The Design Superhighway
By John Filippelli
Most people are familiar with the old slogan, “Let your fingers do the
walking.” But in order to effectively market your kitchen and bath firm in
today’s Web-savvy climate, a more appropriate phrase might be, “Let your fingers
do the browsing.”
As consumers become more comfortable, and competent, at doing Internet
research, the need to make your design firm stand out from the competition
becomes more important than ever. And accomplishing this may ultimately depend
on a strong marketing platform that showcases your company’s design and service
These are the sentiments of Dan McFadden, president of Geneva, IL-based Past
Basket Cabinetry, who says: “Online marketing can be more cost effective [than
other methods] and can control and deliver your firm’s message more
Jim McCoy, president/CEO of Washington, DC-based The Kitchen Guild, agrees:
“Clearly, the ability to utilize volume-type marketing and get a lot of eyeballs
in a short period of time is critical. Online marketing can also be less
expensive, especially if you are paying per click.”
In effect, he adds, online marketing programs equate to a design firm paying
to give consumers a true representation of their firm’s capabilities, as opposed
to driving thousands of dollars into Yellow Pages advertising “and not
being sure what you are getting or if someone will come back to you.”
To that end, there was some variation among kitchen and bath design
professionals recently interviewed by Kitchen & Bath Design News as
to whether kitchen and bath design firms should become solely Web-based in their
marketing platforms or combine them with more traditional methods. However, one
thing is clear: Incorporating at least some high-tech marketing approaches is an
imperative part of succeeding in today’s economic climate.
According to Mark Karas, CMKBD, general manager, for Stoneham, MA-based Adams
Kitchens and the 2007 National Secretary for NKBA, a mixture of online and print
marketing approaches proves to be the most effective formula for reaching the
most diverse consumer base.
“People are still traditional, [and will always be] looking at newspapers and
print, but you will need that online presence because there’s that whole other
segment of generations that do everything online,” he offers.
He continues: “It is definitely a growing trend, but I don’t think that you
can go with a strictly Web-based approach [at this point].”
Phil Zaleon, founder and president of Z promotion & design in Chapel
Hill, NC adds: “Online marketing platforms should be part of an overall
marketing and branding effort that you are going to do, because you still want
to reach people in a traditional way. A Website is just one part of an overall
branding effort that you want to do, because you still need to drive people to
To that end, Zaleon recommends buying search engine placement (such as ads on
Google), in conjunction with radio and print ads.
But, driving interest does not mean that kitchen and bath design firms need
to break the bank, Karas believes.
“I [did a very simple thing and] re-lettered my truck a few years ago,” he
says. “Before, the Web address was at the bottom and our telephone number was in
the middle. I decided to reverse it. The trend now is to push the Website more
than the telephone number; plus, consumers will recall your name and Website
more easily than a phone number.”
Mick De Giulio, president and owner of de Giulio Kitchen Design in Chicago,
IL adds: “There is no question that a Website is one of the most important
things that any kitchen firm can implement. It becomes a credentials check. It
may not be where people find you originally, but it is a great link to all kinds
He continues: “The other part of the equation is how to entice people to look
at our Websites while also making sure that we have our best work showcased
there. In fact, I [quite often] prefer to concentrate on the work quality and
One of the main reasons for doing this, he adds, is that it allows visitors
from outside a design firm’s primary location to get a better idea of the range
of work that can be done by a firm, which can widen a firm’s client base.
Karas concludes: “You can [incorporate anything you want in your marketing
platform], but the proof is in the pudding – you either are what you say you are
or you are not. So you’d better be honest about the services you provide.”
For Karas, the key to online marketing is visibility.
“Any time you get
your name out in the marketplace, and the more impressions you make, the better
off you are. This will increase business and profits. That is definitely what
you have to do,” he advises.
To that end, many of those interviewed by KBDN shared techniques
that have made a significant difference in their online marketing platforms –
and ultimately their bottom lines.
“One of the best things that I’ve done is create a link on my Website that is
designed to offer marketing tips. Initially, I e-mailed that out every Monday.
The first year it was meant as a marketing plan that people could copy. But, it
generated business because people would read them, and then come to us to teach
them how to do the things we were talking about,” Zaleon notes.
“Everything relates to profit margins, but to say that you’re going to make
five percent more on your sales because you have a Website, for instance, is a
tough correlation. However, there is no question that if you looked at the
bottom line and your ability to do the projects that you want to do, then online
marketing will certainly help you achieve that,” De Giulio notes.
Karas interjects: “Another approach I took was to cut my Yellow
Pages ad in half. I took that money and put it toward marketing my Website.
