While market conditions are slowly improving, when it comes to what keeps kitchen and bath dealers and designers up at night, it’s still all about the economy. That’s according to a recent Kitchen & Bath Design News survey, which polled more than 300 dealers and designers across the U.S. and Canada to find out what their most critical issues are right now, how they see that changing in the next five years and what key resources they rely on to help with these critical issues.
When asked to rate the issues they see as most critical right now, it’s no surprise that the economy ranked number one on the list (see Graph 1), scoring 4.4 out of five (with one being the least critical and five being the most critical). Next on the list were finding new customers and improving profit margins, scoring 4.2 out of 5 and 3.6 out of 5, respectively.
Interestingly, the need to keep up with a changing consumer base (3.4 out of 5) was seen as more critical than the need to keep up with new technology (3.3 out of 5), suggesting that, despite the technological revolution, kitchen and bath dealers and designers still see people issues as more critical than technology issues.
Competition from the Internet and big-box stores were at the bottom of the list, with only the need to find, train and retain qualified staff scoring below these.
So, how do dealers and designers see the future evolving in terms of their most critical issues? According to the suvey, over the next 12 months, the economic picture will continue to dominate dealers’ and designers’ concerns, with more than 80% expecting this to have a significant impact on their business (see Graph 2). Likewise, finding new customers is expected to remain a significant concern, cited by 73.9% of those polled, while just over half (50.8%) see decreasing profit margins as an issue that will continue to play a significant role in their businesses.
The survey also suggests that dealers and designers will continue to have significant concerns about meeting the needs of a rapidly changing client base (46.2%) and dealing with upcoming legislation that could negatively impact their businesses (43.1%), while the need to offer new or different services to address changing consumer needs was also cited by more than one third (38.8%) as significant.
Interestingly, only one quarter (25.2%) of those polled believe that changing technology will have a significant impact on their businesses.
Paradoxically, while most agree profit margins are declining and their client base is changing rapidly, barely 20% see the need for more training that might help them with these issues.
The coming election was cited by a number of those surveyed as a key issue, with many feeling the economy is in a holding pattern as people wait for the results. Projecting further out, in the next three to five years, dealers and designers expect their focus to shift to other concerns, including a possible lack of quality products or products with “wow” factor – which could well result from manufacturers reducing their R&D budgets now in the face of economic challenges, and which could continue to impact the market for several years to come.
A permanently changed consumer mindset resulting in a more value-conscious climate in general may be another long-term effect of the economic challenges of the last few years, which could continue to impact dealers and designers even after the economic picture improves.
Additionally, in the next few years, dealers and designers expect to face increased challenges in designing for a younger client base, as well as possible issues with a less qualified labor force due to so many people having been pushed out of the industry (or discouraged from entering it in the first place) by the weak economy.
Many dealers and designers also worry about a continued lag in the housing market impacting their businesses in the next three to five years, while rising fuel costs and the impact of lower-quality Asian imports were also cited by many respondents as up-and-coming concerns.
Other key concerns mentioned by those polled include coming up with creative, ADA-compliant design solutions for an aging demographic, the cost impact of the greening of the industry (both with materials and installation) and fears about possible legislation that could negatively impact small businesses.
With the past few years having dramatically changed the kitchen and bath market landscape, many dealers and designers are seeking help in addressing the critical issues that are impacting their businesses. Whether it’s finding new customers, adapting products and marketing strategies to a new consumer base or just trying to figure out how to remain profitable in a still challenging economic climate, kitchen and bath professionals need resources they can turn to.
As one dealer explained, “In years past, my firm employed multiple designers and we were able to pool our knowledge, skills and contacts. Now, it’s just me, and I am increasingly looking outside for resources to help me grow my business, while working with more limited resources.”
Other designers mentioned making major changes in their core business structure, some giving up their showroom entirely in favor of a “virtual” showroom. As one noted, “It’s a huge change, and I need all the help I can get to learn about the best way to move forward with this new business model – a model I believe will become far more common in the next few years.”
When asked what resources they rely on to help with their most critical issues, the number one answer was trade magazines, cited by 85.1% of those polled (see Graph 3). Industry trade shows and association meetings were mentioned by 59.7% of dealers and designers surveyed, while 55.8% turn to networking with other kitchen and bath professionals to help with their most critical business concerns.
Educational seminars and webinars each were cited by roughly half of those polled (49% and 48.7%, respectively), while input from staff was seen as an important resource from 44.5% of respondents.
With competition for clients more intense than in years past, some 39% of dealers and designers are looking to business networking groups outside of the kitchen and bath arena, while one third (33.8%) also rely on social networking sites for information and advice.
Less commonly cited resources used for help with critical issues include online forums/blogs (21.1%), outside financial advisors or business coaches (14.9%) and buying groups (12.7%).
When asked about what resources they’d like to have that they don’t feel are currently available to them, kitchen and bath dealers and designers cited the following “wish list” items:
- Better lead generation services;