The Importance of Being Different

There's some good news, some bad news and some decidedly enlightening news out there for independent dealers as the torrid summer heat blankets most of the country, and the kitchen/bath market, likewise, continues to sizzle.

The news I'm referring to is tucked away almost inconspicuously into the findings of a major new survey into the product brand awareness, buying tendencies'and retail attitudes of kitchen'and bath consumers.

The survey reveals that consumer purchasing plans for most key kitchen and bath products stoked by an upbeat economy and changing lifestyle needs remain largely bullish.

That, of course, is the good news.

The bad news for independent dealers is that home centers, rather than specialty retail outlets, are being increasingly viewed by those same consumers as the most viable source for kitchen/bath products. This is true, as it's always been, on the low end of the product spectrum for things like showerheads and water filters. Unfortunately for dealers, it's also becoming increasingly true at the mid- to high end of the market the traditional bread-and-butter niche for independents.

In other words, home centers are not only not going to go away, but they may actually become even more of a thorny form of competition for independent dealers in the future.

Which brings us to the survey's most enlightening news.

And that's that despite consumers' bullish buying plans and their growing love affair with home centers most kitchen and bath product brands apparently remain somehow a well-kept-secret among kitchen and bath prospects. In fact, brand-name awareness for most key kitchen/bath products including cabinetry and countertops is so low that it's almost staggering, given the fact that billions of dollars are invested in those products every year by U.S. homeowners.

So, what does this last bit of news tell us and why is it enlightening?

For one thing, it tells us that kitchen and bath manufacturers'no doubt need to take a long,'hard look at the massive amounts of money they're pouring into consumer advertising in an apparently vain attempt to create brand name awareness among homeowners.

Even more importantly, perhaps, it underscores a belief that K&BDN has been trying to get across for years.
And that's that kitchen and bath dealers, designers and related professional specifiers remain, by far, the most powerful force in the consumer kitchen and bath product-selection process.' More powerful than consumer advertising. More powerful than some vague notion among consumers of "what's available" out there in the marketplace.'

More powerful, even, than any prospects' pre-conceived notions about a particular brand.

Today's consumers, as most analysts will attest, may well be more diverse, more educated, more demanding and more value-conscious than ever. Inevitably, though, they're still apparently walking into showrooms with more or less'of a clean slate when it comes to the specific brand of products they want and, ultimately, they're'
buying precisely those products that the designer/specifier endorses and decides to sell them.

It's critical that kitchen and bath product specifiers remember just how potent a force they are when they conduct their next face-to-face encounter with a prospect and when they attempt to hammer out a marketing program for their company versus the local home center.

It's equally important for dealers to remember that consumers are ultimately buying far more than simply products they're buying guidance, experience, expertise and professionalism; similarly, consumers are buying such key intangibles as a dealer's willingness to listen, his/her desire to incorporate homeowner ideas, his/her ability to offer choice, and his/her ability to understand and address their needs.

Kitchen and bath specialists cannot fail to understand all of this if they want to succeed in the face of burgeoning home-center competition. They cannot fail to market their inherent strengths. They cannot fail to understand their need'to be different or, better yet , unique. They cannot fail to understand the need to build a customer relationship based on communication, confidence and trust.

Dealers, lastly, can never fail to understand that, today more than ever, the one "brand" that counts more than anything for them is'that of the dealership itself.