Embracing Change In the Face of a Changing Market

There’s encouraging news on several fronts for a kitchen and bath industry that continues to exhibit meaningful signs of sustained recovery in the wake of last month’s Kitchen & Bath Industry Show (KBIS) in Chicago.

For one thing, business is widely expected to post even more solid gains as the second half of 2012 kicks off. Just as encouraging, design professionals report they’ve made significant strides over the past few years in adjusting to business conditions – enabling them to not only successfully weather the downturn, but to position their companies for profit growth as the market uptick continues.

Stated another way, the leading-edge companies that populate today’s market are leaner and better managed than at any time in recent years. They’re also more bullish about future prospects.

In fact, according to a newly released study into designer business practices – conducted by Kitchen & Bath Design News’ research partner, the Research Institute for Cooking & Kitchen Intelligence (RICKI) – more than half of the 360 design professionals surveyed report that business is trending upward. Seven in 10 say they expect business to improve in the current calendar year (see related story, Page 32).

That optimism is mirrored in an unrelated survey conducted by Brooke Chase Associates, a Sarasota, FL-based executive search firm that specializes in the kitchen/bath industry. That survey revealed that more than 80% of building industry professionals polled – including dealers, manufacturers, wholesalers and builders – are forecasting revenue gains for 2012. Some 85% say they believe the industry is improving or leveling off.

All of this, of course, bodes extremely well for the future.

What bodes equally well, however, are survey findings that suggest that industry professionals didn’t simply sit on their hands during the recent economic downturn. In contrast, they apparently reacted to the slumping economy by taking a cold, hard look at their companies, and making key changes in the way they conduct business.

In other words, they adapted.

According to the RICKI survey, for instance, four out of five design professionals surveyed report they’ve incorporated new strategies for conducting business in light of the slumping economy. One in six note they’ve changed their sales and marketing strategy. A similar number has downsized, initiated other belt-tightening measures or refined their target market or the types of jobs they accept.

And there’s more.

Many firms say they’ve cut utility bills, downsized office/showroom space and renegotiated business contracts. Others have established new payment plans with vendors, streamlined their product offerings and updated their qualification techniques and other standard operating procedures. Still others report they’ve embraced online marketing tools such as social networking, blogs, forums, smart phones and mobile apps. And some have simply learned to say no to unprofitable, problem-ridden projects that merely fill voids in their work schedules.

In a similar vein, the Brooke Chase survey concludes that many companies have succeeded in the slumping market by creating new brand image programs, expanding into niche markets or focusing their efforts more heavily than ever on the remodeling/replacement sector.

In other words, these companies did something. They didn’t just gripe, or lament about how good things once were, or, even worse, go out of business.

All of this spells good news for an industry that spent several challenging years on its heels. All of it points to an industry that may well emerge from the recent downturn as strong and as vibrant as ever.