The pace of life seems to be speeding up these days, with a firehose of information every time you turn on your phone, tablet or computer. Here are some trends worth keeping an eye on in 2019, according to four industry pros sharing what you need to know to be successful this year:
Tim Costello, CEO of BDX and Builder Homesite, parent companies of NewHomeSource.com and HomLuv.com, top-rated search and information websites for new home buyers and builders;
Lynn Kirchgatter, recruiter and owner of Keercutter & Associates, a search firm that specializes in the construction, kitchen and bath industries;
Laurie Laizure, founder of Interior Design Community, a social media community for design professionals to share knowledge, ideas, resources and trends;
Irene Williams, integrated marketing consultant handling social media, public relations, brand messaging, advertising, online and communications strategies for kitchen and bath industry clientele as owner of Msg2Mkt.
“Today, 28 percent of households are single people living alone, 25 percent are couples with no children and 20 percent are unrelated adults sharing a household,” observes Costello. “Yet, we’re still building three to five bedroom homes. We should be focused on creating compelling new forms of housing for today’s dominant household types.”
What are those compelling forms? “There’s a tremendous opportunity for helping Boomers age in place, right-size or both,” he says. There’s also a vast opportunity to help tech-savvy millennials – soon to overtake their boomer parents as the country’s largest demographic – express their style. Both demographics seek simpler living with walkability and wellness. “Smaller, flexible, smarter forms of housing will better serve today’s smaller households,” Costello notes.
Reaching new clients
“Virtual reality and augmented reality are fundamentally changing how consumers experience yet-to-be-built homes – and how they personalize and design spaces. This is especially true in the kitchen and bath,” the NewHomeSource.com/HomLuv.com leader shares. “Consumers want to click on and change appliances, cabinets, countertops, backsplashes, light fixtures, flooring, faucets and more.” Is your technology offering prospective clients this option? “The most vital phases of the customer journey occur digitally. Thus, the quality of your online content has never been more critical to your success.”
First, they have to find you online. That’s a challenge Laurie Laizure’s 90,000-plus Interior Design Community members discuss regularly, she says. “Marketing is extra dollars spent, and designers still struggle on where exactly to put those dollars. While some have had great success marketing themselves online, others have not,” she comments. While some have developed their brand with blogs and lucrative product licensing deals, others are still figuring out what makes the most sense for their businesses. What is working for many, she says, is using Instagram for “sharing their experience day to day being a designer working on the projects they have currently, showing sneak peeks. This is bringing in big dollar projects for many designers who are doing it right.”
Irene Williams’ corporate clients want to be part of those projects. Reaching designers and their support networks is her company’s focus. “In the current social media landscape, we’re strongly focused on Instagram; Instagram consistently offers 58 percent more engagement than Facebook business pages.” Pinterest is another site she recommends. “This search-friendly platform does a phenomenal job in driving traffic back to our clients’ websites. It’s often the strongest site traffic driver by 20 percent or more for brands in the kitchen and bath industry. We also do plenty of paid digital promotions with key publications. We nurture engagement on all social and digital platforms with the common goal of getting designers to visit brand websites, subscribe for product updates via email or set up appointments to view samples.”
Williams also advises clients to pay attention to the content types that social platforms are focusing on; these will often point the way to the best engagement on their sites, she reports. “For example, Instagram has beefed up its video offerings through the addition of IGTV, live video and Stories enhancements. That means we may be well served to use video in our Instagram strategies, as the platform may reward this kind of content with better organic reach.” She is seeing more of these types of expansions than new competitive platforms.
Williams advises clients to consider “micro-influencing.” She notes, “We’re entering an era in which those with smaller, yet strongly targeted, followings are proving to have great influence and value to brands. This ties into my long-standing idea that I’d rather have 50 people interested in buying what I’m selling than 500 passers-by who would never purchase.”
Additionally, the marketer notes, “Everyone needs to be savvy about the mobile-first era we now work and live in. More web searches start on mobile devices now, and that’s why Google is serving up sites that load and look great on mobile first in search results. Everyone in the business world – kitchen and bath and beyond – needs to be sure their sites are polished and ready for viewing on mobile devices.” Are yours?
An important related trend is voice search, she adds. “Voice search is basically the queries we make to voice assistants through our Alexa hubs, Google Home and Siri,” Williams explains. “We need to be sure the information about our businesses that’s populated online is friendly and ready to be discovered via voice search. Many of the same approaches we use to be sure our businesses are found in Google search results will apply here, but this is a new frontier.”
How you manage your business, especially if you’re a sole practitioner or small business owner, has new frontiers of its own. “Our economy is doing well, but with new tariffs on products, designers will need to change their pricing going into 2019 to accommodate that,” IDC founder Laizure notes. [It’s possible that a new trade agreement will be reached before press time.] “Know where your products are made!” she urges. “The pricing difference could be as much as 20 to 30 percent, and you will need to communicate that with your clients as you proceed through projects.”
Pricing has become a challenge in other ways, as well. Clients are constantly seeking new ways to save money on their projects, often at the designer’s or project’s expense. “A designer may have a line of products they like to work with and a reliable source for those products, and a client may want to see if they can find cheaper prices online,” Laizure says. (I’m betting most designer readers are nodding their heads right now.) “Many designers have figured a way around this and have procurement as a separate line item in their contracts, or have it clearly marked that they are not liable if the client buys inferior products.”
Staffing is another challenge faced by many companies, large and small. “The candidate pool has tightened because everyone who wants to work is working. Very few are seeking new opportunities, unless they are looking to relocate,” shares recruiter Kirchgatter. “For example, we have spoken to candidates who want to move from Los Angeles to Denver, or Phoenix to Boston, or Orlando to Idaho. And companies who hesitate to hire (because their hiring process is too long) will lose a candidate,” she confides.
“Millennials are the biggest challenge,” Kirchgatter comments. “They are concerned about company culture and fit, compensation, benefits, perks, flexibility in work schedule and more of a work/life balance than ever before.” Given that they’re the largest demographic now, some hiring trends are worth noting. “Working remotely or from home one day a week is a plus,” the recruiter advises. “Advertising/recruiting in a way that tells the candidates ‘what is in it for them’ is the best approach. Simply posting a job description will often times be ignored.”
Even if you find the right candidates, you may not be able to hire them, she says. “There are some troubling trends we are hearing across the manufacturing world. Employers who use pre-employment drug testing are having a difficult time hiring because a high percentage of candidates cannot pass a drug test.” With more states legalizing recreational marijuana in each election cycle (there are 10 as of the midterms), that’s an issue many employers will need to be looking at for their firms.
There are many more trends in design, technology and practice management than could fit into one Trend Spotting, but these will hopefully help inform your new business year. Many more will be shared next month at the Kitchen & Bath Industry Show in Las Vegas. Many KBDN contributors and editors will be attending. Hope to see you there! ▪