Unaided Brand-name Awareness is Low

Unaided Brand-name Awareness is Low

Most kitchen and bath product brands in all key categories apparently remain a well-kept-secret to the average home improvement consumer, whose brand-name awareness is extensive by comparison for literally every major product, from canned goods and clothing to airlines and automobiles.

Unaided brand-name awareness for some kitchen and bath products including cabinetry, countertops and bathtubs is so low, in fact, that it seems almost a wonder that the products are an integral part of literally every home in America, and that billions of dollars are invested in those products every year by U.S. homeowners.

The degree to which kitchen/bath product brand awareness is so limited is the key finding of a major new consumer survey conducted late last year by the Chicago-based research firm Leo J. Shapiro & Associates on behalf of National Home Center News, a trade magazine serving the home improvement retail market. Results of the national telephone survey which involved more than 900 households were released recently by National Home Center News, which granted Kitchen & Bath Design News permission to publish selected findings.

The survey reveals, for example, that only 11% of the consumers polled could readily name a brand of kitchen cabinet. Similarly, only 11% could name a countertop brand. By comparison, 47% of the consumers surveyed were able to name a brand of faucet, and 28% could name a brand of toilet (see related graph).

The survey also underlines the role being played by home centers as an increasingly competitive environment for kitchen and bath purchases even at the mid-range to high end. It concludes, for example, that home improvement stores are generally thought of as both a "good place to buy" kitchen and bath products, and the last place where those products were actually purchased a finding which suggests "that the home improvement store is increasingly perceived as the best source for almost all kitchen and bath products."

Moreover, home centers have "an even greater upside opportunity to capture more sales from specialty retail outlets because of consumers' very positive perception of them" a message which contains potentially serious ramifications for independent kitchen and bath dealers (see related Editorial, Page 7).
The National Home Center News survey also contained several other important findings. Among them:

  • Consumers at home centers are more likely to purchase small, commodity-type products such as showerheads and water filters than they are major remodeling components such as cabinets, vanities, countertops and plumbing fixtures a conclusion that, combined with the finding on brand names, lends credence to the claim that kitchen/bath dealers, designers and related professional specifiers remain a powerful force in the product-selection process.
  • Consumer purchasing plans for most key kitchen and bath products are fairly bullish and are expected to remain so, given the positive economic and demographic conditions that exist in the marketplace (see related graph).
  • Consumers use widely differing criteria when buying various kitchen and bath products, although many consumers continue to "buy" key intangibles offered by product specifiers (see related story, Page 42).

Name recognition

Regarding other products:
  • 8% of those consumers surveyed said they're considering purchasing a showerhead in the coming year. 19% of the surveyed consumers were able to name a showerhead brand, with Water Pik (17%), Moen and Delta (each 14%) the most-commonly-named brands. Quality (34%), style/looks (23%) and price (18%) are the three most important product characteristics affecting showerhead purchase decisions, surveyed consumers said.
  • 7% of the surveyed consumers said they were planning to buy a toilet in the coming year and, of the 28% of surveyed consumers who could name a brand of toilet, Kohler was named by 43%, and American Standard by 30%.
  • 6% of the consumers questioned said there is a chance that they might buy a cabinet in the coming year. Only 11%, however, could name a specific brand of cabinet. Of that 11%, KraftMaid (11%) and Merillat (9%) were the most prominent brands mentioned. Another 9% of the surveyed consumers mentioned "Sears" as a brand name of cabinetry. In terms of cabinet attributes that are important to them, consumers cited quality (37%), style/looks (28%) and price (15%) as among the keys.
  • 4% of those surveyed said they're considering buying a bathtub in the coming year. Only 10% were able to name a brand, with Kohler being mentioned as that brand 45% of the time. Quality (27%), style/looks (25%) and price (17%) are the three most important product characteristics affecting purchase decisions, consumers said.
  • 3% of those surveyed said they are considering buying a whirlpool bath in the coming year. While only 9% could name a brand of whirlpool, surveyed consumers said that the most important product attributes affecting their decision to buy are quality, price and style/looks, in that order.
  • Only 1% of the consumers surveyed said they were considering the purchase of a sauna in the coming year. 

Today's consumers are demanding more choices than ever when making kitchen- and bathroom-related purchases, but they're also demonstrating a willingness to exceed their budget and pay more for designs, products and services that exhibit demonstrable value.

That's the opinion of Mimi Cooper of the Cooper Marketing Group, Inc., an Ohio-based consumer research and marketing consulting firm. Cooper says that it's critical for kitchen and bath specialists to create a distinct "comfort zone" for their customers by being cognizant of the fact that most consumers have a very clear sense of what they want, but need to have a wider-than-ever range of choice.

"Buyers today are more educated, more sophisticated shoppers who are aware that there are more things from which to choose, and they expect more choices," Cooper observes. "They want what is distinctive and different, but want to feel comfortable with the selections from which they will choose. Kitchen and bath specialists must be something to everyone. Choice creates a comfort zone for customers."

According to Cooper, a company's level of professionalism is the first criteria consumers consider when deciding on a kitchen/bath remodeling firm. They ask themselves such questions as: How many years has the company been in business? Does it have a showroom? Does it provide referrals? What kind of customer service can they expect? Are the sales staff and business owner approachable?
Cooper says the key to connecting with today's kitchen and bath consumer is "to make your products and services stand out."
"The consumer is more sophisticated today," Cooper notes, adding that most kitchen and bath prospects have had experience in shopping at everything from outlet malls and discount chains to catalogues and upscale department stores. "They are not shopping amateurs," Cooper says of most kitchen/bath prospects.
Cooper advises kitchen and bath professionals to be aware of the fact that, with significant changes in homeowner demographics, new kitchen and bath customers may desire different designs, products, styles and materials than the more traditional customers of the past.
"Take this change as opportunity," Cooper advises. "Their choices cannot be ignored."
The first step in determining those choices, Cooper says, is simply to "ask enough questions to impress the customer with (your) professionalism and gather enough information to offer them the choices they are looking for.
"They have a lot of expectations, and they'll get very angry if those expectations aren't met," Cooper cautions. "They want the job done faster and more efficiently, and want more details," she adds. "Understanding your client leads the way to open and honest buyer-seller relationships, particularly when it comes to a major purchase like a custom kitchen or bath.
"That relationship is necessary to convince people to buy from you."
Eliot Sefrin