There is so much more information that you can put on your Website, such as
company history, designer biographies and product information. It is a full
story in one place.”
Zaleon agrees: “People are not really using the Yellow Pages
anymore, therefore you should definitely cut back on your Yellow Pages
ads. In fact, if your Web designer is worth his weight in gold, you will be
found on Yahoo, Google, MSN and other search engines.”
He continues: “If you are developing a Website, for instance, then it is out
there working for you and you then are most likely cutting back on other media.
Therefore, you may end up spending less on your advertising budget overall.”
To that end, he also suggests that kitchen and bath firms take advantage of
zoom view technology, or learn about interactive software that will allow
designers and clients to discuss project details online.
“So, if it is 3:00 in the afternoon and you need to make a decision about the
project, it can be done readily. There are many tools that kitchen and bath
designers can take advantage of [in this regard],” he remarks.
De Giulio adds: “There is also no doubt that your company’s public relations
capability is the main component of a successful marketing platform. Therefore,
we incorporate a lot of charity requests into our marketing approach. That
serves a dual purpose: We help the charity and our name gets out there.”
McFadden concludes: “Your Website information can go anywhere, so share that
information through all printed matter, via e-mail and through word-of-mouth,
and make sure links links to your site are created for willing business
Caught in a Web
Indeed, having a well-developed, professional-looking Website is a vital
aspect of a successful online marketing platform, especially when it will be
serving as an introduction to consumers from around the world, let alone a
firm’s local area, Karas notes.
“The key is to get your name as high up on the hit list as possible. I’ve
seen some pretty awful Websites and you can tell the difference between the ones
that are professionally done and those that are not,” he states.
Zaleon interjects: “The Website is meant to be another way for people to get
to know you, because they are really not buying cabinetry, they are buying you
as a designer. They need to be comfortable with you and, in order to be
comfortable with you, they need to see your biography and see as many pictures
of your completed projects as possible.”
He continues: “In many cases, the Website is the first introduction to you
because people are going to sit at home and get to know you and see your
products. Therefore, it must be professional-looking. This is not a place to
save money because it is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and people from
around the world will be visiting it.”
Firms can integrate CAD software capabilities on their sites as well to
showcase life-like renditions of a client’s dream kitchen. Renderings can also
be an effective way to differentiate a firm’s portfolio.
“We try to provide an idea of who we are as a firm, who we are as people and
our business philosophy. We also try to highlight our work specialty and how it
looks. It’s the same thing we would do if we were face to face with someone. For
instance, we have a video on our site now that shows our work,” McFadden
De Giulio offers: “User friendliness, a biography page so visitors can get to
know the designers and a listing of products and services are all critical
components of an effective Website. Basically, it is necessary to include as
much concise information and well-considered information as you can give clients
He also offers a different perspective, adding: “I don’t know that people
always go to a Website first, but it is effective in terms of reinforcing
credentials. It’s almost an automatic reference.”
“I think keeping your Website up to date is the foundation of a campaign.
Then, working toward a variable collect-per-click-type advertising approach
makes the most sense [for kitchen and bath professionals],” adds McCoy.
Of course, making the site user-friendly is another important feature, Karas
adds. “[When I developed my site], I tried to make the site as easy to navigate
as possible. I want people be able to move around it and not get locked up where
that they couldn’t get around easily.”
McCoy agrees: “Ease of use is critical. It is also equally important for
visitors to be able to get to know the designers a little bit and get to know
the philosophy of the firm.”
“The site needs to be easy to navigate and it needs to have enough
information to give the viewer a comfort level about your expertise in a given
area, [such as the differentiation between certain cabinetry or countertop
brands],” Zaleon agrees.
Karas says that his Website features company, product and portfolio
information, as well as a section called “Getting Started,” which serves as an
interactive tour of a user’s anticipated kitchen, complete with dimensions.
“There is actually a hand that draws the room for you as it explains what you
should do,” he notes. “We always tell people that it is better that they come in
prepared. It allows us to see what the room looks like so that we can start the
process that much more easily.”
Conversely, the Website also has a section called “You’ll love us, you’ll
hate us, you’ll love us,” which walks the user through a typical remodeling
process, along with a schedule of what a typical design process is going to be
“You also have the option of installing Podcasts on your site and being able
to download those, or you can set up your Website for Windows Mobile, for
instance,” Zaleon notes. “We should certainly be able to download a Powerpoint
presentation or working papers to educate the consumer.”
He does add a caveat, however, noting that firms can run the risk of showing
local competition what their firm is doing or educating a consumer too much
about cabinetry and having them take that information to purchase product at a
big-box store instead.
