dealers are learning a host of new ways to make their Web sites effective, using them for everything from customer education and pre-qualification to lead generation and marketing support.

by Janice Anne Costa

In fact, within days of the creation of Charlotte's well-crafted web, hundreds of people were flocking to see it and Wilbur, the object of this unique promotion, was drawing more traffic than Grand Central station during rush hour.

While much has changed since then, the premise remains the same, with the Web albeit a more high-tech version continuing to function as a highly effective promotional tool that allows kitchen and bath dealers and designers to generate traffic, separate themselves from the crowd and showcase what makes them extraordinary. 

Like the intricate Web from the children's story, today's best Web sites bring together numerous threads to create a comprehensive whole and that whole can let consumers do everything from basic research to "virtually visiting" (or at least previewing) a business without ever leaving home.

What does that mean to the kitchen and bath industry? For starters, kitchen and bath dealers/designers who weave their Webs or, in this case, Web sites effectively can enjoy increased opportunities to reach new and greater numbers of customers, showcase their work, promote their businesses, pre-qualify customers, bring in new leads and enhance their other marketing efforts. And, these sites can help to "pre-educate" consumers about everything from pricing to what happens in each step of the remodeling project saving valuable employee time in the showroom.

What's on it
While most agree that the Web is not meant to be a text-intensive medium, an effective Web site should still provide enough information to make it worth the cyber trip. That can mean everything from pictures of projects, staff bios, links to manufacturer sites and client testimonials to frequently asked questions, directions and showroom hours, design retainer agreements and even "virtual showroom tours." 

But, however you weave it, kitchen and bath dealers agree that the most effective Web sites give potential customers not just information, but a true flavor of who they are. 

For DeWitt Beall, owner of Dewitt Design Kitchens, in Sherman Oaks, CA, that means artistry and presentation. His Web site (www.dewittdesignerkitchens.com) was built around a 17th century architectural drawing. As he explains, "It has some interesting architectural details as part of the background of it. Uniquely, it has an Italian piazzo where there is a nautilus in the center with numbers around it from one through 12, and you click on those, and it takes you to different views of work that I do. I call it a style gallery. I've gotten a great response from it."

Darius Baker, president of the Sacramento, CA-based D&J Kitchens & Baths, believes in using his Web site which doubles as his "virtual showroom" (www.djkitchen.com) to give customers a sense of trust. "You want to use your Web site to tell customers how you do business, to make them feel comfortable. You want to use it as part of the process of building trust."

Of course, nuts and bolts business information is also key to a Web site's success. On the Kitchens by Stephanie Web site (www.kitchensbystephanie.com), Grand Rapids, MI-based Stephanie Witt, CKD, CBD notes that the site takes customers through the entire process, providing valuable information that helps to educate them about the remodeling process. 

Witt notes, "We have a section called 'How To Start' with a preliminary look at what is involved in remodeling a kitchen and how you work with a kitchen designer. We have a page that tells you about the sort of costs, and we lay out all of our cabinet lines so people can get a handle on the types of value, from an introductory level all the way up to custom cabinetry. We also price out a very large kitchen with all the bells and whistles to give them an idea of what you can do to that price if money is no object."

Adds Kyle Borst, operations manager/design consultant for Kitchens by Stephanie,"We also have frequently asked questions [on our site]. We have a map page that allows someone to print out a map to our location and also [an area that allows customers to] contact us for an appointment by e-mail." 

Witt adds that, "We can download our 20-20 color renderings into jpeg files for jobs that are out of our remote location. If you can send a color rendition to a client over the Internet, it's an impressive thing."

Max Isley, CKD, of Hampton Kitchens of Raleigh, Inc., in North Carolina, believes an effective site should be comprehensive as well as attractive. His site (www.hamptonkitchens.com) includes "products we sell and links to the manufacturers of those products; services we provide, including examples of our kitchen drawings; staff biographies; a kitchen planning guide for the consumer to print out and complete and bring with them when they visit the showroom; a description of the remodeling process; photographs of completed projects; unsolicited testimonials from clients; a map to the showroom and hours of operation, and an invitation to our kitchen design workshops." 

Sometimes a touch of local color or "celebrity" can also add appeal. For instance, Witt notes that, "On our testimonial page we have a note from the governor's residence where we scanned the actual letter from the governor that has the governor's seal on it." Things like this can help a Web site stand out.

But ultimately, it's the visual evidence of the designer's skills that's most important to feature on the site, according to Beall. "I think the pictures of the work are what people visit for. That's where they get ideas. When people visit a showroom, they don't say 'I want to buy a kitchen,' they say 'I'm looking for ideas.'"

Baker agrees: "Pictures are always the most important thing on the Web site, people want to see what kind of work we do. We have an award section so they can see kitchens that won awards and testimonials from customers whose project have won awards. Then, we talk briefly about our company, what we're offering, our philosophy."

