Applying Out-of-the-Box Thinking

In an economy that continues to plod along in fits and starts, kitchen and bath product manufacturers – like the design trade they serve – will have to increasingly think outside the box if they want to make hay in the future.

That much seems certain as 2011 grinds to an uneven, volatile close amid forecasts for another year of challenge and change on the horizon.

Stated simply, the same old rules for product development no longer apply – not with kitchens and baths becoming significantly redefined in the face of tighter homeowner budgets. Similarly, once-tried-and-true formulas for marketing are becoming passé, with consumer needs and hot buttons changing so dramatically. And long-used strategies for sales are also becoming gradually outdated, as new, non-traditional prospects increasingly impact the market.

All of which brings us to Kitchen & Bath Design News’ second annual “Leaders Conference” – and to “Generation Y.”

Conducted recently in Chicago, KBDN’s Leaders Conference was aimed at providing manufacturers with insights into the market forces, trends and business opportunities reshaping the kitchen and bath industry. And Generation Y emerged during the course of the all-day conference as a significant out-of-the-box opportunity for suppliers to leverage.

Much has been written about the profound impact on the market of Baby Boomers, with recent attention shifting to “Generation X,” the population cohort aged 30 to 45. The Leaders Conference, in contrast, aimed the spotlight squarely on Generation Y, an overlooked group of 76 million 18-to-29-year-olds.

As Gen Y moves into the market in ever-increasing numbers, it’s critical for manufacturers and designers to understand how these young adults differ from their older counterparts, according to the Research Institute for Cooking & Kitchen Intelligence (RICKI), which provided Leaders Conference attendees with insights into Gen Y’s remodeling needs.

RICKI noted, for example, that Gen Y is significantly less satisfied with their kitchens than older adults, and far more likely to remodel in the coming year. Moreover, RICKI said, Gen Y’ers know precisely what they want in their kitchens, and their hot buttons are substantially different than adults overall. And, while many Gen Y’ers are renters – or, in some cases, still living with their parents – there are many who are ready to remodel and have the financial wherewithal to do it.

Now, what does all of this mean?

It means, for one thing, that it’s important for manufacturers to view Gen Y as a potential customer base. It also means that both suppliers and designers should make an effort to understand Gen Y’ers’ needs and tastes, which are far different than those of older adults, and allocate marketing resources to reach these young people with messaging that resonates.

As Gen Y consumers move into their prime earning and spending years, there are ways for manufacturers and designers to stand out to this niche – and bona fide opportunities to profit. By understanding the way they think, companies can develop products and marketing strategies that will deliver Gen Y dollars down the road.

Most importantly, perhaps, considering the needs of Gen Y will lead the industry down a path on which out-of-the-box thinking becomes commonplace; where tired, old formulas get trashed; where new ways of thinking challenge outdated assumptions and lead to breakthroughs in products, enhancing the customer experience, and better understanding how to succeed in a changing and challenging market.