App-solutely Helpful

When Apple applied to trademark the slogan, “There’s an app for that!” back in 2009, most people viewed it as merely an oft-repeated phrase in an iPhone commercial, one that had become so ubiquitous it had morphed into a part of our pop culture. However, many kitchen and bath professionals still weren’t sold on using apps in their businesses back then.

Today, apps are increasingly becoming a way of life for kitchen and bath dealers and designers looking to save time, track information, improve client communications and streamline work processes. Indeed, in 2014, industry professionals are embracing everything from measuring, sketching and organizational apps to Houzz – and many say they can’t live without them.

Interestingly, apps have been so subtle in their infiltration of the kitchen and bath industry, many design professionals don’t even realize it. As Dawn Zuber, AIA, of the Canton, MI-based Studio Z Architecture notes, “[When I was first asked about what apps I use], I started to say that I didn’t use too many…but then I really gave it some thought and realized that I couldn’t run my business without several of them!”

She says, “I use Carbonite on my iPad to look at my project files when I am in the field. Since Carbonite on my PC continuously backs up my files, it’s extremely useful as a file viewer, especially when I’ve made PDFs of the files. I also use the photo viewer on my iPad as a portfolio of my work, and I find the Internet browser useful if I want to show a client something from Houzz.com or from my own Web site. I’ve used Measures to take photos in the field and annotate them with dimensions or other notes. I also use Odometer+ to document my mileage and Waze to navigate to meetings.”

 

THE RISE OF HOUZZ

One of the initial challenges in getting kitchen and bath dealers and designers on board with using apps was that many didn’t really understand what they were. Some viewed them as high-tech, complex programs that require strong techno skills and training. Social media, with its user friendly interfaces, broke down a lot of those barriers.

While many people use Facebook for personal networking, and for business pages as well, the launch of Houzz was viewed as a game changer for many in the design industry. Houzz, which industry pros often liken to a “Facebook for designers,” brings together kitchen and bath professionals with consumers in a place where ideas can be shared, visuals can be examined and a meeting of design sensibilities can take place.

As Emeil Soryal, designer and president at the Chagrin Falls, OH-based Kitchen & Bath, Etc. explains, “I find it extremely helpful to have clients [go to the Houzz site] and look through it to give me an idea of what they like. Sometimes the clients get wrapped up in terminology and don’t know exactly what it means. For example I would have a client say, ‘I like Mediterranean style,’ but when I see pictures of what she likes, it may have nothing to do with Mediterranean style.” Houzz, Soryal explains, helps provide clarity and ensure that designer and homeowner are on the same page when it comes to design preferences and tastes.

Kent Kaufman of Kaufman Homes, Inc. in Salem, OR, agrees, saying Houzz “is like Pinterest for houses. We love this app, and we use it as a communication tool for design with our clients. The client has no idea what ‘neo-prairie’ or maybe ‘northwest contemporary’ is, but they can show you a picture of it.”

“The rapid rise of Houzz has been a watershed in our firm’s success,” maintains Eugene H. Sakai of Studio S Squared Architecture, Inc. in San Jose, CA. “We were first introduced to this app and Web site by a client of ours back in 2011, and have come to use and appreciate Houzz in our day-to-day practice in communication of design concepts between us and our clients. Houzz has completely obviated the need for ‘image libraries’ that we used to self-curate, and has made it much easier for our clients to tell us what their aesthetic goals are for the project. The site is much easier to update with our current projects than our Web site, so it’s easy to keep current and future clients abreast of what we have been working on recently; we use it to show work in progress as well as completed work.”

Kristin Petro, principal designer at Kristin Petro Interiors, Inc. in Elmhurst, IL adds, “We primarily use the Houzz app in a couple ways – to showcase our portfolio to the client and to look up examples and ideas.”

 

SOCIAL MEDIA & COMMUNICATION

Of course Houzz isn’t the only social media site out there, and dealers and designers frequently use sites like Pinterest and Facebook to show off project photos and design ideas, along with YouTube, and more recently, Zillow, a real estate site that seems to be gaining exposure with the design crowd. Blogging apps can also help dealers and designers connect with their clients and community, and promote themselves as experts in the field.

