Kitchen & Bath Statistics
A No Nonsense Approach

Kitchen & Bath Statistics

HOMESIGHT: The Five Stages of Kitchen Remodling

By Tom Troland, Senior Market Analyst- Home Categories, Meredith Research Solutions and Art Spinella, President, CNW Research

Without question, the kingpin of consumer home remodels is the kitchen. It consumes more attention, energy, finances and complex decision-making than any other project, short of building an entirely new house. Those are the findings of a new consumer market research resource, which draws from more than 3 million home improvement projects and over one million respondents.

The study is part of an ongoing national investigation into U.S. consumer spending conducted for more than a decade by Oregon-based CNW Research. The home improvement data in the study has been broken out and expanded for the first time, and licensed by Meredith Corporation, publishers of Better Homes and Gardens. The CNW findings form the core of a new Meredith market research service entitled HomeSight, which is designed to provide rich, in-depth project, product, brand and information source data from the consumer perspective to the home improvement industry. HomeSight will also design and prepare proprietary research analysis for clients for a fee.

Conducted throughout 2006 and continuing through the end of 2007, the initial installment of HomeSight looks at 25 major and intermediate home remodel project categories ranging from attics to basements: kitchens, baths, living rooms, bedrooms, porches, decks and more. Surveying follows consumers from their motivation phase with repeat contact through five stages of information gathering and product and brand purchase decisions for each category of project.

Some top line findings:

  • HomeSight learned that there is a “process” in making home improvement decisions that is virtually the same regardless of budget, household income or demographic profile of the home owner.
  • Kitchen remodels are viewed by women consumers as the premier interior decorating project when it comes to “showing who I am” to friends, relatives and other women. (Men hold entertainment spaces and finished basements in slightly higher regard.)
  • Not surprisingly, women take responsibility for the vast majority of kitchen and bath decisions ranging from style and color choices to product and brand selection.
  • Because kitchen remodeling is a “show-me” visual and tactile home improvement, showroom product displays are most effective when presented in “selective compression” scale, brightly lit and set in a “real-life” kitchen-like environment.
  • Consumer decisions about products and brands for a kitchen are the most volatile among all the home improvement categories. Consumers change their selections more frequently over the duration of the kitchen remodel process than HomeSight data found in other room re-dos. The process is a learning curve far more than a purchase funnel.
  • Many kitchen remodels take a long time to complete- as much as six years in the most extreme case. But the average duration (from initial concept to completion) is nearly two years.
  • Contractors involved in installation-only hold little sway in kitchen-product selection. Retailers, such as kitchen and bath dealers, have more influence over customer’s kitchen brand choices than for any other project category except roofing.
  • Kitchen remodels are the province of “Empty Nester” life stage (36%) and of “Mature Families”- those with teenage and young adult children still in the household (43%).

The Homesight Decision Process

To understand HomeSight’s findings better, here is a basic primer on the shopping process uncovered by the research.

In effect, there are five stages that homeowners undertaking a kitchen remodel go through after they are motivated to begin this project.

First, there is a period of roughly five weeks during which consumers assess their household’s “needs.” Many projects that eventually become full-scale remodels frequently start as small, simple DIY makeovers or replacements. An old or out of date refrigerator may need to be replaced. But that change will spark a chain reaction that encourages consideration of new adjacent appliances and fixtures, and in turn motivates the consumer to consider faucets, cabinets and countertop, which entices the consumer to add flooring, wall colors and accessories to the remodel mix.

The first decision stage- needs assessment- generates a “wish list” of changes, product replacements and general overall style preferences such as contemporary, country or modern.

Regardless of family income, the same list of products make the initial-stage “wish list,” HomeSight finds. The differences are in budget rather than scope.

For kitchen remodels, magazines are the dominant source of brand and product ideas.

More than half of kitchen consumers keep a project folder with most of the content coming from magazine ads and, to a lesser degree, magazine editorial features. The reason? Good advertising has all of the information about a product in a clear, concise format and, unlike the Internet, television, radio or even newspapers, the content is easily retained and usually provides an eye-catching color pallet.

This project book is an eclectic mix of styles, small and large appliances and a wide assortment of product designs.

In the typical HomeSight household, kitchen consumers had 19 product categories and 52 brands under consideration, which fit into the overall needs assessment for the room based on how it will be used. The specific needs range from family size to frequency of entertaining and whether that entertainment is casual or more formal.

Once the general purpose of the kitchen remodel is framed, consumers enter the second stage of the process- they make product comparisons. During such comparisons, the knowledge base of brands and kitchen items is relatively small based on what was already part of the consumer’s brand and product awareness.

The homeowner then begins to distinguish among the various types of the same product. Should it be a cooktop or a traditional range? Laminate or ceramic? Built-in or freestanding appliances? Natural or man-made countertops?

Again, new choices are added to the project folder and some others are eliminated. The research shows that, on average, the consumer during this stage expands the number of potential products under consideration slightly, but reduces the number of brands.

An interesting phenomenon occurs during the third stage- features comparison. Consumers begin adding brands and products in a rapid and almost frenetic fashion, upping the list of brands to 75 and the number of products to 28.

