Experts shed light on the ins and outs of kitchen and bath
By Phil Zaleon
One of the greatest marketing challenges facing today’s kitchen and
bath professionals is learning how to use technology effectively.
Technology can be a great tool to help market products and
services, enhance a firm’s reputation and increase the bottom line.
However, some kitchen and bath dealers and designers are still
hesitant to commit to using technology in their marketing plans.
Some don’t fully understand it; others are unwilling to commit to
something so “new” even though the newness is what gives early
adopters of technology such a powerful marketing edge. Still others
worry about the cost.
In fact, one of the biggest objections people frequently voice
to using technology is that they believe it’s “too expensive.”
Technology certainly can be expensive, yet there are plenty of
ways to utilize technology to market a kitchen or bath firm without
breaking the bank.
In today’s high-tech world, there are marketing channels that
fit almost any budget. Some are obvious, others are less so, and
still others require little more than some imagination and vision
to be coaxed into reality. The beauty is, there is no wrong way to
put technology to work. Anything is possible, it’s only a matter of
time and resources.
The first thing most people think of when they hear the word
“technology” is the Internet, and their position on it.
One of the industry’s earlier adopters of Internet marketing is
Bill Camp, CKD, whose Triangle Design Kitchens is located in the
technology-rich region of North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park.
Bill went online in 1996 with a basic site.
“All of our traditional advertising points to our Web site,” he
explains. “Our customers are Web-savvy. They want to shop online
first, then come in to touch and feel product in the showroom. We
have always used our Web site as a 24-hour, 7-day-a-week showroom,
selling for us while we cannot be in the showroom. Our site
provides details about the staff, testimonials and plenty of big
pictures of jobs. People want to feel like they know us and our
capabilities before they hire us and our Web site lets that
Web sites can be as varied as personalities, and they should be.
They act as extensions of the showroom, the owner and the business.
Each day, Web technology seems to take another leap forward,
offering something new to add to the Web site. Each new technology
bring its own positives and negatives and it’s up to the individual
kitchen and bath professional to weigh the options and decide the
Flash is one of the most popular software programs for creating
Web-based content. It allows users to combine text, animation,
sounds, video, photography and one’s imagination in one “TV-like”
On the downside, search engines don’t seem to like Flash. They
cannot read into the Flash content to find sites. However, a savvy
Web designer/marketer will combine flash with HTML (the code in
which Web pages are written) to help minimize the problem.
Another potential down side is that Flash requires the end user
to have a Flash plug-in installed on the computer in order to see
the animation. While most new computers are equipped for this,
consumers who use their computer primarily for fun may not upgrade
their computers as quickly as businesses do, so consumers who don’t
upgrade frequently may not be able to access Web sites designed
using Flash technology.
Viewpoint has a series of products that enhances Web viewing.
Viewpoint offers, among other things, the ability to create a 3D
environment, for example a kitchen. It can be used to render
cabinets and countertops and allow visitors to take a virtual walk
through a kitchen. It also provides the ability to display smooth
In addition, Viewpoint licenses ZoomView, which allows kitchen
and bath professionals to take high-resolution photographs of their
work and display them in fine detail on the Web without a lot of
download time. It also gives users the ability to zoom in to a
specific area of the photo without losing any resolution.
The downside of Viewpoint is cost, both on the licensing side
and the development side. ZoomView also takes up more server space
than a traditional image, so users need to be sure they have a good
Web hosting contract with plenty of space if they’re going to use
this technology. Like Flash, ZoomView requires the end user to have
a plug-in player installed on their computer.
Paul McDonald, president of the Hillsborough, NJ-based Royal
Cabinet Co., is a kitchen professional who uses ZoomView on his
site (www.RoyalCabinet.com). He explains, “The success of our
business hinges on details, and we need to show potential customers
how well we execute various details in our high-end projects. Many
people start their search for new cabinets on the Web, but
conventional Web technology won’t let you show much detail because
of the limited resolution available for showing the pictures.
ZoomView is a technology that enables prospects to see full
kitchens on our Web site and then selectively zoom in to see any
small detail of particular interest for example, a chamfer on a
frame, or a carving, or even antiqued glass used in the doors. We
were so happy with the enhanced viewing capabilities offered by
ZoomView that we created a CD with a large portfolio of work for
our dealers to share with their prospects.”
Traditional audio and video can be added to Web sites to allow
kitchen and bath dealers and designers to market themselves beyond
the reach of their initial audience. For example, dealers and
designers can add an existing radio or TV commercial or an HGTV or
local show that features their showroom or design online to their
Web site. In addition, dealers who market themselves through local
seminars can tape them and offer them online either for free, as a
way to attract new clients, or for sale as a way to generate
The downside of audio and video online is still bandwidth and
quality. Utilizing Flash or Viewpoint to deliver the message may
make the end product better, but it will also make the cost
360° Panoramic View
QuickTime offers the technology of being able to view any scene
in a 360° panoramic view. With this technology, Web site
visitors can “virtually” stand in the center of a kitchen design or
showroom and see that beautiful kitchen or showroom from almost any
perspective. While this “virtual viewpoint” may not be as effective
as seeing it live, it’s certainly more effective than viewing
The downsides include additional production costs and
photographs, and the visitor’s need for a plug-in viewer to be able
to utilize this feature.