Robin Fisher, principal designer at the Portland, OR-based Robin Rigby Fisher Design, also looks to apps to make social media more efficient. She explains, “We use Pages for quick posting to Facebook and Wordpress apps on our iPads for blogging.”

Tracy Martin, owner of Blue Lotus Kitchen & Bath Design, in Pennington, NJ, says, “I use a lot of social media – Facebook, Houzz, Pinterest, Instagram. These apps help me reach my customers faster. Initially, it helps to build relationships and rapport. I can see and hear their ideas.” She also likes that apps provide a “green” way to work with customers. “There’s less paperwork, no tear sheets from magazines,” she points out. “And, communication with customers using apps is efficient, fast and concise. It allows them to be part of the process of design by sharing their ideas and wish lists. As a designer, it’s a terrific way of marketing and garnering referrals.”

Andreas Charalambous, principal at the Washington DC-based FORMA Design, Inc. also sees apps as a critical tool for enhancing communications – and it can also help when working on projects in other parts of the country. She states, “We use apps like Houzz, HGTV, Zillow, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to promote our work, show our projects and communicate with clients. Technology has made remote communication much easier, so it allows us to produce projects for clients even if they are in another part of the country or overseas. We are currently working with clients in Guatemala, Hong Kong, Colombia, New York, New Jersey and Florida [and apps help make this work more efficiently].”

 

CREATIVE APPS

Apps may be technology based, but many can help promote creativity. One such app, cited by several designers, is Penultimate. Fisher states, “We use Penultimate for sketching with clients,” and Petro does as well.

Petro notes, “Penultimate allows us to take photos and make notes and sketch directly on the photo. For example, we can take a photo of a fireplace wall and quickly sketch in built-in cabinetry.”

SketchUp was also cited by several designers as a great, easy-to-use app that can be used for drawing in 3D.

Abe Degnan of Degnan Design Builders, Inc. in DeForest, WI says, “We use both Evernote and Skitch to keep track of information and to mark up drawings and mark up photos. I also have a Samsung Note (Android-based) tablet. There is an app built into that called ‘S note’ that is even more effective than Skitch in my opinion, however, it does not integrate with Evernote in the same way. It is my preferred way of taking notes on photos or even taking notes in some meetings without having note paper. The best thing about it is that it truly operates like a pencil or pen or magic marker.”

 

BUSINESS APPS

When it comes to improving efficiency, there are plenty of apps that can also smooth the process. One new app, geared specifically for kitchen and bath dealers, was recently launched by the SEN Design Group, based in Chapel Hill, NC.

According to Leah Peterson, v.p./sales and marketing, the newly launched app, Network Management System (NMS), is “the most complete end-to-end management system available for a kitchen and bath dealer to manage his or her business.” She notes, “It does everything from capturing a lead down to budgeting, estimating, production scheduling, order fulfillment and integration with QuickBooks.” The bottom line, she states, is that “NMS will streamline operations, allow users to save time, provide lead to close ratios, automate install scheduling, provide variable rate commission schedules and do so much more. And you will never have to write a contract again!” The app is currently only available to SEN members.

Also on the organizational front, Kaufman cites an app called Co-Construct as one of his new favorites. He explains, “Co-Construct is a client interface system, organizing communication between all parties on a project, tracking selections, costs, change orders, storing information, communication and photos. This program is an awesome communication tool to organize projects, store and track communication, share ideas, build schedules and manage to-do lists. It is accessible to the client, builder, designer and sub-contractor. It is a software program with an associated app for ease of access at any time, in any location.”

 

CONVENIENCE APPS

While they don’t have the glamour of Houzz, the social element of Pinterest or the drawing capabilities of Sketch up, some of the simplest apps are still the most effective according to dealers and designers interviewed by KBDN.

Soryal remarks, “I use my calculator app often on jobs, and every now and then I use the level app and my converter app, which come in handy to convert millimeters into inches.”

Cloud storage is critical in the event of a power outage, or just to allow designers to work remotely, with designers citing iCloud and Dropbox as particular favorites.

“Wunderlist is awesome for to-do lists and sharing,” adds Kaufman.

Petro concludes, “Most importantly, as we’re constantly traveling to new locations, we use our Maps app!”

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