Time for Manufacturers to Talk

Al Gore and George W. Bush, two guys with viewpoints, personalities and constituencies about as wide apart as they come, spent the past few months engaged in a dialogue that proved, at times, spirited, contentious, unsettling, even humorous.

The dialogue, however, also proved fruitful: It helped the nation's voters decide on a new president. Maybe it's time for cabinet and appliance manufacturers to take a cue from the two presidential candidates and start seriously engaging in an open dialogue of their own one that would almost certainly yield positive results for kitchen designers and cabinet installers across the country.

The exchange of ideas would focus, of course, on how cabinets and appliances can be made to mesh more smoothly in today's kitchens, and how manufacturers can work together to reduce the number of potential headaches faced by designers and installers on the job site.

Ask kitchen specialists what they think about the need for such a dialogue, and most will probably agree citing lots of anecdotal evidence to suggest that the two manufacturing components of the industry, for all their advances, still seem somehow out of sync.

One experienced kitchen dealer pointed out recently in a national forum how a pair of appliance manufacturers introduced downdraft cooktops that couldn't fit in standard 24"-deep base cabinets with 3/4" backsplashes. That same dealer observed how another manufacturer changed the specs on a double wall oven, yet kept the model number the same, forcing the dealer, at the point of installation, to order a replacement.

There's even more to this cabinet-appliance dilemma. Kitchen designers report, for example, that they're often left very much in the dark regarding appliance specs, which remain troublesome to locate, and are outdated quickly as new models emerge with little or no notice. They'll also tell you that connecting with competent, responsive technical service personnel is often quite a challenge.

Appliance panels can also prove especially challenging, designers add, since they're often difficult to fit before the appliance has been installed, and ordering them after installation will inevitably delay a project and irritate homeowners.

All this, of course, is hardly news to industry veterans. Although there have been efforts by some major players to improve things recently, the truth is that there has never really been enough of a regular, meaningful discourse between appliance and cabinet manufacturers.

The need for such an exchange, however, is more pressing than ever . . . simply because cabinet and appliance product advances have rendered kitchen design more complex than ever, requiring a higher degree of coordination.'

What's clearly needed now is an unprecedented level of communication within the kitchen and bath industry in short, more dialogue between each of the industry's moving parts. Appliance designers and engineers need to consult more closely with designers before they develop products. Appliance and cabinet companies need to coordinate their production efforts more closely. Installers should be given far more of a voice regarding the challenges they face on the job site.

Perhaps the NKBA, the KCMA and AHAM can help in this regard, by bringing the various sides together. Kitchen & Bath Design News would certainly be more than willing to help organize a forum of appliance manufacturers, cabinet suppliers and kitchen designers, if it would facilitate a meaningful exchange of ideas and some progress.

Cabinet and appliance manufacturers have come too far over the years to be stuck in some odd kind of time warp with respect to the way they communicate with the industry, and among themselves. It's time for the industry's key manufacturers to have a talk. It may be conducted on a far smaller stage than a presidential election, but the result, for the industry they serve, can be every bit as significant.