February 1, 2017
Record attendance at the Kitchen and Bath Industry Show (KBIS) in January illustrates the growth in this sector of the home improvement industry. I heard a lot of insightful discussions about the industry at KBIS, which inspired me to jot down some valuable nuggets and merge them with my own research findings. Each topic below starts out with an insight I heard at the show.
- “We can’t keep up with demand.” The latest forecasts from the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies indicate that the entire home improvement industry will grow 6.7 percent in 2017. (See my brief discussion on the forecast here.) Further, a study by the Research Institute for Cooking and Kitchen Intelligence (RICKI) confirms that 69 percent of designers say their business is going to get even better in the coming year. This optimism was evident at KBIS, where attendance and exhibitor space were up 22 percent and 28 percent over last year, respectively. The main challenge, of course, is finding enough skilled workers to keep up with the demand — which is driving up the cost of hiring. I spoke with managers from three different companies who said they are now taking ambitious people straight out of high school. What’s more, they’re paying them over $100,000 a year within three years.
- “More whole-kitchen and whole-bathroom jobs.” The kitchen and bathroom are the rooms most in demand for remodeling. Now that the recession is a distant (painful) memory, people are finally ready to take on whole-room remodels as opposed to the one-off fixture changes and single-appliance replacements that were common in the early 2000s. There is also more willingness to upgrade to a higher echelon of materials, products and finishes, thanks to the increase in homeowner equity.
- “Grey is the new white.” I spoke on a panel at KBIS in which we discussed kitchen cabinet colors. While white is still the most popular kitchen cabinet color, other neutrals — such as grey — are showing up as well. Homeowners are also adding “pops of color” via their backsplashes, appliances and islands (hat-tip Chelsie Butler of Kitchen and Bath Business).
- “Don’t tell me I’m aging in place!” I was on another panel — this one moderated by Randy Fiser, CEO of ASID — in which Randy exclaimed that “nobody wants to age in place.” This conjures an image of sitting still and just getting old. We talked about how contractors selling to people who want to retrofit for continued living in their homes should use “thriving in place” or some other term with a more positive connotation. Or, simply say “intelligent design,” because many of the modifications that people in their 70s will be appreciated by people in their 30s too. After all, motion-triggered lighting can help people of any age, and lever doorknobs are nice even if you just have your hands full!
- “It’s like Betamax versus VHS in the 1990s…?” There is still no definitive standard for smart home technology. One will emerge as the winner, but like Betamax and VHS prior to 1989, nobody knows which one that will be. The uncertainty results in miscommunication: Smart door locks don’t talk to the smart oven or the smart LED lights. Still, there is a lot of growth in smart home tech because a large number of homeowners are getting only one type of smart device…for now. Demand is already strong for smart home tech, but the real explosion of growth is yet to come. By the way, this quote was me, asking a 30-year-old installer at the show if Betamax versus VHS was a good analogy. He blinked, stared and cocked his head: “What’s a Betamax…?” I feel old.