Consumer Buying Preferences Reflect Changing Priorities

Today’s kitchen and bath consumers are slowly beginning to spend again, but it’s clear that a lot has changed in the past few years – and that’s impacted everything from consumer priorities and product preferences to spending decisions to the buying process itself. In the kitchen, style...

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Today’s kitchen and bath consumers are slowly beginning to spend again, but it’s clear that a lot has changed in the past few years – and that’s impacted everything from consumer priorities and product preferences to spending decisions to the buying process itself.

In the kitchen, style still matters, but in many cases, it has taken a back seat to storage and functionality concerns. In the bath, storage concerns are also key, along with new fixtures or fittings, a personalized or unique design and a larger shower (often achieved by replacing the tub).

Consumers also seem to be spending more on kitchens than a couple of years ago, though “budget friendly” remains an important consideration.

And the factors driving buying decisions may not be what you would expect either, with the three Rs (referrals, reputation, rapport) standing head and shoulders above other factors, while Web sites, social media and online ads scored surprisingly low on the list.

That’s the result of a recent Kitchen & Bath Design News survey, which polled nearly 200 kitchen and bath dealers and designers about consumer buying preferences, the kitchen and bath shopping process, kitchen and bath spending, who makes the buying decision and more.

Who’s Buying?

Women have traditionally been the primary kitchen and bath consumer, but according to those polled, that’s slowly changing. While it’s still relatively rare for men to come in alone, couples are shopping together more often.

In fact, when asked whether the majority of their clients were male, female or a mix of both, a whopping 82.1% said a mix of both – proof that men are gaining parity in the kitchen and bath purchasing process.

As one survey respondent points out, “We used to just see the women in the showroom. We might see the husbands later when it was time to write the check, but they weren‘t generally part of the selection process. Now they are coming to the showroom and asking questions. The woman may still take the lead, but the men are present, and are becoming more a part of the process.”

By comparison, some 17.9% of survey respondents said their clients were primarily female, while none reported having a predominantly male clientele.

But while men are clearly more involved in the kitchen and bath buying process, women still dominate the decision making landscape. In fact, when it comes to couples purchasing a new kitchen or bath, dealers and designers say the female makes the major product and design decisions 49.2% of the time, while the male is the primary decision maker less than 5% of the time (see Graph 1). In the other 46.3% of couples, the decisions are made jointly.

One dealer explains, “When we see couples, and we are seeing more of them, our male clients have opinions, and there is more discussion. If there’s a difference of opinion, though, the woman in the couple generally has the deciding vote.”

As far as what age groups are most likely to be remodeling, the survey showed Baby Boomers as the dominant consumer group, representing 40.3% of the jobs sold (see Graph 2).

Some 12.7% of those polled saw mature buyers as their dominant client demographic, while 11.9% found Gen X to be their primary clientele, and 1.5% cited Gen Y as the dominant client age group among their clients.

Still, not everyone has the luxury of focusing on one primary age group, as one third of those polled said they did not see any one age group as being dominant among their clients.

The Buying Process

There’s plenty of talk about how much harder it is to close a sale than it was in years past, how much competition there is, and how much comparison shopping consumers do. But, while kitchen and bath consumers are certainly doing their research online, they’re not actually visiting numerous showrooms before making a buying decision, the survey showed.

In fact, according to those polled, 58% of consumers only visit one or two showrooms before making their purchase, and another 41% visit three or four showrooms in their shopping journey (see Graph 3). Only 0.8% visit five showrooms or more, according to survey respondents.

That’s good news for dealers and designers who are getting strong showroom traffic, as the odds are good that your prospects aren’t visiting many other storefronts to see what else is out there.

However, that doesn’t mean they’re not doing plenty of “pre-shopping” online, so having a strong online presence remains critical.

The way one dealer sees it, “If you get them into your showroom, they are yours to win, or lose. If they come, they probably already have researched your firm and liked what they saw, so you just need to make sure their showroom experience is as good as their research. If you have a great Web site and are even better in person, you should be able to close a lot of sales from your showroom traffic.”

Another survey respondent agrees: “We don’t get as many tire kickers anymore because they do that online. When they come, they come because they are serious about buying.”

As far as how long the buying process takes, the days of spur-of-the-moment buying decisions are clearly gone, with only 8.2% of dealers/designers saying they close the sale within six days of their initial contact with the prospect (see Graph 4).

Another 10.4% of consumers make a purchasing decision within one to two weeks of the initial contact, according to dealers and designers polled, while 28.4% make their purchase within two to four weeks of the initial contact.

However, for many consumers, it’s still a slow process getting from that first meeting to the signing a contract phase. In fact, a whopping 40.3% take one to three months to make a buying decision, and another 9% need three to six months to be ready to buy. Finally, some 3.7% require more than six months to make the decision to purchase a new kitchen or bath.

What Kitchen/Bath Consumers Want

So, what do consumers really want in a kitchen or bath? In the kitchen, where consumers tend to be looking to remodel within an existing footprint rather than adding to the space, functionality tops everyone’s wish list. In fact, dealers and designers polled cited more and/or better storage as consumers’ number one priority when remodeling their kitchen, with 84.5% pointing to this as a top consumer desire (see Graph 5). A more functional layout was also a hot request, with 82.2% of those polled saying this was a high client priority.

But while functionality is important, style is also a priority, as consumers begin to worry less about resale value and more about enjoying the homes they live in. As such, more than 80% cited new cabinetry and new countertops as a top priority in their kitchen remodel.

Cooking has also been seeing a resurgence in recent years, so it’s no surprise that new or improved appliances were also high on the list, with 58.9% citing this as a client priority.

