Learn Technology But Don't Neglect The Core Basics

There’s an awful lot of talk about evolution these days. How clients are evolving. How the industry is evolving. How KBIS is evolving.

There’s no doubt that there’s a technological revolution going on, and product capabilities, design trends, material choices and how we go to market are all evolving, seemingly at the speed of light.

That’s even more evident when you look at the broader picture. For instance, in this month’s special supplement commemorating the National Kitchen & Bath Association’s 50th anniversary, it’s fascinating to see just how far this industry has come from the days when the highlight of KBIS was a special “ladies program,” and convincing the government to name “kitchen layout man” as an official job classification in order to raise the industry’s stature was cause for celebration.

Having started at KBDN in 1993, I’ve seen plenty of evolution myself in my 20 years in the kitchen and bath industry. I’ve seen appliances go from static, functional boxes to flexible, connected devices smart enough to practically act as an additional family member (and one who’s a pretty darn good cook, at that!). I’ve seen the NKBA’s Design Competition winners go from functional, in-the-box projects to creative works of art that spotlight bold colors, recycled surfaces and all manner of materials (see related story, Page 44). I’ve seen cabinets go from traditional to transitional, finishes go from light to dark to shades of gray, women go from secondary players to industry leaders, and design become so stylish and sophisticated that the fashion industry as a whole has taken notice.

Yet the one thing I keep coming back to is how many of the core basics aren’t changing.

Networking was considered critically important back in the early ’60s when the industry was just beginning to come into its own. Now, some 50 years later, “social networking” is such a hot topic, it’s dominating the media. Sites such as Houzz, Facebook and Pinterest continue to be among the hottest marketing venues out there...so much so that social media is the subject of the keynote address being given at this month’s KBIS (see related KBIS coverage, Page 74).

When the NKBA was launched, education was cited as one of its primary goals. Five decades later, 2013 NKBA President and former KBDN columnist John Morgan points out, “The need for quality education has never been greater.”

Even the techno wizards of today agree: As Eric Schimelpfenig states in his Design Technology column (see Page 30), many of the “tried and true” techniques to keep kitchen and bath firms successful still work today; “it’s just the implementation that may be different.”

So often I hear dealers and designers express their fear of being “unable to keep up” with the fast-changing times we live and work in. Many say they feel increasingly disconnected from clients who can’t decide on a breakfast cereal without consulting their 1,500 Facebook friends, forget making the myriad decisions necessary for a kitchen or bath remodel.

Yes, new technology, new ways of communicating with clients and new online tools can be intimidating. And yes, setting aside time to keep abreast of these changes is an important part of ensuring your firm’s future success.

But what’s critical to remember is that the underlying precepts of kitchen and bath design – and serving consumers of these spaces – haven’t really changed that much. Today’s clients, just like clients of years’ past, want beautiful spaces that will work for the way they and their families live. They want to buy from someone they can trust, and they want to be able to get a sense of what your firm is all about before doing business with you. They want someone with creative vision who respects their budgets and can provide clear communication, somoene who conducts business with integrity.

And no, there is NOT an app for that.

We’re fortunate to live in times when there are so many technological tools to help us with everything from design to sales to communication. But don’t forget that, at its core, the driving force behind this industry is still about our ability to meet consumers’ needs for good design, good communication and creative expertise from someone they can trust.