He adds that variety is also key: "I have some plain kitchens, and some really high end, so people know I'm not just an 'If you want to spend $100,000' kind of guy.

Witt notes that, "We have 18 major kitchens on our Web site that can be blown up into a large view. There are also pictures of a couple of bathrooms and other rooms. The people spend more time looking at pictures than anything else," but she adds that being easy to navigate is also an important element to the site's success. "We are linked to all of our suppliers as well as the NKBA. It has been an outstanding resource for us. 

Positive Results
Whether looking to create a more educated consumer or simply bring in leads, dealers agree that their Web sites provide plenty of positive results. 

For Baker, the benefits are multi-fold. He explains that, "Our Web site serves us in two ways. For people who are surfing the Web, looking for someone in our area that can help them, I get a lot of traffic. But then I also get a lot of qualified leads, or pre-qualified leads, so to speak, from people who have seen my print advertising. [Before the advent of a Web site], they would have called and met with me first, [but now] they go to the Web site first, and when they call after having visited the Web site, they've already decided I'm someone they seriously considering. So, it saves time. Many of my customers have seen my Web site before they ever meet with me personally."

Baker, too, sees his Web site as being a clear money maker. "I get three quality leads a week off my Web site," he states.

Borst sees one of the positive results of her firm's Web site as being able to weed out the wrong customers. As she notes, "What we want to do is give a wealth of information that helps anybody who happens to stop by. What they found there will help determine if we are a company that might help them. We are a niche market, and we are looking to reach [the kind of customers who fit that niche]."

According to Beall, his Web site, while it does draw "quite a bit of traffic," is more valuable to his firm as a way of speaking to potential customers. He states, "Basically, I use the Web site as a resource and I refer people to it. [While I am affiliated with a showroom], I do not have a showroom [of my own]. So [when I get a referral], I tell them to go check out my Web site, and it gives me a kind of leg up on the competition. I have testimonials on there as well. I find that the whole smorgasbord is a big benefit. There are a lot of different resources on my Web site, and [customers appreciate that]. It isn't just dumping cabinets on their doorstep and running."

Staying current
Because the Web, only barely out of its infancy and still defining and refining itself, is one of the fastest-changing mediums around, updating a Web site frequently is key to keeping it effective. Notes Baker, "I think it's important to update your Web siteand it's always good to have the latest trends, appliances, countertops, whatever. You want to let people see the diversity your [offerings]."

At Hampton Kitchens, Max Isley updates quarterly to keep things new and fresh.

Beall notes that, "I update about every six to nine months and keep it current by putting fresh work in there." In addition to new work, he likes to keep it exciting by constantly brainstorming new ideas for his site. In fact, he notes, "I will [soon] be adding an entirely new section, a 'Before and After' section. It will help people see the transformation that takes place on a project."

Baker adds, "When I update, I'm going to do a lot of bullet statements, I'm going to try to incorporate frequently asked questions." He likes the idea of adding some general advice for consumers, and notes that, "One thing I'm going to put [on my site] is to [tell potential customers that they should always] call references. Not just three, but 10 or 50. This business evolves around trust. I get the jobs I get because I instill a sense of trust in my clients."

Down sides
While kitchen and bath dealers/designers interviewed by K&BDN agree that Web sites have a lot to offer kitchen and bath professionals, there are a few down sides. The primary one, according to Isley, is "the time needed to update and keep it fresh. You can't just launch it and forget about it."

Witt agrees that keeping things updated can be a challenge; as she notes, "I try to be sure everything is kept up-to-date, especially with our photograph section, addresses, etc. But, as a kitchen dealer, it's hard because our first job is to sell kitchens." While she notes that her efforts are greatly aided by working with a Worldview Technologies, a firm that specializes in Web sites for kitchen designers, she notes that, "They still can't update it without our input, so we have to stay on top of that."

While Beall doesn't see any real downsides to having a Web site, she does note that her site sometimes draws requests from potential customers out of her range of business, or people just looking for generalized advice. "I get requests for information from all over the world and I feel bad about not being able to respond to them," she says ruefully.

The other down side is that the Web simply isn't going to reach a certain demographic of customers. Older consumers tend to be less comfortable with the dynamics of the Internet, and many are resistant to learning at this late stage in their lives. 

As Baker notes, "I don't see a lot of the older generation, retired, empty nesters, who have been to my Web site. The ones who fill out the response form who I get an e-mail from are more of the boomer generation, the younger end of the boomer generation and the Gen Xers. They've grown up with it, the boomers have evolved with it, they're comfortable with it. They look at it as a source, then they meet in person and see if they can trust the source. It's a two-step process."

Still, dealers agree that with most of today's kids becoming computer literate by the time they're in grade school, the Web is clearly the way of the future.

And, as with Charlotte and Wilbur, an effectively spun "web" can work wonders toward making one's business be it bringing in the bacon, or trying to avoid becoming bacon  a household name. KBDN