Kitchen & Bath Design News

AUG 2015

Kitchen & Bath Design News is the industry's leading business, design and product resource for the kitchen and bath trade.

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18 | Kitchen & Bath Design News | August 2015 I n this Internet age, it seems that there are just so many things go- ing online these days. There's the obvious stuf like movie rentals and shopping. But the not so obvious stuff is where it gets interesting. Uber and Lyft now run worldwide taxi services with an army of drivers and noth- ing more than an app. Amazon can deliver fresh produce in minutes or hours via its digital store. Square cash is a service that actually lets you text money. Simple Bank is a bank that exists only online. While all of these aforementioned services are wildly diferent, they all have a similar approach: Take an exist- ing business and move it online with a focus on simplicity for the end user. With that in mind, think about our business. Kitchen and bath de- sign is personal, complex, expensive and time consuming. It would be hard enough to imagine what an online taxi business service would look like before it existed. I bet that most people think that our business could never be crammed into an app or Web site. But that very thing is happening right now. DESIGN ONLINE I recently spent some time looking around for online interior and kitch- en design services and I came across many. Rather than list them here, I recommend you Google them and see what you fnd. If I had an unlimited budget, I would have paid for them all to see how they did. In the absence of that, I was still able to glean a lot of informa- tion just by reading their Web sites. Each service had its diferences, but what was similar amongst them all was that they ofered a cheap alterna- tive to traditional design. Design services were broken up into "packages." Things like a "de- sign in a box" for a small room were lumped into one fee. This fee often included consultation, an idea board and sometimes a layout. All of these services claim that if you hand over a little money and can wield a smartphone camera and a tape measure, you can have profes- sional level design services in just a matter of hours. I think what these services are do- ing is great, but not for the reasons you expect. Put your pitchforks down for a few minutes and let me explain myself. The younger generation of cli- ents wants things to be quick and easy. I consider myself part of that younger generation. I also consider myself an extrovert. That being said, I am always enticed by services that reduce or eliminate my need for hu- man interaction. I use photo check deposit all the time because I don't want to go to the bank. I never have talked to my car insurance company because it's all digital. And, honestly, regardless of age, who really wants to carry on a conversation with the cable provider? You can't remove all human inter- action from design, but you can make it much easier. If you look at these services, many of them have easily accessible ways to deliver designs to clients online. Some of them even give each client a nice corner of their Web site where all of the information for their job lives. These services also promise all- digital communication. They are clear and upfront about their pricing models. Above all, they also promise simplicity. Hand over some of your money and they hand you a design solution. Now, if you've done the Googling homework I assigned earlier, you'll likely find that these services are insanely cheap. Everyone charges diferent amounts, but I doubt any de- signer can deliver a full-kitchen plan for a few hundred dollars without ever going to the space. So should we be scared? Angry? No. In fact, I think we should all be excited. I think there are some great opportunities here. First, I think we should all take a look at how we communicate digi- tally. I am sure that most of us have email, but I think we can collectively do better. Do you have fle sharing to ofer clients so they can easily review and sign drawings and documents while on the go? Perhaps creating a way to make a PDF portfolio that can be sent to clients is something to look into. Or, more broadly, can your client do everything he or she needs to do during the design on nothing more than a smartphone? How do you communicate? Can you text a client? How about video chat? Ask yourself how you can make your communication more digital and more ftting to the life- style of the newer, younger client. If you can't communicate digitally like these companies and services do, your company may seem impenetrable by many clients. Like I mentioned earlier, I happily handed over lots of money to my digital car insurance company without ever talking to someone – and for some people, this is actually a preferred way to do certain types of business. I think it's all time we take a look at how we price, too. These services seem to be very clear about what they charge for each type of room. Some of them quantify it by the square foot. I know we all can't do this because of the complexity of what we sell, but I think it's time we all take a hard look at how we price, and how we advertise what our prices are. Simple is often- times the name of the game. Some of these services do quick consults for small amounts of money based on pictures that are emailed in. I know many of you would scof at the idea, but why not consider try- ing it? If there is a market out there of people who will pay you for paint recommendations or your opinion on one cabinet door versus another, why not get paid for that? It could also be a nice stepping stone for a new client. Unlike these other ser- vices that only ofer a few hours of opinions, you could do far more than that in the end. So how do you compete against these services? I say you don't. From where I stand, the only real competi- tion here is the ease of which these people and companies deliver their services digitally, and the simplistic message they put out. If we can all take cues from that and cater to this new market, we will never have to compare ourselves to any of these services. Remember, you're selling good design, years of experience and ex- cellent product. If you can make that the focus, you'll win. Online Design: Threat or Opportunity? Online budget design services may not be real competition, but they can teach valuable lessons about the importance of digital communication and simplicity in process and pricing. Design Technology { Eric Schimelpfenig, AKBD } Read past columns and features and send us your comments about this article and others by logging onto our Web site: "Ask yourself how you can make your communication more digital and more ftting to the lifestyle of the newer, younger client."

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