Use Creativity to Diminish Cost Concerns

On a recent trip to a veterinary specialist, I found myself balking at the cost of a relatively inexpensive medicine for my dog. Ironically, the same day, I signed off on a $3,700 MRI at the same office without batting an eye.

The receptionist may have been puzzled by my selective price consciousness, but it made perfect sense to me: The MRI was a necessity for diagnosing my sick dog, and the specialist’s office was known for being top notch at conducting this test. The medicine, on the other hand, was a commodity I could get anywhere, and I could see no benefit in paying top dollar for it when I could get it for far less from my regular vet.

I suspect my mindset is no different from that of many consumers in the kitchen and bath industry today.

We are constantly bombarded by news of how increasingly price conscious people have become. And certainly most of us have seen first-hand evidence of that: Consumers are still taking longer to commit to projects than in years past, and they are quick to price shop both projects and individual products.

But that doesn’t mean consumers won’t spend money – even a lot of money – on something that offers real value to them. Indeed, as the economy brightens, pent-up demand for new kitchens and baths is simmering at the surface, ready to boil over.

However, with memories of the recession still coloring many people’s consciousness, it seems that consumers are only willing to invest if they believe they are paying for something that they truly want and need – something special, not a mere commodity that they can get for less elsewhere.

In her Designer’s Notebook story this month (Page 68), Ellen Cheever maintains that today’s focus on cost does not mean that consumers will settle for less than what they perceive as the best solution. She notes that consumers are still willing to pay for expertise, quality and truly creative design solutions. However, they need to be made to understand the intrinsic value of these.

As she explains, “We must not limit our creativity to meet the budget. Rather, we designers must become better at expertly juggling both the cost discussions and the creative solutions we offer.”

Peer pressure is another factor that plays into the buying process. While the recession may be over, conspicuous consumption still has an unpleasant aftertaste that many are wary of being tainted with. For a number of people, self-indulgence has become equated with selfishness, lack of maturity or even a dearth of values.

Of course this doesn’t stop people from wanting new kitchens and baths. But, as Leslie Hart points out in this month’s Consumer Insights column (Page 28), today’s consumers need the process to be made as “guilt free” as possible.

That means giving them the ability to justify their purchase by showing benefits beyond just the indulgence factor. For instance, it’s okay to remodel one’s home to make it more accessible, to make it more energy efficient, to provide health and wellness benefits to those who live there. But, according to Hart, indulgence must be responsible if it’s to be guilt free.

That may mean using recycled products, incorporating solar power or simply hiring firms or buying products from manufacturers with a good story: those that support charity, that are good to their employees and that care about the planet at large.

So, what does all of this mean to you, the kitchen and bath professional? As you think about how you present your firm and your services, you need to think about how to paint a clear picture of what you are truly selling, de-commoditizing your offerings and illustrating how you will solve clients’ problems and make their lives better. Look at exceptional projects, like the NKBA Design Competition finalists (Page 54) for inspiration, and be sure your designs are forward-thinking enough to address the many changes in how people live in today’s spaces (see related Planning & Design column, Page 26)

And, if you’re attending KBIS this month, while you’re enjoying the chance to check out the wealth of new products on the show floor (Page 90), don’t forget to think about the story behind them as well. Remember, when you design a kitchen or bath for a client, you are building – and selling – a living experience, not just a space. Convince clients that you can give them the best experience possible, and price will be less of an issue.