New Consumers, New Challenges

by WOHe

She hurries into your dealership, barely on the walk side of
running, looking as harried as any ’90s woman on the go, as she
explains that she only has an hour to spare before she has to be
home for dinner with the family. Then she asks, “Do you think you
can create my dream kitchen?”

Once, this might have been easy. You would have known her story.
The family would undoubtedly have been the wife, her husband, and
maybe a couple of cute kids, and dinner would have been a
home-cooked meal, prepared by a full time homemaker.’

And knowing at least the basics about the “dreamer” would have
made creating her dream kitchen that much easier.

But today, it’s a whole new world out there and nowhere is that
more evident than in the kitchen. Today, “dinner” might be a
multi-course, home-cooked meal, a gourmet extravaganza prepared on
commercial-style appliances, a quick fix vegetarian stir fry or
Chinese take out.’

And “family” might include a 30-something, two-career couple, a
husband and stay-at-home wife, a working wife and stay-at-home
husband, single parents, children from multiple marriages living
together under one roof, a senior citizen couple whose children
have long since moved away, a multi-generational family whose ages
range from two to 82, a same-sex couple or maybe just a single
person whose “family” is a black labrador and a couple of
goldfish.

Or it might include something else entirely. The fact is, it’s
hard to tell what today’s consumer looks like, because it’s
changing faster than ever.

In fact, in a recent K&BDN study (see related story, Page
48), nearly a fifth (19%) of kitchen dealers surveyed said they’ve
seen a significant change in their consumer mix, just in the past
three years alone.
That’s no small finding.

It’s not just that the days of the “It’s a Wonderful Life”
family are gone. It’s that the “new” American family doesn’t fit
any mold anymore, but rather encompasses a wide array of family
configuration. When K&BDN asked dealers what the new,
“non-traditional” customer looks like, their answers varied widely.
A whopping 73% reported seeing more senior citizens no surprise to
those following the explosive population growth of this market
segment. But another 37% reported seeing more single-parent
households, and 33% reported an increase in same-sex households,
while nearly 9% saw more singles.

The changing face of the American kitchen consumer also reflects
a growing ethnic mix, with some 30% of kitchen dealers reporting a
broader base of clients in terms of ethnicities.

What does all of this mean to you, the kitchen and bath
professional? Well, it means new challenges, of course. With the
changing face of the American consumer comes a changing array of
consumer desires and needs, all of which make today’s “dream
kitchen” far from “one-size-fits-all.”‘

But it also means new opportunities. With the “non-traditional”
customer becoming increasingly prevalent, we need to rethink not
just how we view today’s consumers, but how we market to them.
Niche marketing is suddenly more than just a sideline for many
designers, as an increasingly fragmented market shows that “niches”
are big business.

And, along with the changing consumer, we’re also seeing a
small-but-growing number of “splinter movements,” reflecting the
diverse interests and concerns of the American consumer. One of the
strongest of these is the growing awareness of and interest in
environmentally responsible or “green” design (see related story,
Page 52).’

Once the sole bastion of environmental activists, this
fast-growing arena focuses on using materials that are non-toxic,
abundant, recyclable, energy efficient, allergy resistant, natural
or renewable. Aside from the long-term benefit to the environment,
this movement has obvious benefits to the consumer, tapping into
both a growing social consciousness and a desire for a healthier
living environment.

And therein lies the key to any designer’s success, for as much
as your clientele may change, one thing remains constant: It’s only
by recognizing and meeting the needs of your clients, whoever they
may be, that you will continue to grow and prosper.

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