The Best of Both Worlds

In a time when google is the ultimate information resource, “friends” are a commodity found on Facebook and everything from phones to refrigerators are “smart,” it’s easy to assume the whole word has gone to the technophiles. And, indeed, technology continues to have a growing impact on everything from the way information is accessed and how products are ordered to how the industry markets kitchens and baths to consumers.

Yet most kitchen and bath dealers prefer to take a middle ground approach that blends elements of high-tech communication with the human touch – balancing magazines and newspapers with Web sites and online videos, trade shows and live conferences with Webinars and online interactive training courses, and e-Newsletters with good old fashioned word of mouth.

In the age of modern technology, kitchen and bath pros have decided that they want the best of both worlds – so that they can access what they need, when they need it and in the format they need it in – whether that’s “live,” online or some combination of the two.

That’s according to a recent KBDN survey that polled more than 540 kitchen and bath dealers and designers about their technology habits and preferred sources for gathering information.


Multiple Information Sources

In a tight economy, information becomes a more valuable resource than ever. So it’s no surprise that kitchen and bath professionals are tapping into multiple information sources to stay abreast of the latest news, products, trends and more.

While online research is popular for its speed, ease of use and 24/7 accessibility, respondents who were polled about where they get their kitchen and bath industry information and news actually cited industry trade magazines as their number one information resource, with 92% of those surveyed citing this as a key source for industry news and information (see Graph 1).

The second most popular information source, not surprisingly, was manufacturer Web sites. As one dealer noted, “The market is still changing fast enough that you need to constantly stay on top of specs, and most manufacturer Web sites are very good about keeping this info up to the minute.”

After manufacturer Web sites, consumer magazines (50.8%) and industry conferences/trade shows (43.4%) were cited as top sources for industry info, followed by e-newsletters (41.4%), magazine Web sites (40.1%) and word of mouth (34.1%).

Webinars were cited by 27.6% of respondents, TV was cited by 19.9% of those polled, live seminars won 19.3% of respondents’ votes and blogs were named by 16% of dealers and designers surveyed.

Twitter was seen as the weakest source of information by those polled, with only 4.3% viewing it as a credible source of industry news or information.


Using the 'Net

The Internet provides both myriad opportunities for seeking out knowledge and numerous platforms for accessing that knowledge. However, not all of those platforms resonate with kitchen and bath professionals. For instance, while 71.3% use the Internet to research product info and literature and 68.9% use it to read news stories, a mere 3.5% of those polled download apps and only 3.3% seek out company social media sites (see Graph 2). Likewise, online opinion forums, which were all the rage a few years ago, seem to be falling by the wayside, with only 1.1% of those polled saying they use the Internet to post on these online forums.

More than one third (38.1%) go online to watch videos, 13.3% sign up for alerts or newsletters, 11.8% purchase products online and 10.9% sign up for Webinars and read blogs, respectively.


Online Interaction

Perhaps the best thing about the online medium is how it has evolved. A somewhat static resource in its early years, the Internet has grown into a highly interactive arena where kitchen and bath professionals can not only research information, but also engage with clients, manufacturers and each other.

Social media is one of the most popular places kitchen and bath dealers and designers use to interact online. However, there does seem to be a bit of a schism here, with dealers and designers either loving social media sites or hating them. In fact, while nearly half of those surveyed say they use social media at least several times a week (and more than one third say they’re on daily), another quarter of those polled say they never use social media (see Graph 3).

“It’s a huge time suck,” explains one such kitchen dealer, who says she sees friends and colleagues losing hours a day to the social media world, without any tangible gain in business to show for it. “It’s easy to get caught up in the whole social media thing, because everyone’s doing it, but in a tight economy, you have to look at what’s going to generate revenue and what’s just a waste of time. I haven’t seen any real evidence that social media brings in clients or generates profits,” she says.

However, another survey respondent had a very different take: “Today, more than ever, it’s all about being out there and making connections. Potential clients can go to my Facebook page and not only learn about my business, but also see designs in progress, read client comments and feel like they’re getting to know me and my business. It creates a comfort level that gives me an edge, which is important when everyone is out getting multiple bids before choosing a designer.”

While not as popular as social media, online videos seem to be gaining traction with kitchen and bath professionals, with 44% of those surveyed saying they watch online videos at least several times a month (see Graph 4). Another 30% say they watch these videos a few times a year, while only a small percentage (6.6%) say they never watch them.

Likewise, Webinars are making slow inroads into the kitchen and bath industry, as greater time constraints and reduced travel budgets have encouraged kitchen and bath dealers and designers to consider educational options that don’t require expensive travel.

That said, according to those polled, Webinars are still something that dealers and designers participate in sparingly, with 42.2% of those polled saying they attend Webinars only several times a year (see Graph 5). By contrast, only 21.6% say they participate in Webinars once a month or more, while 25% never attend Webinars.

But this trend may well grow due to its convenience and time-saving aspects. As one designer states, “Being able to squeeze in some extra training in an hour while I’m eating my lunch is very helpful. Continuing education is important to me, but time is tight, so this gives me the best of both worlds.”

Phone Plans

While technology is always growing by leaps and bounds, smart phones in particular are in high demand. And dealers and designers are no exception here, with many jumping on the smart phone bandwagon. In fact, some 22.7% said they currently use an Android-based smart phone, 20.6% said they use an iPhone, 16.6% use a Blackberry and 5.3% use some other smart phone.

But not everyone is fully on board with this trend; more than one third of those polled said they’re still using a basic mobile phone. However, a good number of these said they hoped to upgrade in 2012.

Despite the growing interest in smart phones, the majority of respondents said they don’t use most of the functions on their smart phones, primarily using them to talk, text, send emails and take photos. Only 5.9% said they download business-related apps, 3.2% watch industry-related videos, 1.5% read blogs, and 0.5% attend Webinars with their smart phones.

When asked about their phone purchasing plans for 2012, 16% said they will purchase an iPhone, 7.7% said they will buy an Android-based model and 2.8% planned to purchase a Blackberry (see Graph 6).

When it comes to iPads or tablets, only 12.8% said they currently have one, but nearly one third said they expect to purchase one in 2012, suggesting that tablets will increasingly become a part of doing business in the kitchen and bath industry in the coming year.

While many respondents expressed a desire to upgrade everything from laptops to cell phones in 2012, the economy continues to impact the industry; 38.7%of those polled said they will not be making any technology related purchases in 2012.