While the Web provides a great opportunity to showcase visuals,
it’s not just about pictures. Equally important, the Web provides
Web site owners with an opportunity to interact with visitors to
Savvy kitchen and bath dealers or designers can use the Web to
market themselves as industry experts, fielding questions from
online visitors through the use of a discussion page, e-mail links
or bulletin boards where anyone can chime in with their thoughts
In addition, using a Web site to post weekly or monthly tips
will draw traffic and help establish a reputation as an industry
expert. Kitchen and bath dealers or designers can let consumers
know what to expect during a remodeling project, how to choose
cabinetry, or the best ways to use lighting all by posting
information on a Web site.
This serves a number of purposes: It keeps the Web site fresh,
it provides more keywords for search engines to find, it increases
the owner’s stature as an expert, and ultimately can help to bring
in additional business.
The downside to this is the time commitment required to keep the
tips fresh. Likewise, an online bulletin board requires monitoring
to ensure undesirable comments are removed in a timely manner.
However, this is a great and inexpensive way to connect with
consumers by providing a valuable service that will enhance the
owner’s reputation and help to bring in business.
Everyone hates spam, so why would kitchen and bath professionals
even consider using
e-mail to market themselves? The answer is simple: If done
correctly, e-mailed marketing pieces aren’t spam, they’re a way to
provide useful information. Of course, one person’s useful
information can be another person’s spam. So it’s important to
ensure that you are only sending e-mail to those who wish to
E-mail campaigns can also be a great first step to creating a
Web-based e-mail newsletter program. Kitchen and bath professionals
can begin by sending a list of tips or other relevant material to
clients, vendors and friends. They can then grow this list by
having a “sign up” opportunity on line where the firm’s tips are
One of the most exciting aspects of marketing technology is that
it provides the ability to mass communicate individually.
No business should be without a database, which should include
as much information as possible. It’s important to have more than
just names, addresses and phone numbers. It’s useful to track what
clients purchase, how they make their decisions, whether the
husband or wife takes the lead, etc.
Prospects will often reveal much of this information during the
course of a conversation. When they leave, it’s easy to make
notations in a database.
With this information, dealers can set up a mail merge document
that keeps them in touch with the Smith Family and Jones Family
telling them different things, but letting the computer do all the
work. Whether wishing clients a happy birthday, sending notices of
special buys based on what they purchased previously or inviting
them to wine tastings or open houses, simple programs on many of
today’s computers can keep communication lines open.
Even the latest kitchen management software takes this into
account. President of The Kitchen Pond, Brian O’Rourke, CKD, says,
“We took database marketing very seriously when determining
features for our Kitchen Manager software. It allows the designer
to track useful information about clients some we have
predetermined, such as name, address,
e-mail, etc., but we also allow designers to create their own
data fields. The program is easily used with common word processing
programs, so creating mail merge style letters is simple.”
In addition to database information, consider the following:
- While visiting your showroom, potential clients could be
viewing a DVD of your firm’s portfolio on an HDTV positioned in an
entertainment unit (that they could buy). The production cost,
which could include movement in all the photos, a music background,
descriptive text on the screen and perhaps a voice-over, is a
one-time investment, while the marketing benefits can continue for
years. This production can be delivered to clients on DVD, video
cassette or online.
- In addition, showroom visitors could be engaged by a kiosk or
computer allowing them to learn more about the remodeling process,
specific vendors and your firm’s history (this information should
be more extensive than what they’ve already seen on your Web site).
This can be interactive, allowing each visitor to view what he or
she wants, or it can continually provide information on a
- As you sit with the client around a table, let technology
enhance the experience. Use your computer to augment your
discussion with information on a PowerPoint presentation. Clients
can then be supplied with print outs to take home in a pocket
folder, along with a copy of the DVD (or video) that was playing on
the HDTV. Notes taken during this meeting can be used later for
- When the potential client goes home, or you are ready to
reconnect with a former client, let technology supplement your
contact. The personalized approach of database marketing is an
excellent beginning, but use your own experiences to dictate your
next steps. Would you be more likely to read a post card, open a
letter, watch a DVD or videocassette, or put a CD in your computer?
Each has its own benefits and drawbacks. But, when selling a high
ticket item with a long sell cycle, the more personalized the
approach and the more high-end the experience, the better.
Today’s technology also makes some tried-and-true marketing and
advertising techniques more effective. For instance, our 500
channel world allows us to narrow a TV advertising focus to
specific networks or cable stations that have finite geographic
boundaries, or that cater to a specific interest area.
Radio today allows users to reach specific audiences based on
genre and geography. Even Google now has the ability to let users
advertise geographically, as well as by key word, utilizing this
There is still a place in the industry for business cards,
letterhead, brochures and other printed collaterals, and each
should contain a firm’s e-mail and Web address. Television spots
should have a Web address included right next to the physical
address. Web addresses are also the perfect tool for radio
commercials. While most people listen in their cars, they’re hardly
in a position to write down or remember a 7-10 digit phone number
but a memorable Web address is easy to recall.
Technology is only a conduit allowing people to market to more
people, faster. In and of itself, it won’t make kitchen and bath
professionals more effective communicators, nor will it craft a
better message. The ability to effectively use the tools of
technology and communication to market in the 21st century is still
as personal and as hand-crafted as a lovingly designed kitchen.
Using technology as an effective marketing tool requires, above all
else, something kitchen designers possess in abundance
Philip D. Zaleon is founder and president of Chapel Hill-based Z
promotion & design a full service integrated marketing and
creative agency focusing on the kitchen and bath industry.
Prior to founding Z promotion & design in 1996, Phil held
the position of v.p./research & development for a new
technology-based communications firm.
He can be reached at Z promotion & design, P.O. Box 17291,
Chapel Hill, NC 27516; Telephone: 919-932-4600; Fax: 919-932-4447;
E-mail: [email protected]; Web site: