Today’s market includes multiple challenges: high unemployment, a rise in home foreclosures, a decrease in broken ground for residential and commercial construction, fluctuating American stock markets as well as collapsing European economies. All of this is triggering a worldwide crisis.
Many of these outside factors that usually build consumer confidence and encourage people to upgrade their dwellings are now working against us in the decorative plumbing, tile and hardware field. While some have chosen to get out of the business altogether, the rest of us are trying to sustain what we currently have. Our greatest challenge is figuring out how to move forward.
We are challenged by the fact that, ultimately, it is the consumers who make the final decisions about the decorative materials for their homes. Those decisions are out of our control.
The end user has become more and more involved with the process. In addition, it is taking people much longer to make a decision about whether to remodel, and to decide on the products they want.
During these challenging economic times, consumers are looking for a deal, and to find it they are shopping at multiple places. Most of the time, monetary concern is the biggest factor influencing their decisions.
This current consumer behavior is affecting all levels in our industry – manufacturers, dealers and distributors, representatives and contractors. All of us have seen a substantial decrease in the volume of business, along with margins that have been sacrificed because of the fear of losing the sale. This obviously has made our lives more difficult. It’s very hard to remain positive, given the pressures.
Ask the right questions
Moving forward, for the lines we represent, we need to recognize and champion the manufacturers’ designs, passion for their products, production of quality merchandise and integrity of their wares as well as their viewpoints on the competition and strategic geographic and demographic markets. For me – personally and for my business organization – I find that when this is communicated, it instills the same passion in us.
A case in point: I recently spoke with a buyer about the various aspects of her project. She has a substantial piece of land, as well as an architect, a designer and a general contractor. She has plenty of free time in her life and is active in shopping with/for her designer, much to the designer’s dismay.
She specifically questioned me about a sink in the powder room to compare different prices and designs. Since the beginning of her product discovery, through showroom and Web site shopping, she was set on one style of sink, but it was more expensive than other options.
She sought my opinion because, as we’ve come to understand, price is a major deciding factor in today’s marketplace. I asked her if I could ask some personal questions. The answers revealed that this is their dream home, and they are planning to live in it for 25 years. It was also valued at more than $5 million. At that point, she knew what decision to make.
We continued to have several different conversations, and I also discovered that this piece of land has been in her family for four generations. After it passed to her family, they decided to build. It took several interviews with architects until they found one who fit their criteria. This architect and the firm created many different designs (about which she vocalized, “Can you believe that every time we changed something, major or minor, he sent us a bill?”).
Going through the selection of building materials for the windows, roofs, decks, siding, etc. was exhausting, she said.
She explained that the reason she kept seeking my advice was because I had an absolute passion and understanding of the products, interior design and the scope of her project. I considered this quite a compliment.