It’s Not About the Economy

by WOHe

Jessie is working on her left hand turns. My canine companion,
who once ate an entire couch arm, received her Canine Good Citizen
certification in October, and has since moved on to advanced
training, including remote commands and even directionals.

When I got her, I just worried about the basics: Don’t eat the
chicken cutlets I left on the countertop. Don’t eat the furniture.
Don’t eat the neighbors. “No,” “Sit” and “Don’t throw your
104-pound body at my sister to greet her, even if you DO love her,”
were the challenges of the day, and never would I have believed
that a mere year later, she’d have graduated to “left” and “right”
(and unlike her owner, she doesn’t even have to make the “L” with
her paw to figure out which is which!).

Like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, we tend to focus our energies
pretty much exclusively on the most obvious and essential

It’s no surprise, then, that back in 2001, when the economy
first began to falter, most of the nation including kitchen and
bath dealers became somewhat economy-obsessed.

Despite the fact that the design and remodeling market remained
stable (and many of us even ended up thriving as record-low
mortgage rates and a volatile stock market made the home the thing
to invest in), it was hard to get past the feeling that it was all
about the economy.

We blamed the economy for our problems. Even if business was
strong, we prefaced it with “despite the economy,” and planned
cautiously because we had to “think about the economy.”

A designer I know who never bought stocks in his life became
obsessed with the stock market, glaring at the car radio whenever
the financial news came on. “It’s about the economy, stupid,” he’d
mutter each time he lost a sale even though he admitted that some
of the lost sales had nothing to do with money.

Things are changing, however. Economic recovery is slowly but
surely becoming a reality. If it is, indeed, “all about the
economy,” we have plenty to look forward to in 2004.

Economic forecasts are full of positive indicators for the
kitchen and bath market (see related story, Page 56), with 2004
expected to spell more good news for housing starts, home sales and
residential remodeling expenditures.

Likewise, industry experts say we can expect continued low
mortgage rates, and that, in conjunction with the current high
level of homeownership, positive homeowner demographics and
continued desire on the part of Americans to invest in their homes,
suggests a rosy picture for kitchen and bath dealers in 2004.

But, perversely, as the economic picture brightens, it becomes
increasingly less about the economy.

Sure, when unemployment levels drop and consumer confidence is
on the rise, there are fewer financial objections to overcome. But
even in good times, people still want value for their dollar. They
want to find knowledgeable dealers and designers and quality
products and creative and efficient designs. They want to work with
professionals they can trust.

What does that mean to you, the kitchen and bath dealer? It
means it might be time to refocus on internal factors rather than
external ones. It means you need to think about your business’
strengths and weaknesses not what’s going on with the Dow, the war
in Iraq or the economy and consider ways to capitalize on the
former and improve the latter.

If it’s not about the economy, you need to decide what it is
about for your firm and that’s where you need to focus your

Are your designs getting static? Perhaps you need a little
inspiration from afar. Elements from Europe and the Far East can
spice up your designs and create a hipper, more cutting-edge

Are you carrying the latest, greatest products? If not, a visit
to this year’s Kitchen/Bath Industry Show might be in order.

Need to improve your sales and design skills? 2004 might be a
great time to attend a seminar and brush up on your skills.

A dealer friend summed it up well when he said, “In the past, my
New Year’s resolutions have been about how to navigate the market.
Now, though, I’m more interested in what I can do myself to improve
my business. I’m still aware of what’s going on out there, but
ultimately, it’s what happens in here that determines my continued
success or failure.”

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