“May you live in interesting times” is an old curse. For the kitchen and bath industry, the times are certainly interesting; however, they are far from cursed.
The industry continues to face unprecedented supply chain and cost increase challenges that are well documented. A few of these challenges are beginning to wane, however. Lead times are decreasing and, in some cases, returning to pre-pandemic “normal” levels.
Another reason why the industry is far from cursed in these interesting times is today’s showroom customer has a different value proposition. The pandemic changed not only the way most Americans shop but also their shopping experience expectations. And therein lies tremendous opportunities for kitchen and bath showrooms to positively respond to this attitudinal paradigm shift.
What’s different about the showroom customer of tomorrow “is that they are valuing different things in the store, and we are seeing their behaviors change toward what they value,” write McKinsey & Company consultants Tiffany Burns, Tyler Harris and Alexandria Kuzmanovic. The pandemic accelerated value changes that began pre-COVID. These include a dramatic increase in nonpersonal in-store interaction.
Shifting Purchasing Attitudes
Because of health concerns or other reasons, more than 70% of consumers who used self-checkout during the past two years or used it more often intend to keep using it, McKinsey found. Increasingly, consumers don’t want to engage in transactional events at food markets, gas stations, movie theaters, retail stores or kitchen and bath showrooms. They are happier to check themselves out without ever speaking to a human being.
What impact does this trend of purchasing in a vacuum without human interaction have on kitchen and bath showrooms? It demonstrates that consumer time is sacrosanct. Given consumers need for speed, providing customers with an easy button is a necessity. Require additional evidence? McKinsey found that more than 90% of consumers expect delivery of their retail purchases within two to three days. Some 30% of consumers expect what they buy today to be delivered tomorrow.
Consumer sentiment around work, the home and lifestyle priorities also has undergone a dramatic shift in the past two years. According to Deloitte’s State of the Consumer Tracker, Americans are more focused on how they can improve their lives. This is a primary diver of home improvement and the record-breaking sales volume that many Bath & Kitchen Business Group Shareholders reported in 2021. And the good times should not be too severely hampered by inflationary challenges, volatile stock market performance and an unpredictable economic outlook. The reason? 40% of Americans, Deloitte found, still feel that their daily life centers around their homes.
This affinity for home life is fueled by work from home continuing. Deloitte’s survey found many Americans continue to work from home 3.5 days per week. The prospect that most Americans will return to their office full time is not likely. Hybrid schedules are expected to continue at least for the near-term, especially because of the talent crises most industries face.
Product Choice Adjustments
The impact of shifting consumer purchasing priorities and lifestyle preferences spells opportunities for kitchen and bath showrooms that recognize the need to shift their customer journey approaches. “Time is of the essence” should be a new mantra for every showroom not only to make the customer experience more seamless and enjoyable, but also to increase showroom productivity. The less time spent on product selection, design revisions, changes, etc., the more time designers can spend doing what they do best and enjoy the most – designing. Many showroom owners report that customers walk through the showroom door armed with months of research because they don’t want to spend numerous hours selecting products or making five to six visits to finalize their project requirements.
Sara Hines, owner of Kitchen and Bath World in Albany, NY, has developed a protocol that requires a maximum of three visits from initial consultation to a signed contract for all projects. She acknowledges that many of her customers would prefer to communicate via email or video call. Kitchen and Bath World demands an initial face-to-face meeting. “It’s necessary to meet one-on-one to establish a foundation,” Hines related. “At our initial meeting, we explain our processes, understand the consumer’s wish list and determine their budget and timeline. This meeting tells us and the potential client if we are a good fit for one another.”
The next step is an in-home visit. At that meeting, a Kitchen and Bath World designer measures and evaluates the space. During the initial consultation and at the in-home meeting, Hines encourages her customers to create Houzz, Pinterest or similar accounts and add her designers as contributors. Every time a client posts an image or product preference, the showroom better understands client preferences. This lets Hines and her designers develop a comprehensive plan for the project that includes recommendations for all products. The designer presents the plan, including all products preselected, at a second in-showroom meeting where 75% of the time, the customer agrees with the plan, selected products and budget.
Hines and her team have eliminated the burdensome time and stress associated with clients selecting products. There are occasions when the client wants alternative products, but that is the exception rather than the rule. “Clients come to our showroom because they want and value our professional opinion. If homeowners want to figure things out on their own, they would be at Home Depot,” Hines explained.
Sea Pointe Construction in Irvine, CA also understands the less time spent on product selection and design revisions, the better for the consumer and the showroom. For Sea Pointe, making the customer journey easier starts at its website. Because all search is local, Sea Pointe’s site offers gallery images that identify the kitchen style and the project’s city location. It’s easy for potential customers to see a kitchen that they like and typically determine that’s what they want. Company owner Andy Shore relates that 60 to 70% of his customers refer to gallery pictures when they visit the showroom.
Sea Pointe also has defined processes to help make the product selection easier and less taxing. The first appointment is always at the potential customer’s home. This allows the Sea Pointe team to measure the space, determine the scope of the project and obtain a feel for the customer’s design preferences and lifestyle. The home visit is used to qualify the customer, determine their wants and needs and to explain processes, timelines and potential budget requirements.
Customers who want to move forward with their projects are invited to the showroom. There they are presented with a design agreement and an estimate of the overall project cost. The meeting also includes a 15 to 20 minute showroom tour that is used as a material selection center. Shore and his team also develop a schedule that provides weekly details of when different stages of the project will be delivered and outlines what is expected of the client for each phase of the project. “When customers know that in week eight they need to finalize product selection, there are no surprises. A detailed schedule makes it easier to create and manage realistic expectations and reduce timelines. Sea Pointe has developed schedule templates for basic kitchen remodels, structural kitchen projects and whole home renovations.
Showrooms can enhance the customer journey and make it easier by leveraging the research that many customers perform before calling a showroom or making an onsite appointment. Providing the opportunity to take a virtual tour of a showroom on a website enhances credibility and helps to create a comfort level. Website images matter because they speak to the imagination. Gallery pictures on a site should reflect the dominant styles and preferences of the service territory and the style of the project, e.g., traditional, transitional, modern, etc. Before and after images of projects not only showcase the talents of a showroom’s designers, they also provide a wow factor.
Providing potential customers with assignments is another effective tool to expedite the product selection process and ease the customer journey prior to a showroom visit. Issue a check box survey asking clients to identify their choice of cabinet door style, preferred finishes, countertop material, plumbing fixture style, backsplash and flooring material preferences, color scheme preferences, etc., and include the option of “don’t know yet” as an answer to each question.
Designers can then use homeowner responses to develop mood boards that reflect customer preferences and have them available on arrival. Showrooms that request customers complete an assignment have greatly reduced average appointment times and make it easier for customers to pick an entire palette of products as opposed to having to spend hours sorting through door styles and tile samples.
As consumer demands, expectations and behaviors continue to change and evolve, the message is crystal clear. Customer journeys both on websites and in showrooms need to be more rewarding, easier, convenient and less time-consuming. ▪
Tom Cohn serves as exec. v.p. of the Bath & Kitchen Business Group, the nation’s largest shareholder-owned kitchen and bath group purchasing organization. Named a 2020 KBDN Innovator, Cohn also is founder and president of Cohn Communications, a multidisciplinary association management and marketing firm headquartered in Washington, DC.