High-tech wizardry may be all the rage in the kitchen and bath design trade, but brick-and-mortar showrooms, as always, are where the real action is when it comes to showcasing products, building client relationships and closing sales.
While that should hardly come as a surprise to longtime professionals in the industry’s design or retail sectors, it’s being reinforced in spades by an enlightening new report which found that, even in the current era of online shopping, videoconferencing and virtual reality, independent showrooms remain as critical as ever to new construction and remodeling projects, including both do-it-yourself and designer-involved kitchens and baths.
Indeed, according to the National Kitchen & Bath Association’s Independent Showrooms Report, whose findings were released this summer, no less than seven in ten homeowners begin their kitchen or bath remodeling project by visiting a showroom or other retail outlet in search of ideas, new products and design inspiration, while most consumers who shopped at an independent showroom report they made their final purchase there.
Moreover, the NKBA report found that showrooms are responsible for adding more than 30% to the cost of products purchased for a full-scale kitchen or bath remodel, since a sizable percentage of homeowners significantly upgrade their purchases after consulting with a designer, remodeler or other showroom source about product features, functionality and available brands.
But there’s even more in the Independent Showrooms Report for kitchen and bath design firms to go to school on.
For instance, the NKBA report found that online shopping, contrary to popular belief, doesn’t rank particularly high as a challenge to showroom owners. In contrast, according to most surveyed owners, in-store experiences remain the preferred form of shopping, because kitchen and bath consumers continue to place extremely high value on seeing products in creative showroom displays and vignettes – and experiencing them in person – before they purchase. Indeed, independent-showroom sales have remained steady despite all the online buzz, with surveyed showroom owners projecting that kitchen and bath sales in 2023 will be on par with sales last year, according to the NKBA.
None of this, of course, is meant to suggest that showroom owners don’t face myriad challenges, among them the need to maintain an up-to-date product mix, attract prospects through innovative marketing initiatives, cope with new forms of competition, and service the needs of a steadily changing customer base – all while mitigating industry-wide headwinds like inflation, supply chain snafus and skilled-labor shortages.
But independent kitchen and bath showrooms, to their credit, are apparently meeting those challenges head on. For example, within the past two years, 65% of the showrooms cited in the NKBA’s report say they’re carrying new or additional product brands, while 53% have significantly remodeled their showroom, 40% have added new product categories, and 50% have added or improved their technological capabilities in an effort to improve their clients’ shopping experience and/or to make their own operations more efficient.
Specifically, in the past year alone, 41% of surveyed showroom owners said they have enhanced their computer monitors or displays, while 30% have updated their design software or hardware, and a sizable percentage say they plan to add technology within the next two years. Most believe that using their company’s website in conjunction with online meetings, video conferencing and in-person sales will be critical to staying competitive in today’s ever-changing retail landscape.
The shift by kitchen and bath consumers to online purchasing platforms and other forms of technology will doubtless continue in the years ahead. So will the current wave of high-tech tools aimed at design, marketing and sales. But providing high-quality customer service and creating meaningful client relationships in kitchen and bath showrooms will, just as surely, always remain critical elements for success. ▪