The Home Center War the ongoing battle for market
share between Big Box retailers and independent kitchen/bath
dealers continues to be quietly waged in local markets across the
It’s a closely fought war that heated up
dramatically in the ’90s, amid an atmosphere of uncertainty,
speculation and panic on the part of some dealers. And, it’s a war
that no doubt will continue, as retail competitors slug it out in a
battle for the hearts and wallets of kitchen/bath remodeling
So, who’s winning the war?
Well, apparently both sides.
At least that’s the way it seems in a kitchen and
bath industry fueled by healthy demand, and seemingly enough
business for everyone.
How long this situation will last remains to be
seen but it’s very good news for now.
It also stands in sharp contrast to the dire
predictions of just a few years ago, when upscale home centers were
being seen as a fatal threat to many independent kitchen and bath
It wasn’t too long ago, in fact, that there was
talk of an impending bloodbath for dealers, many of whom were seen
headed for extinction.
That, of course, was when major home centers like
The Home Depot, Lowe’s and Sears’ Great Indoors started chasing not
only the DIY remodeling market, but the middle and the upper end of
the kitchen/bath market, as well.
Everyone knows that story by now.
It’s the story of how home center chains, bent on
continued expansion, changed their entire approach to kitchen and
bath sales, and mounted an aggressive assault on
And how Big Boxes changed their product mix and the interiors of
their new stores, and began producing more professional designs,
and hiring more professional help.
And how these same chains upgraded their
merchandising efforts, and offered turnkey services, and began to
give both price-conscious and affluent consumers a viable
alternative to the local kitchen/bath dealership.
The competitive pressure from the home center push
into the kitchen/bath market was felt up and down the retail chain.
Some independent dealers simply folded their tents and were run out
of business. Others climbed up the price ladder to compete with
higher-end design firms, squeezing the competition in the luxury
niche. Still others lined up for job applications, and went to work
for the home centers.
Somewhere along the line, though, something
happened to change the outcome of the story.
What happened, of course, is that independent kitchen/bath dealers
learned they could survive the Home Center War, and maybe even
Somewhere along the line, dealers have learned to
live with the Big Boxes. They’ve gone to school on their strengths,
and capitalized on their weaknesses. They’ve come to see home
center competition not just as a threat, but as something healthy,
something that forces everyone to be better.
In short, they’ve learned to compete.
As the Page 70 story aptly entitled “David Loves
Goliath” points out, most dealers have finally come to recognize
that the home center assault has, in reality, been a blessing in
For one thing, home centers have clearly put more
buyers in the marketplace, and have stirred the pot by raising
consumer awareness of kitchen and bath remodeling.
Maybe even more importantly, though, home centers have clearly
raised the bar for dealers. Upscale Big Box efforts have forced
most independents to hunker down, do their homework. They’ve
compelled dealers to narrow their market niche, hone their sales
approach, seek unique product lines, enhance customer service,
sharpen their management skills, develop new marketing strategies,
join together in buying groups, attempt bold new retail
They’ve also forced dealers to recognize and focus
on their traditional strengths: design expertise, product
knowledge, project coordination, professionalism, showroom ambience
and the ability to inspire the confidence of homeowners.
In short, their presence has made dealers tougher
and better. More driven to defend their turf. More resilient. More
Home centers, at the same time, have seemingly
found their own place in a market that continues to grow. They no
doubt fill a need, and offer a valuable alternative to consumers.
In the process, they’ve clearly captured their own customer niche,
and are reaping the rewards of their efforts.
And, so the Home Center War rages on.
Winners and losers will be determined, I suppose,
somewhere down the road.
The only thing that’s certain for now is that it’s a war that has
made everyone better, and a war at least for the moment in which
everyone’s seemingly a winner.