One of my earliest childhood memories was turning off my
parents’ television set with a book. There was nothing wrong with
the “off” knob, but I’d overheard my parents mention that the TV
was on its last leg, and that, in conjunction with all the dire
warnings I’d heard given to my older sister about drying her hands
before plugging anything in, had somehow led me to believe that
touching it with anything less than perfect care would cause the TV
In fact, for several years, I had something of a phobia about
electrical outlets, avoiding anything that could be plugged in for
fear it might explode in my face. When I had to unplug something, I
dried my hands ’til they were raw, then carefully held the plug
with two fingers, never touching any part of the outletand I
breathed a sigh of relief when nothing bad happened.’
As time passed, and none of the major appliances exploded on me,
I stopped worrying about electrical outlets. By the time I was 10,
the vision of the TV exploding on me was only a silly childhood
memory, and as a teenager, I went through countless burned out
hairdryers, taking the occasional spark only as a
not-to-be-worried-about sign that it was time to buy a new one
eventually, when I got around to it.
Unrealized fears bred carelessness, and eventually, I yanked a
plug out of a faulty outlet, and it exploded leaving me with a
rather shocking new outlook on life.’
The truly dangerous things, I had learned, do not always jump
out at you like childhood monsters from under the bed. Sometimes,
in fact, they aren’t monsters at all. Rather, they might be
perfectly ordinary things that are dangerous only because of our
own carelessness or neglect.
Like the proverbial monster under the bed, when the home centers
first made their appearance in our neighborhoods, many kitchen and
bath dealers initially reacted with fear and distress, viewing them
as an evil that could and likely would destroy them. Dire
predictions ran rampant throughout the industry, with many dealers
convinced that they, like the independent bookstores of old, would
soon be nothing but a memory.
Then, the home centers cameand it seemed like, for many
independent kitchen and bath dealers at least, nothing
“Their service isn’t as good as ours,” dealers told themselves.
“Their staff isn’t as knowledgeable. They’re actually creating more
business by publicizing the industry.” In fact, many reasoned that
consumers whose interest had been sparked by big-dollar advertising
campaigns from the home center chains would end up bringing more
business to independent dealers. “There’s nothing to fear here!”
they exclaimed. “Home centers are harmless, they might even be good
And sometimes, of course, this turned out to be true.
Fear morphed into complacency, and before you knew it, home
centers were being viewed as about as threatening as the Abominable
Snowman after his teeth had been removed.
When the newer, high-end home center chains started appearing
across America, the same complacency seemed to ring throughout the
industry. Cries of “fear not they offer poor service!” rang outand
continue to ring out.
Yet, as always, things change, businesses evolve, and all of us
must ultimately grow or die.’
That’s true of the home centers. And it’s also true of
Few will argue that, at least initially, home centers focused
primarily on price and selection, while not always winning top
marks for the kind of personalized service that high-end
independent dealers are known for. Yet, as these businesses grow,
that’s likely to change and with the home center chains’ strong
financial resources and a tight job market making top-quality
design staff scarce, these chains may well begin to close the
service gap and strengthen their “weak links.”
Independent dealers would be wise to do the same.
In the face of competition, neither blind fear nor blind
complacency are effective strategies. Rather, one must view
competition of any kind as a chance to grow, to examine our
businesses for weak spots, and to improve.
Sparks can light a fire under us that makes us better, smarter
and stronger or they can cause things to explode in our faces.
The choice is ours.