Cutting-edge technology, changing demographics and a flood tide of digitally savvy consumers are reshaping the kitchen and bath market at nothing short of light speed.
And that’s hardly an overstatement, even for a dynamic, fashion-driven industry that’s always been subject to fast-paced, often dizzying, change.
These days, however, the pace of change has quickened dramatically – a product, in large measure, of today’s high-speed, super-connected marketplace.
The number of homeowners researching products and services online continues to signal a fundamental shift in the consumer’s shopping experience. At the same time, an expanding array of digital tools is radically impacting the size, layout and function of showrooms.
New apps arrive in an unrelenting stream. HD touch-screens, online conferencing, virtual reality and streaming video allow for immersive shopping. Wireless access through smart phones, tablets and electronic touch pads is affecting how products and design options are communicated, and sales transactions conducted.
And that only hints at today’s broad, sweeping change.
As always, the wave of new products reaching the market is endless. Consumer hot buttons constantly evolve, along with lifestyles, family compositions and buying trends. New forms of competition emerge overnight. Business models change. Generational shifts mandate that the industry’s supply chain serves a more diverse, fragmented client base.
But even amidst this blurred, evolving landscape, some key, age-old selling strategies remain at the heart of commerce in the kitchen and bath trade, intrinsically tied to the success of leading design firms. Those practices are worth noting more than ever in the New Digital Age.
The reality is that much of our industry’s newest sales technology, while exciting and emboldening, has distinct limitations when it comes to selling kitchens and baths.
For one thing, it can be far too easy, even for experienced pros, to get lost amidst the maze of new digital tools – and far too tempting to rely on flashy bells and whistles that can inadvertently supplant more substantive, tried-and-true techniques.
Secondly, it’s become increasingly clear that online shopping, while helpful in educating and qualifying prospects, goes only so far in preparing consumers to make purchase decisions. Kitchens and baths have always been emotional, experiential purchases. People need to see, touch, feel, compare and discuss products and design ideas. More importantly, they need a direct, personal connection to a sales and design professional who has the experience, expertise and ability to inspire confidence in the big-ticket investment consumers are about to make.
Stated another way, relationships remain the key to selling in this market. Kitchen and bath design firms, clearly, are selling more than simply products and services, more than even lifestyles or status or dreams. More than anything, they’re selling themselves: their philosophy, their vision, their values, and a wide range of other intangibles that can only be sensed.
Are you knowledgeable, likable, transparent? Can you point to proven experience? Will you be a consultative, collaborative partner? Can you offer a unique package of products and services that “speaks” to clients in a personal, unique way? Can you be trusted to consistently fulfill promises?
Those are just a few of the questions people ask as they make buying decisions. They should be answered the same way successful design pros have always answered them: by honest and direct engagement, eyeball to eyeball with prospects; by leveraging your reputation, skill set and competitive differences, and by turning your interactions with prospects into meaningful, inspiring, lasting client relationships.
The need for relationship-building is the single most important constant in an industry that’s changing by the minute. It’s also perhaps the easiest to forget amidst the tidal wave of change.
Design professionals can’t afford to become so smitten with – or dependent upon – technology that they forget how to truly turn prospects into clients. Personal connections, for decades, have been the foundation of commerce in the kitchen and bath trade. Forging those connections is a sales strategy that should never be forgotten or abandoned, regardless of how the industry continues to change. ▪