I know there was a time when the old saying, “If it ain’t broke,
don’t fix it” was an accepted business principle. Managers could
succeed by letting things ride.
Before “business casual” became a dress code, it was an
operating system. There was no rush to create new ways and new
opportunities. But, like kitchen dealers who only bought cabinets
from distributors, this system has checked into the retirement
Change is now the word of the day, and has become an operating
system. It is no longer an option, but rather a necessity. The
speed of business has accelerated to the point where we’re all
running, and those who have embraced change are running at the head
of the pack. Those who have not are lagging further and further
Our industry has changed more in the last 10 years than it has
in the previous 50. It’s an amazing exercise to contemplate all of
the manufacturers and retailers who are no longer in business. Why
did they go away? What changes in the marketplace did they fail to
More importantly, why and how are you still here? Did you have
to make changes to survive? Were you pushed into those changes, or
did you welcome them? Are you resting on your laurels, or
anticipating new changes?
Seeing the signs
I’m always surprised, although I probably shouldn’t be, when I meet
dealers who aren’t computerized. They tell me that they hand draw
their plans to present a more “custom” image to their clients. As a
designer, I think that’s great. As a business person, I know that
it takes these folks longer to do perspectives, do pricing, make
design changes and place orders. The speed of business has to be
considered in how today’s operations are run. Commerce now moves on
the wings of technology.
Besides, every day our customers are becoming more proficient
and dependent on technology. They expect a CAD presentation.
Clients under the age of 40 probably consider those who work with
pencils and erasers to be dinosaurs.
I also worry when dealers tell me that their firms don’t get
retainers before doing design work. The reason is always the same:
“No one in our area gets one.” On a salesmanship level, that tells
me that there’s a weakness there. As a business person, it tells me
this is a firm willing to waste time.’
Yet, with today’s business climate, there is no time to waste.
Qualifying a client quickly and correctly has to be the goal of
every kitchen and bath firm. Time is, in fact, money. Those who do
a quality job in the least amount of time are the winners.
The instigators of change are all of those players who want to take
our business away from us. We’ve all gotten used to competing with
the kitchen and bath dealer across town, but what about Home Depot?
I keep hearing dealers say, “Home Depot doesn’t affect me.” That’s
wonderful. But how can a $30 billion company not affect you? In the
last 10 years, it has become, by far, the largest kitchen and bath
source in the world. And it doesn’t affect anyone?’
I recently spent a day with a group of dealers from an area
where a new Home Expo had opened. They said the same thing: “It
doesn’t affect me.” Afterwards, I visited that Home Expo only to
find it had 350 retainers on file. That means that 350 clients from
that area chose to bypass kitchen and bath firms and, instead,
retain Home Expo for their design project. And no dealers were
affected? Who’s kidding who here? Dealers will often tell me that
Home Expo clients were not their clients anyway. Whose clients were
they? Before Home Expo came along, where would those folks have
purchased their kitchens? Mars? Change is in order.
I’ve been watching a battle of change right down the street from
our kitchen and bath design firm. A local natural foods store has
enjoyed a loyal following for a number of years. Recently, however,
a national natural foods megastore has begun construction of a new
building right next door to it. Suddenly, the local store is
offering cooking classes, wine tastings, take-out foods, etc.
Obviously, it’s making big changes in an attempt to stay alive in
the face of major competition. The question is, why did it wait? If
these changes are such good ideas, why weren’t they done before? If
the store had anticipated change welcomed change would it now be
fighting for survival? It’s something to consider about your own
What would your firm do if your key competitor were to open a
superstore right next to you? Are there things about your business
you would change to make it a better operation? Probably so. Would
it be better to wait until the construction starts, or to make
those improvements now? Pretty obvious answer.
Our industry has all sorts of curve balls that could come your
way at any time. The big-box chains are just the most obvious ones.
What if one of your major suppliers decided to go direct and
started courting your customers? Never happen, you say? Maybe yes,
maybe no. Are there manufacturers selling direct now? Yes. Do you
positively know your suppliers’ game plans for growth? Probably
not. Would you have to scramble to keep your business viable if it
did happen? Perhaps you would have to make some significant changes
to remain better than the new competition.
Whatever those changes are, embrace them and make them now, not
after the fact. Consider the possibility that the sales staff at
your firm decides to all leave together and open a new competing
firm. Would that force you to quickly make changes in your customer
service level? Again, embrace change and upgrade your service level
As our industry continues to mature, I’m confident that the
successful firms will be those that recognize that change is
coming. Anticipating change and adapting to it before it’s a
business problem will separate profitable firms from the ‘also
rans.’ I suggest that you try to imagine every business scenario
that could cause distress to your firm. Then, figure out what
changes you would make do to do a better joband then make those
changes now. If you can continually do that, you will continually
Another old saying goes “unless you’re the lead sled dog, the
view is pretty much the same.” Embracing change really will make
you the leader of the pack.