authors Eliot Sefrin
A dazzling – and expanding – array of cutting-edge technological tools is being utilized by kitchen and bath design professionals in a fluid, fashion-driven market that’s being impacted by a growing universe of digitally savvy consumers.
That’s among the key findings of a major new survey conducted for Kitchen & Bath Design News by the Wilmington, NC-based Research Institute for Cooking & Kitchen Intelligence. The online RICKI survey, conducted in March among nearly 300 dealers and designers, spotlights the rapidly growing range of technological tools being used by design pros for sales, marketing, designing and other key business functions (see related Editorial).
According to survey respondents, the greatest benefit they’re finding in technology is that it better enables clients to visualize the kitchen and bath projects they’re considering. Technology also enables greater efficiency in business operations, saves time and allows for more effective communication with clients, suppliers and subcontractors, surveyed dealers and designers say.
Nevertheless, despite its myriad benefits, technology also presents several key challenges, according to dealers and designers polled. The steepest of them, survey respondents report, is the inevitable learning curve associated with getting up to speed on a new technological tool. Other challenges include the cost of technology, the rapid pace of change and the need to be “on” 24/7.
USES FOR TECHNOLOGY
Among their most-utilized technology tools, survey respondents reported, are smart phones (82.7%), company websites (77.1%), laptop computers (68.7%), design software (67.3%) and social media (62.7%). Other commonly used digital tools include tablets, cloud-based storage, contact/email management software and business/design apps (see Graph 1).
The presence of these and other digital tools is also apparently important to clients. For example, more than 70% of surveyed design professionals reported that technology is either “very important” or “important” to their clients. In contrast, only 7% said that technology is “not very important” (see Graph 2).
Closely tied to this conclusion is RICKI’s finding that a significant percentage of today’s kitchen and bath clients are expressing interest in products – including cooking, lighting, storage and home automation – that incorporate new forms of technology.
According to survey respondents, technology tools are most frequently used in the areas of project drawings or designs (71.1% of surveyed design pros), product ordering (62%), sales or marketing (55.6%) and client presentations (50%). Some 45% of those surveyed say they use technology for other internal business functions, such as accounting (see Graph 3).
Kitchen and bath design professionals are also active when it comes to visiting industry-related websites, including those of manufacturers, trade associations and publications. While more than 25% say they visit industry websites several times a week, 36% say they visit websites either daily or several times a day (see Graph 4).
Industry websites are most commonly visited to look up product specs (79%), research products (78%), read product information or reviews (67%) and read news articles (59%). Other visits involve watching videos, purchasing products, signing up for webinars and reading blogs, survey respondents say.
At the same time, design professionals vary widely when it comes to how frequently they update their company’s own website. Some 22% say they update their websites monthly. Another 22% report they update quarterly. By comparison, about 15% say they update annually, 10% update twice a year, 7% update every two years and 7.4% say they update less frequently than every two years. Nearly 5% of those surveyed say they have never updated their website, and 12.3% say they don’t have a website at all (see Graph 5).
Other key findings of the RICKI/KBDN survey were as follows:
Digital marketing is clearly becoming a common tool for kitchen and bath design professionals. For example, 13.2% of surveyed dealers and designers report that all of their marketing efforts are currently being conducted digitally. In sharp contrast, only 24% say they do no digital marketing at all. A more common practice is for design firms to integrate digital-focused marketing techniques – such as social media, email campaigns and paid search online – with traditional marketing techniques like print advertising, direct mail, radio and live events. But design pros also note that their efforts to conduct marketing campaigns digitally are often hamstrung by a lack of technical expertise, as well as time constraints, costs and a lack of clarity regarding the benefits.
When it comes to digitally marketing their business and their professional services and capabilities, dealers and designers says they most frequently use their company website (73%), social media posts (50%), Houzz and Facebook ads (30% each) and email blasts or newsletters (20%).
The vast majority (87%) of surveyed design professionals say they utilize a wide range of social media for their businesses. Among the most popular resources are Facebook (used by 66% of surveyed pros), Houzz (65%), LinkedIn (38%), Pinterest (24%) and Instagram 23%).
More than 75% of surveyed design pros report that they post photos on social media, while 72% said they promote their businesses through social media. Other uses include looking at photos and/or videos (72%), reading what other people write (59%), posting their own comments (46%) and networking with other professionals (40%). Postings are most commonly made either weekly or several times a week.
Design professionals (32%) generally use between three to four mobile apps. Slightly fewer (27%) use one to two apps. Only 15% use five or more.
Dealers and designers also admit that a variety of the technological tools they utilize need improvement or additional options to make them more effective for business. Most frequently cited were company websites (31%), design software (24%) and social media (21%). ▪