Getting a Handle on Generation Z

by Autumn McGarr

It’s a new year and the perfect time to think about new opportunities. One of them is the emerging post-Millennial Generation Z. Born between 1996 or 1997 and 2010 to 2012 – these years vary between sources – the oldest are in their early to mid-20s, eager to become homeowners, clients, employees and perhaps even your next tradespeople.

Who is in this 70-million-plus market, one of our largest at close to a quarter of our total U.S. population? What makes these young people tick? How should you reach out to them? Here’s a guide for the kitchen and bath industry, calling on these pros:

  • Irene Williams, integrated marketing consultant for design brands as owner of Msg2Mkt;
  • David Mele, president of real estate search portal;
  • Mike Mitchell, senior director of trade skills and learning innovation of the Generation T initiative developed by Lowe’s in partnership with its vendors and community organizations.

If you were at NeoCon last year, you might have caught Williams’ informative presentation on employing and selling to Generation Z. If you attended the 2019 National Association of Real Estate Editors’ conference, you probably heard Mele describe the potential of this massive cohort, as well. Both of these long-time professionals are bullish on these young Americans.

Customizability, especially in the kitchen, is prized by Gen Z.
Photo: New Kitchen Ideas That Work/Lenova

Portrait of a new generation

To answer the first question about who they are, here are some relevant facts:

  • Williams describes Gen Z in her talk as the most racially and ethnically diverse, passionate about equality and gender-sensitive group we’ve ever seen.
  • Given their socially conscious perspective, it’s not surprising that 79 percent choose brands that support causes, she adds.
  • Williams also points out that they’re digital natives, an important fact to consider in how you communicate with them. According to her presentation, 95 percent have a smart phone, 74 percent prefer spending time online to other activities, and 50 percent are online 10 hours a day. They also prefer influencers to celebrities, are comfortable with mobile-only purchases, prefer brands that are socially engaged and read reviews before purchasing.
  • Mele adds that this generation is excited about becoming homeowners. Almost 87 percent expect to buy their first home before they turn 35.
  • Quality of life is important to them, he reports, and 71 percent want short commutes, while 52 percent want to be close to friends and family.

What they want to buy

Generation Z loves entertaining outdoors. Photo: Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet

“It’s still too early to fully understand this generation’s approach to their living spaces, but they are a generation known for their acceptance of – if not preference for – uniqueness and individuality,” Mele shares. “They’re used to automation and customization, so that will likely factor into how they approach their living spaces.”

Williams adds that while certainty isn’t in the cards right now, Gen Z’s focus on wellbeing will create a priority for those spaces to include physical and emotional wellness features. That could potentially include more natural materials, spa-inspired showers, plant holders and bidet-style toilets.

She sees technology as being part of these spaces too, to support its strong role in this group’s daily life. “For Gen Z, it’s standard and expected, despite their stated concerns about privacy and security,” she says. It is likely that smart home technology will really hit its stride as Gen Z become homeowners, Williams predicts.

There’s a good news-bad news story on the types of projects they’ll likely undertake as new homeowners, Mele anticipates. “We expect them to be more willing to look at fixer-uppers than their Millennial counterparts,” he reports, given a shortage of affordable starter homes, Gen Z comfort with researching and completing DIY projects and anticipated family financial support. That might mean more consulting and product sales opportunities for kitchen and bath pros than traditional full service and project management services.

As far as their taste is concerned, “Kitchen and bath professionals may find favor with Gen Zers by creating designs that are easily customizable, deliver on that open concept that allows for flow and are supportive to hosting family and friends,” he adds.

Kitchen wants

“It’s no secret that kitchens are often a top factor in the decision of which home to buy,” Mele comments, “but our survey found that other entertaining spots, like backyards, are important to this group of buyers. Sharing a meal with family and friends in the kitchen or off the patio is the lifestyle Generation Z strives for in their home,” he observes.

Wellness features like hands-free faucets could be appealing to this next generation of homeowners.
Photo: Kohler Co.

That points to outdoor kitchens and indoor/outdoor living space flow being opportunities for this group. Like previous generations, he adds, “Gen Z prioritizes open-concept design. We expect this generation to look for kitchens with few barriers and unique features that let them customize their space, like movable islands and DIY wet bar nooks that complement their desire to entertain.”

Bathroom wants

“Eco-friendly features like low-flow toilets and automatic faucets are nice, and Gen Zers likely see the value in them, but they may not want to pay the upfront expense until they are more financially stable,” Mele cautions. It could be, though, that their localities, like those in California, require even more water rationing requirements, necessitating their purchase. It is probable that mass adoption will drive down their cost, helping this generation address its sustainability values without great sacrifice.

