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.
One thing we all have available to us is a portfolio of products that evoke emotion in people. We also have many new, environmentally friendly products along with new value-driven price points. Thus, our strongest asset is our ability to communicate our passions, our designs and the experiences of our manufacturers to the showroom and design communities. We need to effectively communicate the value of what we offer.
There’s no doubt that those of us who have survived during this downturn will have to work harder and smarter to increase revenues and margins. Now is the time to take a hard look at the way we do business.
Moving forward, I intend to spend every waking moment during the work day becoming a company that aggressively markets and communicates to the architectural and design communities, as well as to kitchen and bath dealers.
We need to educate our customers about new designs, changes in manufacturing with technologies that make products greener, and longevity and quality of our products. We need to provide information about the production process, warranties, and care and maintenance instructions.
The stronger organizations that can effectively disseminate this information are going to be the businesses that will continue to exist. Now, more than ever, we must have a positive attitude about increasing our time and devotion. As entrepreneurs, we not only have to wake up each morning to the reality of the situation of doing more with less, but we need to optimistically commit, focus and take our clients by surprise.
For our representative agency, our methods of communication involve email blasts with pictures and hyperlinks of new products, bi-annual open houses at our office to showcase new products, Web site updates of new products and personal visits to design firms and showrooms with printed catalog updates. The important core of this is educating our market with solutions for their clients.
Our business office is based in Denver, CO, and our territory covers the Rocky Mountain states of Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Wyoming and Idaho. This area accounts for around 4% of the nation’s population. This territory has always been a little different from the mainstream economy due to its remote western location and regions of secondary luxury vacation homes.
We have more time today to turn over every stone and look into every nook and cranny for that person who is building a luxurious home or commercial space. And, the products and applications we represent are a must for these stylish, quality and relevant projects.
Tim Vander Wall is the owner and operator of InterArchitectural Products (IAP). IAP operates a working studio in the Santa Fe Arts District in Denver, CO, and has been in business since 2003. IAP represents plumbing, tile and hardware products for luxury and sustainable markets for the residential, commercial and hospitality fields. IAP is active in a number of associations including DPHA, which named Vander Wall Representative Agency Professional of the Year in 2008.
DPH Perspectives is published regularly in KBDN under an exclusive strategic alliance with the Decorative Plumbing & Hardware Association.