Kristin Ohnmacht, marketing director for Bilotta Kitchens, which has
locations throughout the metro New York area, adds: “By having a Website with
plenty of images that portray what your company can create, you are one step
ahead of a competitor that doesn’t have one in development. You want visitors to
become intrigued by your offerings even before visiting the showroom. In that
sense, the Website almost becomes another salesperson.”
Zaleon concludes: “If there are any kitchen and bath design firms [without
plans to develop a Website], then we shouldn’t worry about them, because they
will be out of business in the next five years.”
According to those interviewed, showrooms will also play a big part in the
online marketing ability of kitchen and bath firms.
Karas explains: “I think
the showroom of the future is going to be a cyber showroom, or a virtual reality
showroom. The designing programs are getting so good that eventually we’re going
to take a customer into a room, flip on a switch, and they will be standing in a
3-D, hologram version of their kitchen layout.”
Zaleon interjects: “If you are doing media centers and you want to get
involved with high-resolution, high-definition TVs, then I suggest that you
strike up an agreement with the local high-end audio/video guy; you can give him
cabinetry for his showroom and he can give you a high-definition TV for your
showroom. He can drive traffic to your showroom just from having the cabinetry
from your company.”
He continues: “You can also repurpose this material and put together a DVD,
or hook up your computer with a Powerpoint of images and use that as a tool to
talk to people and inform them. Those can be put online as well because, once
you’ve spent money on something, you should be able to use it almost everywhere
To that end, he also recommends that firms that cut commercials actually make
a video that can double as a television commercial. When edited into smaller
pieces, it can serve as an online educational tool.
So which age demographics are most receptive to online marketing techniques,
and could some generations be “scared off” by certain online marketing
According to those interviewed, it depends on how a kitchen and bath design
firm customizes its approach.
Karas explains: “Even Baby Boomers are computer-oriented, but they also seem
to prefer a mixture between the traditional and online. In that sense, one can
feed the other. However, I personally think it’s much easier to sit at a
terminal and punch in kitchen renovations, instead of looking things up in the
“Conversely, there are the younger people in the world, in their 20s and 30s,
who grew up on computers. This generation is definitely more savvy and uses more
options,” he continues.
“Our target demographic is roughly 30 years old to 70 years old, and although
Internet usage starts at a much younger age today, you’d be surprised at how
many people from ages 30 to 60 rely on the Internet for research and shopping,”
Zaleon agrees: “The younger end of the spectrum is much more Internet savvy
and it is only going to get worse, or better, depending upon how you choose to
look at it. Kitchen dealers need to recognize that within the next 10 to 15
years, [the tech-crazed] teenagers of today will be homeowners.”
“What we’re seeing is that it is an across-the-board equation, and basically
what it boils down to is that visiting someone’s Website is very easy to do. All
age demographics can use this tool if they want,” De Giulio adds.
Zaleon concludes: “The moral is that, the more comfortable you get with
technology and the more you innovate with technology, the better it will be for
your business because that is where we’re all headed.”
The Future Beckons
De Giulio also notes that, despite the advances made in online business
practices over the past 10 years, the industry as a whole might not have even
scratched the surface of the ultimate marketing, design and service
“There may be another way of doing business in the future, and we all need to
be open to it rather than worry about it,” he suggests. “In fact, it is hard for
me to imagine what it was like 10 or 20 years ago, when we didn’t have nearly
the kinds of capabilities we have now, such as being able to get samples and
photography instantly to someone in Europe. It is an exciting age.”
Zaleon agrees: “There is certainly room for innovation in this industry.
Although we know a lot more than we did 10 years ago, we are still learning.
However, it will always be important in the kitchen and bath industry to have
that personal contact.”
“At some point in time, the ability to meet with a
designer via a teleconference would be an interesting opportunity,” muses
McFadden concurs: “I think the industry will see more video capabilities and
presentations, as well as a more interactive client area for better
communication between the designer and client. We’re currently creating a
searchable database by keyword of our scout shots for shelter publications and
trade magazines to use.”
Karas shares his vision, noting: “There is always talk in this industry about
online ordering, and I think some of those things are definitely going to happen
“It will be interesting 10 years from now to see how certain products may be
marketed and sold to people,” comments De Giulio. “For example, will people
purchase certain products that are non-custom, such as fixtures?”
He continues: “People still want to visit and touch products, but there may
be some possibilities with regard to some of the meetings that can occur in
between. Technology may allow us to visit a job site where we can see the
progress and the problems [and update the customer].”
Zaleon says: “We must all remember that the Internet is not the Web – it is
the highway. A kitchen and bath design firm’s Website is a store along this
highway, and there are other businesses out there that [may also be taking
advantage of it].”
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