The New Mainstreaming of Luxury

by WOHe

There used to be a bumper sticker: “I spend money I don’t have
to buy things I don’t need to impress people I don’t like.”

For a number of years, this attitude summed up the buying
philosophy of a lot of consumers. In fact, for many folks,
impressing the Joneses was half the reason for buying a big-ticket
item, be it a fancy new car to a stunning new kitchen.

The affluent consumer shopped to make a statement, seeking out
exclusive venues, top-name brands and the latest “in” thing.
High-end consumers who hated the look of granite redid their entire
kitchens with it; people who never cooked anything more complicated
than a Lean

Cuisine suddenly needed multi-function commercial-style
appliances with a built-in griddle and wok. But who cared how much
it cost when money was no object?
The less affluent consumer also wanted to make a statement, of
course, but money was more of an issue.

Not that people wanting to spend more than they can reasonably
afford is news-
worthy. Isn’t that what the credit card generation is all about? I
know I, personally, have been lusting after things I can’t afford
since college, when a little black dress from an exclusive shop in
Ithaca whispered my name, telling me that Bradd Jenkins would
never, ever be able to resist falling madly in love with me if only
I wore that dress.

The world has always been divided into haves and have-nots, and
sometimes the have-nots have a plastic-pounding frenzy and buy like
the haves. But, what does that have to do with the kitchen and bath

The answer, surprisingly, is quite a bit.

Luxury, you see, has become more than something ordinary people
envy or desire; it’s become the newest hot trend. And, the desire
for luxury products extends far beyond the traditional upper
echelon of the market.

Sure, the super-affluent want the best products, service and
designs that money can buy, as illustrated by the growing interest
in such events as the recent Luxury Kitchen and Bath Collection,
held in San Francisco last month (see related stories, Page 12 and
59). From ultra-high-end appliances to crystal studded faucetry, an
abundance of opulent new products are targeting the growing luxury

But, even those of lesser financial stature are increasingly
showing a willingness to spend disproportionately in specific areas
to achieve the feeling of getting special treatmentbeing surrounded
by a few really beautiful-quality thingsgetting to see what it
feels like to live “like the other half does,” if only for a little
while (see related story, Page 37).

There’s a new affluent attitude that’s rapidly filtering down to
the mainstream consumer, and whether your typical clientele drives
a Jaguar or a Toyota, you need to understand this if you’re going
to continue to be successful in the new millennium.

Here’s the key: The new affluence and the new affluent attitude
is about more than just buying stuff. It’s about buying an

People who are super-affluent want to be treated in a way that
shows that they are special with personalized service at every
point of interaction, and customized products that allow them to
have kitchens and baths that cater to their every whim.

But people who are not super-affluent have seen enough of the
way the other half lives to want the same things. Consumers who
once were mostly content with stock products purchased in a mass
market environment by a harried-but-(hopefully)-competent sales
staff now want more. In fact, they think they deserve more. Like
the L’Oreal commercials of old, they’re asking themselves, “Aren’t
I worth it?” And the answer is a resounding yes.

Aging baby boomers, having worked hard to raise their children
and build their careers and bank accounts, now want to have some
fun. Some priority treatment. Some luxury.
And, it’s not just to impress the Joneses anymore, either. Rather,
they want things for themselves.

It’s the little black dress, whispering, “You have to have me.”
But instead of saying, “If you have me, you’ll impress the gorgeous
green-eyed guy over there,” it’s saying, “You should have me
because you deserve to wear a dress like me. You work hard, you
should be able to go into an exclusive little dress shop where they
serve you tea and petit fours and let you try on dresses in front
of a gilt-edged mirror that doesn’t make you look like a
fluorescent-lit Great White Whale that somehow escaped the sea and
ended up beached in a discount store dressing room.”

The new mainstreaming of luxury proves that there’s a wealth of
things we can learn from the affluent. Like the fact that money
really isn’t everything.

And, sometimes, it’s all about

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