Fundamental Shifts Impact Kitchen and Bath Consumers

A new breed of consumer has emerged from the economic crisis. Led by the technology-enabled Gen Y shoppers, these new consumers are influencing all generations in how they think and shop.

Today’s consumers may be on a tighter budget, but they’re armed with unprecedented access to knowledge – and they aren’t shy about using it to fulfill their dreams. With their access to information “on the fly” and in the palm of their hands, they’re increasingly more active and involved in the design and purchasing process.

Six fundamental shifts have occurred in our consumer base in recent years.

CONVENIENCE

Mobile devices and wi-fi let consumers achieve education on the fly, opening the door for consumers to take a more active role in the sales and design process. That means your showroom is becoming less of a starting point for consumer shopping, and more like the finish line.

As designers, we need to understand this new technology, assuring customers that our professional training enables us to take their knowledge and apply it toward the creation of their dream bath or kitchen.

Work as their partner in collaboration. They may be able to pick out a door style and color online, but it takes training and experience to understand how it all fits together dimensionally and visually in a real home. The showroom will be key in helping connect the dots.

CONNECTION

Convenience in communications is shrinking the distance between buyers and sellers. Use the convenience of today’s technology to reach out to prospects through e-marketing and social media.

Today’s trend is to make your Web site more visual and less wordy so it’s easier to navigate – not only on a computer, but on a mobile device. This investment will keep your showroom relevant.

Once they’re connected, consumers will view your Web site as an extension of your showroom, so make their virtual visit pleasant and informative.

Consider the following:

Today’s consumer loves visual conveniences like previewing a designer online.

Find a way for referrals or third-party recommendations to be visible online.

Allow consumers to “meet” your staff through online bios to reduce apprehension of the unknown. This will speed up connectivity and engagement in the showroom.

Show shoppers what you can do for them. Consider making your services more transparent so they can pre-consider what’s available. Share before-and-after shots of your best kitchen and bath jobs to build your reputation.

CONFIDENCE

Armed with more knowledge than ever before, consumers are confident about what they want and what they are willing to pay. They’re coming to you to fulfill a need. Present confidence that your showroom offers products and services to meet those needs.

Be prepared to let customers know why your business is best suited to bring their desires to fruition. Don’t be shy about touting your advantages with YouTube videos. Show off designer talents with in-store events, using Web-based “how-to” demonstrations as a teaser.

Let that confidence roll over into your use of technology, which is now a part of doing business. Get used to it, get comfortable with it and get confident with it. If you feel overwhelmed, reach out to people who are familiar with it. This new digital revolution is an evolutionary journey, not a deadline.

VERSATILITY

Today’s consumers like change, so leave room for flexibility in your showroom design for special events that draw in new customers. Consider mobile and changeable displays and moveable walls. Let your customers know visually why they should buy “this” kitchen; show them how the planning and product aspects will make their lives easier and better.

Understand the family demographics of potential customers. Some will have young children. Others may include seniors or disabled members. Account for those factors in the home, as well in the showroom.

Some cultures shop in families. Leave plenty of room around displays for multiple visitors shopping at the same time and for wheelchairs in and around displays to prevent visitors from being left out of the process.

Make at least one noticeable change to your displays each year based on a three-year master plan. Involve your entire staff and encourage everybody to offer ideas.

CONSULTANCY

As designers, we’re proud of our work. But remember – we aren’t the people who will live in the kitchens we design. Listen to what the customer wants, and present yourself as a trusted advisor consulting on their project. Strive to ensure the final product delights them more than you.

With customers coming into the showroom with more knowledge and a clearer vision of what they want, designers may feel less “in charge.” Don’t take it personally. Work with your customers to combine their visions with your expertise to create the perfect, collaborative project. Learn to inject your experience in explaining why something may not work, and why an alternative does to demonstrate your value as their expert.

BRANDING

A consistent image and message is important in marketing your business. Building a recognizable and trustworthy brand entails a consistent look from showroom and Web site to printed literature to even how you dress. Showroom design and marketing tools should make an emotional connection with customers.

Going forward, brand elements need to be colorful and clear. Gain input from a graphic design professional; consider a younger, Gen Y designer who may be able to offer valuable insights into how this demographic thinks and what attracts them.

Over the past few years, many of us have been paralyzed by the economy. During this time, the arrival of a new generation of customers – and a new generation of communication devices – has changed the retail landscape. By recognizing and responding to those changes, you’ll be ready to sustain and grow your business.

A word of caution for showroom leaders who are holding back on planning, pending a better handle on what the future holds: The future is now. Start planning. Our industry deserves the best we can be in meeting this emerging consumer wave of business.

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