The wealth of smart tech for the home has been getting a lot of press lately. In the kitchen and bath industry, there seems to be two different mindsets on the never-ending array of tech products currently flooding the market.
The first is that while it may be “cool,” most clients don’t really want it. Tech becomes dated too quickly, they say. Repairs are expensive, privacy issues are a concern and many homeowners don’t feel the perceived benefits are worth it – or they don’t actually care about turning on their oven from their phone, or having a conversation with their faucet.
The second is that consumers actually do want smart technology, but too many designers aren’t savvy enough about the tech themselves to sell it effectively.
So, which is true?
The answer may well be both.
There’s no doubt that tech for tech’s sake doesn’t always play well to kitchen and bath consumers. This is especially true, designers say, when many of those who can afford all the latest high-tech products are in their 40s to 70s – and are often more interested in style and function than gadgets.
Even tech-savvy millennials, used to upgrading their smart phones as often as they do their wardrobe, may worry about investing in kitchen technology that could leave the kitchen outdated within a couple of years – or require expensive repairs or constant updates.
Additionally, with the wealth of technology being introduced almost daily, much of the kitchen and bath industry is still figuring out what tech features really matter to today’s consumers, and which are just noise.
And, with near-daily news reports about data breaches and devices “listening in” to better target advertising, privacy issues are increasingly playing into the equation. Who hasn’t been a little freaked out after googling something – or just talking about it – and suddenly finding yourself inundated with ads related to that something on every device you own?
But despite technology concerns and objections, tech is clearly the future, and maybe the present as well. In a recent KBDN survey (see story), more than three quarters of dealers and designers polled said their clients are “very” or “somewhat” interested in smart kitchen technology.
Yet only a quarter of those same designers said they are “very comfortable” with this technology themselves – and nearly a third said they were “not very” or “not at all” comfortable with it.
Today, smart speakers like Amazon Echo and Google Home are at the heart of many integrated homes – yet two-thirds of the designers surveyed said they don’t use them, even though they admit that many of their clients do.
So, how do you sell smart technology for the integrated home when you may not fully understand it yourself?
Likewise, in a recent survey commissioned by NKBA in conjunction with CEDIA, 60% of homeowners said they viewed technology as essential in the master bath, even as 68% of designers said they do not (see related Consumer Buying Trends, Page 12). This suggests a disturbing disconnect. After all, if consumers can’t rely on their design professionals to provide the expertise necessary to create the spaces they desire – including all the bells and whistles – why would they trust them with their projects at all?
Of course technology is complicated, ever changing and hard to keep up with – especially when designers are already besieged with an endless array of new products, trends, evolving business and marketing models, a growing social media landscape and changing demographics that impact consumer desires.
This is where partnering with technology integrators may provide a solution. Partnerships have long been a staple of the kitchen and bath industry, allowing designers to give their clients what they want and need without having to know everything about everything. Technology integrators are experts in their field, and can create new profit opportunities for designers by broadening the products and services they can offer – and the expertise they can share.
At the same time, designers need to immerse themselves in some of the newest tech, even if it’s not their “thing.” Because the better you understand how it works, the better you can explain it – and sell it – to those who desire it.
That doesn’t mean you have to embrace smart tech that you don’t think is actually a smart choice for your clients. But fully understanding it – both the benefits and pitfalls – will make you a better advocate for your clients. ▪