Dealers & Designers Embrace Technology

While most trends have a relatively short shelf life, the technology craze just keeps getting stronger.

Today, the vast majority of kitchen and bath dealers and designers are not only using the Internet, they’re using it several times a day for everything from reading product reviews and watching industry-related videos to attending Webinars and purchasing products. And more than half expect their usage of kitchen and bath Web sites to increase in the next 12 months.

That’s according to a new survey, conducted for KBDN by the Research Institute for Cooking & Kitchen Intelligence (RICKI), a Charlotte, NC-based organization of manufacturers, retailers, wholesalers and others whose revenues derive from activities that take place in the kitchen (see related Editorial, Page 5).

The survey, which polled some 323 kitchen and bath dealers and designers from all across the country, was aimed at identifying how kitchen/bath dealers and designers currently use – and plan to use – technology for business purposes.

And the results made it clear that dealers and designers are embracing technology like never before. In fact, of those polled, nine in 10 say they use the Internet for business multiple times a day, and two in three visit kitchen and bath Web sites daily.

So, what are they doing with all of that time spent online? Not surprisingly, the most popular online activity for kitchen and bath dealers and designers centers around new products: researching products, reading product reviews, checking out product specs and seeking out unique product offerings. In fact, 85% of those polled engage in product research online (see Graph 1).

Of course, the Internet is also a good place to get kitchen and bath news, with some 71% of those polled going online to read news articles. Online video, an up-and-coming area, was cited by 45% of those polled, while 41% say they purchase products online, 37% sign up for Webinars, 34% sign up for enewsletters or alerts, and 31% read blogs.

Marketing online has also become a hot trend, both for its affordability and for its flexibility. The ability to post news or project updates in real time also appeals to many dealers and designers who like being able to measure engagement, whether it’s in clicks, likes or comments.

Of those recently polled, 84% use their Web site as a marketing tool, and 66% market through social networking sites (see Graph 2), with their top five social media cites including LinkedIn (64%), Facebook (51%), YouTube (50%), Google+ (50%) and Houzz (38%). Lesser-used social media sites include Pinterest (29%), Twitter (19%), Flickr (11%) and Vimeo (10%).

Some 32% market themselves via email campaigns, 21% employ online advertising, 20% market themselves via blogs or forums, 17% use kitchen and bath related apps, 14% send out enewsletters, 9% use paid search and 4% market their firms using streaming video.

VIDEO FEVER

It seems only a few years ago that online videos revolved primarily around funny bloopers, stupid pet tricks and amusing children’s antics that a family member posted on YouTube. However, in the past few years, online videos have been one of the fastest growing areas online, and the kitchen and bath industry is no exception.

Like Webinars, online videos can provide a wonderful educational tool, and the visual aspect seems to make them especially appealing to kitchen and bath professionals.

Indeed, according to the survey results, one in 10 kitchen dealers and designers watch kitchen- and bath-related videos online at least once a week – and nearly half (47%) watch kitchen- and bath-related videos online at least once a month (see Graph 3).

Watching videos online is the third most common activity performed by kitchen and bath dealers and designers online, surpassed only by researching product information and reading news articles. Watching kitchen and bath videos online ranks higher than purchasing products, downloading apps, reading blogs, signing up for newsletters or Webinars, posting in forums or finding a company’s social media site.

Kitchen and bath videos have surpassed Webinars among kitchen and bath dealers and designers, who are nearly twice as likely to watch online industry-related videos on a monthly basis as they are to attend Webinars. And, while nearly 20% never attend online Webinars, only 7% never watch kitchen and bath related videos online.

The future of video also looks strong: In the next 12 months, 57% of kitchen and bath dealers and designers polled expect to be viewing online kitchen and bath videos more frequently than they do now, and 18% expect to be posting more videos themselves.

GROWTH AREAS

While technology seems to be evolving on all fronts, the tablet or iPad was cited as the one area with the greatest growth potential over the next 12 months. In fact, while only a quarter of the kitchen and bath dealers and designers polled say they currently use a tablet or iPad, a whopping 41% expect to start using one in the coming year (see Graph 4), with significantly more independent designers favoring these over dealers and designers working out of showrooms.

Kitchen and bath apps were seen as the second highest growth area, with 35% of those polled saying they expect to start using these over the next 12 months.

Other high-growth technology areas cited by the survey include video, Web-based presentations and Skyping or video conferencing.

Kitchen and bath dealers and designers are also getting more savvy about their social media use. For instance, while only 45% currently promote their businesses on social media, 59% plan to increase their social media promotional efforts in the coming 12 months (see Graph 5). Some 57% say they will increase their viewing of online videos and photos, while 54% will be reading more posts, 46% will be posting more of their own photos, 37% plan to increase their posting activity and 18% plan to post more videos.

OTHER KEY FINDINGS

Other key findings of the survey include the following:

The top five technologies currently used by kitchen and bath dealers and designers are desktop computers, smart phones, laptop computers, CAD software and product ordering software.

The technology products that respondents feel need the most improvement to be more useful to kitchen and bath dealers and designers include kitchen and bath apps (46%), CAD software (36%), smart phones (32%) and tablets/iPads (32%).

One in five designers and dealers are looking for apps that help in laying out and calculating measurements for their designs, while one in 10 indicate that they need apps that provide quick access to product specs and samples, assistance in preparing project quotes and product pricing, and a way to link all of their technologies in a cloud.

While two-thirds of those polled visit kitchen and bath Web sites at least daily, independent designers and those with 20+ years of experience were less likely to visit kitchen and bath Web sites as frequently.

Significantly more k/b dealers and designers in large businesses (those with 10 people or more) expect their usage of kitchen and bath Web sites to increase in the coming year.

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