While the economy is clearly improving, consumers remain cautious in their spending, with 55% citing budget consciousness as a priority in their kitchen remodel. And, with an aging buying demographic, it’s also no surprise that nearly half of those polled saw clients looking for better lighting, and more than one third asking for improved accessibility.

Interestingly, energy efficiency, better air or water quality and green issues ranked low on consumers’ wish list, with only 7% saying these are priorities among their clients.

In the bath, where the smaller space means clients can get more bang for the buck, aesthetics topped consumers’ wish list, with 84.3% of dealers and designers saying new fixtures/fittings are a top client priority and 53.5% saying a personalized or unique appearance is high on their clients’ wish list (see Graph 6).

However, here, too, storage remains a priority, with more than half (52.8%) of those surveyed saying clients want more and/or better storage.

More than half (51.2%) also would like to replace their tub with a larger shower, survey respondents reported, while 48% are concerned with accessibility and 44.1% are prioritizing money savings.

Again, water savings and green issues seem to have fallen off the map, with only 4.7% of dealers and designers polled saying these are a client priority.

Average Expenditures

Just a few years ago, getting consumers to spend any more than the bare minimum on kitchen and bath remodeling was a major challenge. While consumers are still buying cautiously, they seem to be loosening the purse strings at least a little bit, if the survey results are any indication.

In fact, more than 42% said their clients are spending more than $40K on a kitchen remodel (see Graph 7), compared to a survey two years ago that showed fewer than 30% spending more than 40K.

Breaking it down, 7.9% of dealers’ clients are spending less than $15K,13.4% are spending $15,000-$20,000, 19.7% spend $20,001-$30,000, 16.5% spend $30,001-$40,000 and 14.2% spend $40,001-$50,000 on their kitchen remodel.

At the higher end, 16.5% of their clients are spending between $50,000 and $75,000, 7.9% are spending $75,000-$100,000 and 3.9% are spending $100,000+ on their kitchen remodel.

In the bath, more than 45% of consumers are investing $15K+ on their bath remodel, with 19.1% spending $15,001-$20,000, 6.4% spending $20,001-$25,000, 13.4% spending $25,001-$40,000 and 6.3% spending in excess of $40,000 on their new bath (see Graph 8).

Key Drivers

As far as what drives the buying decision, it may not be what you think: In these days of high-tech everything, dealers and designers polled still find their clients are most swayed by personal referrals from friends and family, the reputation of the designer and/or design firm and the rapport that develops through the sales process (see Graph 9).

In fact, dealers and designers polled cited referrals as the number one factor driving the buying decision (cited by 73.6%), followed by the reputation of the designer and/or design firm (69.8%) and the rapport with the designer/salesperson (69%).

What does that prove? Quite simply, for most consumers, when bringing a stranger into their home to remodel their most intimate spaces, it’s still about trust.

The ability to meet budgetary needs was also cited by 42.6% of those polled, a key decision driver for their clients, along with the quality of the design plan for the space (37.2%).

Interestingly, online ads, social media and even the firm’s Web site scored very low on the list of key drivers in the buying decision.

That’s not to say that these aren’t important, as there’s plenty of research showing the importance of a firm’s online presence in attracting clients in the first place. As one survey respondent pointed out, “Clients used to ‘pre screen’ companies by visiting their showrooms; now they screen them online and only go to the showrooms they feel will be a good fit for what they’re looking for.”

However, to actually close the sale, it’s clear that it takes more than a good online presence, but rather the ability to establish trust with the client.

When asked to identify other key drivers for buying a kitchen or bath right now, and how this has changed over the past few years, responses varied from economic-based ones to functional concerns to demographics-related drivers.

Below are a sampling of their responses:

• “Our mature clients and baby boomer buyers are looking for their ‘forever’ kitchen and want all the bells and whistles and extremely personalized touches for their dream kitchen. They are designing for themselves. Our Gen Xers still may have resale in mind and will be more cautious about some of the ‘trendier’ selections. However, both types of clientele are looking for the ‘wow’ factor.”

• “In the past few years, it was necessity that drove clients; currently it is some extra equity or retirement money that is purchasing the project.”

• “When the economy was at its worst, no one would do anything that wasn’t essential, but now clients are looking to update their current property so they can enjoy it for a few years before they sell it somewhere down the line.”

• “People are no longer changing homes every five years so they are interested in upgrading their living space rather than moving to another home.”

• “Deferred maintenance and functional obsolescence cannot be ignored any longer. Many have postponed remodeling because of the economy and diminished equity in their homes, but they can’t ignore the plumbing leaks and broken appliances, so they are biting the bullet and paying for the improvements rather than making minor repairs.”

• “Budget is still king. Most of our clients feel they need the change, not that they want it.

• “Kitchen layout is opening up to the rest of the house, so the walls are coming down.”

• “Price still seems to be the biggest factor. Quality and warranty are the next two biggest factors.”

• “Clients are feeling more optimistic about the economy. House sales have improved, so updating and adding value to their properties is back as a motivating factor.”

• “Finding quality cabinets for the lowest price possible is the number one priority right now, where that was number two or three in importance in the past. Consumers today are very afraid of ‘over improving’ their property.”

• “Two drivers we’re seeing are people renovating homes after a parent moves to assisted living or passes away, and baby boomers wanting to finally get their dream kitchen or bath in their existing house.”

• “A key bathroom driver is often water leaks. Key kitchen drivers can include functionality/storage, the need to update a ‘tired’ kitchen or the failure of existing appliances. These drivers haven’t changed too much since the beginning of the Great Recession, but people are becoming more confident lately about investing in a new kitchen or bath.”

• “Many consumers have waited, but now have settled on going forward with a remodel. Many appreciate new technologies and products and want to incorporate these into a design.”