What Millennials Want

authors Jamie Gold 

You know that sharp new rep for your top line? The one who knows every hot social media app before you do, who has the latest phone in hand 24/7 and who has become everyone in the company’s technology, food and fashion expert in five minutes flat? Yep, that person. That’s the quintessential Millennial employee, vendor, publicist and, yes, potential client.
If you’re the parent of a 20- or 30-something, you may have a strategic advantage in working with this largest demographic group in recent history. You know how they talk and think because you raised one or more. You understand their values, because they picked them up from what you shared and what they observed – or because you’re one of the 87 million Millennials yourself.

Mapping the Millennial
First, not everyone agrees on the dates or ages. “If you ask 10 different market researchers how they define this generation, you will likely get 10 different answers,” shares Erin Gallagher, RICKI’s Chief of Insights for the kitchen industry’s market intelligence firm. “We define it as those born between 1982 and 1996 (18 to 32 year olds at the time of this study),” she clarifies. Some studies start at 1980 and some end at 2000. Unlike with the Baby Boomers, this mega-generation’s dates and names are more fluid. Millennial is a popular one, but so is Gen Y. Most studies overlap the two, while choosing one name or the other. In the long run, it won’t matter much. There are so many more important details to consider with this demographic.

Describing the Millennial
“Many Millennials are highly educated with powerful earning potential, so they have money to spend,” notes Sarah Reep, director of Designer Relations & Education for Masco Cabinetry. “On the flipside, an equal number of Millennials are strapped for cash, thanks to college debt that far exceeds every generation that precedes them.
“Either way, Millennials value quality,” she adds. They appreciate good design and good food and are particularly open to international influences. Being the first generation to grow up with the Internet, they have been connected to global information and entertainment their entire lives.
Amazon is their corner store and Slumdog Millionaire their Rocky.
Reep describes Millennials as optimistic, despite setbacks like the Great Recession that slowed their careers, earning potential and home buying plans. They’re also egalitarian, having grown up with empowered mothers, gay rights, girls’ sports and a demographically shifting country. “Millennials value good citizenship, sustainability and doing the right thing. They see it as both a personal and corporate responsibility,” she notes. At the same time, Millennials can also be described as entitled – and often are. “Millennials are entitled because this generation received ribbons or trophies for just showing up to a game. Everyone won even when they lost. This is still part of their DNA,” Reep concludes. Earlier generations were raised to earn respect over time. Millennials firmly and politely expect it from the get go.

Selling to Millennials
First you have to find them, if they don’t find you first. While your expectation may be that online and mobile are your best media options for reaching this demographic, you might be surprised. “When you ask them about sources they use for kitchen ideas, TV tops the list,” notes RICKI’s Gallagher. She points out that this is the generation that was brought up with their moms watching HGTV. It’s worth noting that many of those HGTV shows featured designers as the experts and celebrities creating those transformations. That may contribute to Millennials’ greater acceptance of designers and design services than older generations, or perhaps it’s their wanting an experience, not just a product.
Reep emphasizes, “They want to work closely with someone who will take the time to get to know them. Millennials expect a designer to add value by creating a kitchen with them in mind, based on their style preferences, interests and lifestyles.”
While this may take a bit more of your time, it’s worth considering, given their increasing market power in the remodeling sphere. While some are still strapped with college loans and home equity challenges, time and wealth are on the Millennials’ side, including gifts and inheritances.
“Due to the Recession, Millennials will do their homework to understand what a kitchen costs long before they meet with a designer. They will set a budget and stick to it, making smart decisions about where to invest their dollars,” adds Reep.

What Millennials Want
Most want a good deal more space than they have now, and they’re willing to accept unfinished spaces to get it, according to the National Association of Home Builders’ 2015 International Builders’ Show presentation. They also want completely open kitchens, laundry rooms, Energy Star-rated appliances, garage storage and walk-in pantries, according to the NAHB study. Those are all business opportunities for kitchen and bath pros. On their most “unwanted” list, surprisingly, are shower-only master baths and wine coolers. The study’s author, Rose Quint, NAHB’s assistant v.p. for Survey Research, noted that the desire for energy-efficient appliance increases with income.
RICKI’s study digs even deeper into Millennial kitchen wants. Islands and entertainment areas ranked high, and customized cabinet storage, backsplashes and pet centers showed up, too. “I want my kitchen to say a lot about me,” is the leading sentiment among Millennial respondents. They are also the likeliest of all demographic groups to be using and charging their phones, laptops and tablets in the kitchen.
Best of all, for the kitchen industry itself, is that more than half of these Millennials plan to remodel or improve their kitchen in the next 12 months. Since their second greatest source of project ideas after TV is shopping, it’s not a bad idea to prepare your showroom staff on how to serve them.

Working with Millennials
While they are the largest demographic group heading into the home buying and remodeling segments – one-third purchased a new home in 2014 alone – they tend to spend less on their home improvement projects than older homeowners. (Interesting to note, RICKI’s study revealed that close to half wished they had spent more.)
Nino Sitchinava, principal economist at Houzz and the home design site’s lead researcher on its 2015
Houzz & Home Survey, has some theories as to why that is. “Reducing the scope of their project is one way that Millennials are working to keep the costs of their renovation projects down. Additionally, Millennials are more likely to take on all or parts of their projects as DIY, or hire subcontractors directly without a general contractor.
“Given how early Millennials are in the homeownership cycle, it is not surprising that they prioritize resale value more than other generations. Trading up to a larger home is a logical next step in the cycle,” Sitchinava adds. However, he cautions, “It is important to note that they prioritize improving look, feel and functionality above increasing resale value. More than anything, Millennials are interested in making their new homes their own.”
Just factor into your working relationship that they’re going to do as much of the work as they can themselves, hire the rest out to the lowest bidder, put some on their credit cards and pay cash for the rest.

Last Words
Sarah Reep said it best, “Millennials are our future. It’s worth taking the time to understand [them] and build a business plan around their needs. Many
Millennials also have aging parents and will begin making more decisions for them in the upcoming years. Millennials are here to stay!”

Jamie Gold, CKD, CAPS is an independent designer in San Diego, the author of New Kitchen Ideas That Work and upcoming New Bathroom Idea Book (Taunton Press), and a blogger, design journalist, seminar developer and industry consultant.

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