Marketing to Gen Z

Their comfort with online communication and mobile purchasing isn’t surprising. What might be is an observation by Williams: “This generation is hungry for face-to-face; they want to connect in-person more than one might expect of a generation that’s so fundamentally at ease with virtual communication. One study found Gen Zers prefer and enjoy in-store experience over online.” That might encourage brick-and-mortar enhancement by dealers and retailers, in contrast to recent trends.

“I encourage a balance of methods for being in touch, with the default of starting in-person whenever possible,” the marketer suggests. “If you’re a sales rep working with a design firm, try to get a meeting or connect at an event, and then follow up with email and digital tools. If you’re an employer, meet up in the office and then support your discussions with digital materials.”

Competing for their attention is not just about where you connect, but what you stand for, Williams asserts. “Gen Zers are cause-driven, and right now, those causes are often related to equality, social justice and human rights.” That means your ongoing business practices need to align with those values to win this generation’s hearts and dollars. “They will gladly give business to brands that authentically care about and advocate for causes that matter,” she says.

This is also a fragmented market, where legacy brands are being strongly challenged by new entrants – including technology names that are now competing in this space. “Because they get their information and input from so many different sources, they may not even have familiarity with long-standing brands,” Williams cautions. “If you’re one of them, expect to reintroduce yourself to Gen Z.

Skilled trade outreach to the next generation targets young women, as well as young men.
Photo: Generation T, powered by Lowe’s

“Additionally, the market fragmentation that is Gen Zers’ baseline has increasingly become the reality for their parents, as well.” That’s a wake-up call for some long-standing firms selling to second- and third-generation clients – or should be! Williams advises, “By meeting Gen Zers where they are – online across all the socials, web searches and in real life – brands can connect perhaps even more personally than ever before.”

That could mean some serious upgrades to your website, she advises. “For businesses and brands in the kitchen and bath industry, this could mean that they:

  • “Incorporate virtual reality tech on their websites, e.g. – ‘see in room’;
  • Offer multi-dimensional images online – e.g., click to rotate the product to see its form/shape from all angles;
  • Provide live chat for customer service on the website;
  • Give transparent scoop on product inventory/
    availability so customers know if/when they can get what they want.”

And, of course, your site should be completely mobile-compatible and seamlessly e-commerce capable. That’s a lot of development! If it’s any comfort, old school email is preferred by Gen Z for some areas of their lives. For example, Williams says, it’s ideal for online confirmations, warranty information and employment conversations.

“Gen Zers are nearly native users of direct messaging through social platforms and smartphone text messaging, but they perceive these modes of communication as more personal and reserved for friendly connections. Employers, bosses and supervisors are well-advised to use email or specially designated messaging platforms (i.e. Slack) to communicate with Gen Z employees.”

The kitchen and bath industry is heavily recruiting Generation Z for skilled trade careers.
Photo: Generation T, powered by Lowe’s

Hiring Generation Z

Just about all recent high school graduates and most traditional college seniors and grads applying for jobs with your company are Generation Z. As Williams noted, they’re comfortable communicating with employers through email and corporate messaging services, and they’re very cause-oriented. Given their ethnic diversity and focus on equality, having personnel, recruitment and business practices that emphasize these principles can get your offer stronger consideration than competitors that don’t project them.

If you hire tradespeople, you’ve probably noticed a growing labor shortage. This is becoming a critical issue for the industry, and leaders like the National Kitchen & Bath Association and Lowe’s are taking steps to address it with Gen Z outreach.

“Generation T [for Trades] is a movement to build a pipeline of workers to offset the anticipated gap of three million jobs by 2028,” Lowe’s executive Mitchell shares. “Changing the way society perceives the skilled trades will be critical to drive interest.”

So his company and its partners have created a website and events focused on job opportunities, education programs and connections to apprenticeships. “Our movement is aimed at letting people know how the skilled trades provide high-growth career opportunities, the ability to be an entrepreneur and make meaningful contributions to society.” There’s that values focus again.

There’s another value to promoting trades, he notes, and that’s creating future homeowners and customers sooner. “The reality is that high school graduates can start a career without student loan debt by pursuing a career in skilled trades,” Mitchell observes. Lowe’s 2018 research showed that only five percent of high schoolers’ parents suggested a career in the skilled trades to their kids. “By educating students and parents about these fields, and connecting companies and mentors to interested candidates, we’re confident we will start to fill the trade skills pipeline,” he declares.

The outreach is egalitarian, he points out. “Generation T is available to anyone looking to pursue a fulfilling career opportunity – from the veteran who is looking for a way to use military skills, to the stay-at-home mom-turned-woodworker who builds furniture in her garage as a side hustle, to high school students building their own career path.”

Last words

When asked if he has any five to 10 year projections for Gen Z,’s Mele responded this way: “This generation is still coming into its own, and it will be another few years before we really understand who they are and their impact on the housing and design industry.” Stay tuned… OK, Boomers? ▪

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