‘Contradictory’ Luxury Consumer Growing Since 9/11

by WOHe

‘Contradictory’ Luxury Consumer Growing Since

SAN FRANCISCO The post-9/11 consumer in search of luxury
products, including high-end kitchens and baths, is a consumer who
is characterized by “deep and confusing contradictions” although
the home has taken on a renewed importance and the desire to spend
on the luxury “experience” remains as strong as ever.

That was the message conveyed to kitchen/bath dealers, designers
and manufacturers by Steven Kleber, CEO of the Atlanta-based Kleber
& Associates, an advertising and public relations agency with
strong ties to the kitchen and bath market. Kleber was one of the
featured speakers at the recent Luxury Kitchen & Bath
Collection trade event in San Francisco.

During his speech, Kleber provided some enlightening statistics
regarding the growing number of luxury consumers in America. Among

  • Millionaire households have quadrupled in the past 10
  • Households with $5 million net worth have increased in the past
    five years, to two million.
  • High-net-worth households ($500,000+) are expected to reach 31
    million by 2004, a three-fold increase over the past 10 years.
  • Generational transfer over the next 20 years is projected to
    reach $12 trillion.

He also pointed out that there is a growing number of “mass
affluent” individuals in the U.S. that is, people whose net worth
exceeds $100,000, Kleber noted. In fact, there are currently some
19 million of these individuals in the U.S., dwarfing the number of
ultra-rich, he said.
Citing a recent House & Garden magazine survey of affluent
Americans, Kleber said that most luxury consumers are “much more
negative” about current business conditions than they were six
months ago. Moreover, fewer than half of those polled expect
business conditions and the stock market to be better in 12 months,
he further added.

Despite this relatively negative mindset, luxury consumers have
not significantly altered their approach to spending, Kleber
observed. Nor do they generally believe that their personal income
will materially suffer as a result of the sluggish economy, he
said, adding that these contradictions should spell good news,
overall, for the housing and remodeling markets.

In fact, 4% of the luxury consumers surveyed plan to buy or
build a primary residence in the next 12 months representing about
400,000 housing units, half of which will be new (see graph,
below), Kleber further explained. At the same time, 4% plan to buy
an existing vacation home (representing another 400,000 housing
units), and 2% plan to build a new vacation home (representing
about 200,000 units). In addition, nearly one in four expect to
have major remodeling done to their home over the next 12

Kleber elaborated that the events of 9/11 have, in fact,
strengthened the luxury consumer’s focus on the home.

“What’s different since 9/11 is that there’s significantly more
focus on family, more focus on the home as a haven and as a
‘cockpit’ from which to run one’s life,” Kleber said. “There’s a
quest for stronger relationships, a psychological balance in
people’s lives, a desire for security and a focus on keeping the
family safe. We are seeing people placing a higher value on
relaxation and we also see them searching for knowledgeable

The impact of 9/11 on the luxury consumer was “emotional and
psychological, but it did not affect their feeling of financial
well-being,” Kleber continued. “Luxury consumers are searching for
a new equilibrium [in their lives]. . . a balance between their
emotional landscape and their current position in the social,
political and professional milieu. They’re emerging from their
cocoons and looking for a new meaning in their life.

“[By comparison] what hasn’t changed since 9/11 is that we still
see affluent consumers enjoying the privilege and scope of their
wealth, the feeling of financial well-being, the need for meaning
and self-expression, and the desire for luxury and experiencing
products that are well made.”

Ultimately, said Kleber, “luxury is all about a feeling and an
experience. It isn’t about cost, but about how much a product means
to you. It’s the freedom to pursue one’s passions.”

Kitchen and bath product manufacturers and designers should keep
that thought in mind, and “must focus on the experience customers
have while using their products,” Kleber

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