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The Road to the “Next” Normal

“The industry outlook is promising”—NKBA CEO, Bill Darcy, Q4 of 2020

The effect of COVID-19 on the Kitchen and Bath Industry has been varied since it first showed its potential to devastate the market in the spring of last year. By the end of Q1 in 2020, a Kitchen & Bath Market Index (KBMI) survey reflected 8.08 out of 10 as a measure of the impact on businesses. However, most dealers were seeing postponements to their projects rather than cancellations, while manufacturing and retail saw slight increases in business.

From stabilization to a better forecast for 2021

Q2 saw the industry stabilizing. Homeowners began making appointments and returning to the showroom. No doubt 2020 was a year of unprecedented change, but by the late, second half of the year, the initial pathway to the next “normal” had been created. By the end of Q3, 56.7% of dealers stated that their operations for 2020 had been performing as originally expected. The year finished out better than predicted for the Kitchen and Bath Industry, revitalizing its market.

Despite the immediate hiccup due to uncertainty surrounding the pandemic, all signs now indicate that the Kitchen and Bath Industry will not only survive but will continue to thrive. Consumers are readily investing in kitchen and bath projects. The Leading Indicator of Remodeling Activity (LIRA) study, conducted by Harvard University, predicts renovations and repair spending to increase by 4.1% in Q1 of 2021, with that spending leveling to a 1.7% increase in Q3. Indeed, business for the Kitchen and Bath Industry looks much brighter this year.

The business reality of virtual reality

While the physical showroom will remain a core component of the industry for the greater part of the decade at least, the way we interact with technology continues to change rapidly. The Kitchen and Bath Industry has been behind the curve in its adoption of this change. As technology continues improving the online shopping experience for buyers, it is crucial that dealers represent their showrooms accurately online and provide an in-depth, interactive, virtual experience for prospective clients.

Videos are great for across-the-board introductions to brands that show visitors the products you carry. However, those seeking to remodel their kitchens and baths will have much greater confidence spending thousands of dollars on renovations through software that lets them custom design virtual reality mockups of their design plans, consult with professionals remotely, and save their work for future reference.

Virtual shopping is already the preferred way of shopping for America, and it’s here to stay. So it is only fitting that the Kitchen and Bath Industry respond to this preference by delivering high-quality service online that matches its in-person service. While the automotive and education industries are already exploring the uses of virtual reality in their spectrums, consider it a soon-to-be competitive reality for the Kitchen and Bath Industry.

The road to the next “normal”

With the pandemic accounted for, annual expenditures in renovation and repair are expected to increase by $5 billion to $337 billion by the second half of this year. To stay aggressive in this market flagged by unprecedented changes, many industry leaders are switching up their approach to sales. Dealers are shipping samples to clients’ homes and offering curbside pickup to move the design process forward, as well as boosting their websites for more sophisticated e-commerce offerings.

As the country has seen a lot of traditional consumer practices return, showrooms are still a great place to connect with prospective clients so they may meet the personnel involved in their design plans, as well as see and try new products. For the foreseeable future at least, showrooms are still an integral part of the buying experience.

While the biggest obstacles for the industry seem to be matching an online presence with in-person professionalism or refilling stock, there are ways to outmaneuver these trying times. Maintaining a rigorous, consistent COVID-19 protocol in every area of your business operation shows professionalism and sends a confident, in-control message to clients who may choose an earlier installation date given how they see your company in action.

Overall, as a nation, we’ve seen a leap toward normalization of traditional commerce habits, as well as shipping time expectations in e-commerce, while bearing in mind the mentality of how to conduct business safely.

Scheduling installation dates later than usual with clients who want to wait longer for their new kitchen is an opportunity for those clients to become more familiar with your business and the products you carry even if done remotely. Such a move may encourage up-sales as the economy and the future of our industry continues to climb.

Ultimately, leveraging technology will catapult your company ahead

Technology is relevant now and more important than ever. DesignAlign™ enables SEN Members to develop a realistic budget virtually, closing sales — at the end of the first 2-hour appointment — with a retainer check before starting formal design work.

Maintaining a strong, attractive, interactive online showroom is the best way to draw prospects into your business. Even while physical showrooms remain vital to the Kitchen and Bath Industry, prospective clients who can view it online, and interact virtually with the staff they’ve already met in person, will build your brand. It will also show them conclusive proof that your business is very much a part of the industry’s thriving future.

– Jenny Catalano