The reason for this expansion relates to the broadening of possibilities, finding products the consumer never considered before or even knew existed; minor brands that may not be on the radar screen in a national sense. It is during this stage that less-known or niche brands have their best shot at being considered and may displace a well-known national manufacturer’s high-profile product line, if the new discoveries fit the homeowner’s rapidly developing sense of the finished project.

Generally, homeowners will spend a month and a half just in the comparison stage. But most important, it is at this juncture- a literal tipping point- that consumers decide if the project will continue or not.

It is also at this point in the process that retention on the wish list guarantees a brand will be part of the final consideration set and involved in the purchase-decision. Conversely, HomeSight shows that if a brand loses its place on the wish list, it is highly unlikely the decision-maker will ever again consider that brand for the project.

In fact, retailers can make or break a brand at this point for showroom visitors. Enthusiasm for a brand or product is still fragile among consumers who are now searching for practicality rather than just general knowledge. A showroom staffer who can explain the advantages of one brand over another can cement that manufacturer’s appliance, plumbing fixture or countertop brand in the shopper’s mind- or destroy any consideration of the brand completely.

This takes us to stage four- Design and Style Comparisons.

Once again, the design showroom can play a major role in the consumer’s desire to move on toward completion of the remodel.

When HomeSight homeowners were asked about their product and brand shopping list, they revealed a narrowing of choices- now 25 products and only 35 brands, compared to 28 and 75 in the previous stage. In effect, the consumer- who is seeing the final project very clearly- is looking at barely more than a single brand per product type compared to nearly 3 brands per product consideration in stage three.

Also, it is here that the consumer becomes set on a “style” for the overall project, perhaps casting aside an ultramodern look for a comfortable country focus, or rejecting her dream design to opt for straightforward functionality. For many retailers and designers, this can be a touchy point. The consumer is no longer open to the full range of choice and has her heart set on narrow focus. She is looking for products that meet her criteria rather than seeking advice on a smorgasbord of choices.

Attempts to intervene and redirect those decisions risk the chance of losing the sale. More than 60% of HomeSight homeowners who reached stage four and visited a showroom said a store representative- not product availability at that shop- caused them to go find a product elsewhere. Among those who acquired a product elsewhere, nearly half said it was because the offending salesperson “wasn’t listening” to her ideas or product desires and “aggressively attempted to change” her choices.

This causes a dilemma for showrooms. At stage three, the shopper wants advice and sees that showroom as a good potential source for acquiring specific products. Just a month or two later, in stage four, the consumer doesn’t want advice; she wants confirmation of her choices.

How can a retailer tell the difference? Remember the number of products and brands on the wish list during each of the stages? A simple question: “What brands are you considering” will generate either a laundry list of manufacturers (she’s in stage three) or only a brand or two as a response (she’s in stage four).

During the entire process, price or budget always plays a role, but it is only in stage five- Price Comparison- that the remodeling homeowners become dead serious about their final choices. While they may have checked online or in print media for price information, it is here that project planners turn to the local market to see if they can meet the household’s budget goals for the project.

It is also here that store visits and local newspapers are far and away the most important source of information.

Now the list dwindles to 21 for brands and 19 for products- about one brand per product.

The customer has already determined that she is way over budget on the project and is about to trim some fat somewhere. But being over budget isn’t necessarily the most evil of conditions. HomeSight consumers tell us the biggest problem they have during the price comparison stage is getting the actual product desired and not a substitute unless it is truly comparable in quality, looks and “image” of the more expensive version.

Quick delivery, an extra effort to find just the right product, a demonstrable after-sale service support and a guaranteed liberal return policy will offset as much as 7% price disadvantage, HomeSight shows.

It is common for some high-ticket item product categories- automotive and aircraft, for example- to have an acquisition rate for a brand of as much as 60%. That is, of those consumers who put a particular brand on a shopping list, 60% will eventually buy that brand.

This isn’t so with home improvements and especially kitchens. The CNW research shows, for example, that one well-known national faucet maker has the highest acquisition rate at only 28%. In effect, 72% of the people who initially had that brand’s faucets on their wish list elected to buy something else.

A key reason for this is found at the retail level. Stores and showrooms can be the final arbiter of choice in many instances, simply because they are the last to see the customer before she purchases a product.

Adding complexity to the process is the fact that different products may have different consideration times. For specialty or high-end counter tops, a six month process is typical (excluding delivery and installation time). For upscale appliances, nine months is average and for cabinets, a much shorter four months, with flooring under three months.

The puzzle is getting all of the pieces to reach a nadir- completion- at nearly the same time.

Also making a home remodel and particularly a kitchen makeover more difficult is the ability of consumers to delay or even postpone the entire project for any number of reasons, from budget constraints to changes in household make-up (having a child, for example).

In fact, one third of all home remodel projects currently under way will be postponed for as long as five years. Of those delayed, 17% will never be completed in full, HomeSight suggests.

For the remodeling pro, it means that fully a third of even the most serious of shoppers will not return in the near future and, of those, about a sixth will never be back because the project is simply not going to happen. Knowing these stats, however, should encourage retailers to stay in touch with today’s shopper because the majority of kitchen (or other) remodel projects will eventually be put back on track.

Consumers should also be aware of the “status” quotient that different brands project and how they play into the decision process.

For example, a high-end kitchen counter may be trumped by a lower-cost variant so the consumer can acquire an ultra-high end refrigerator, which she feels has more status appeal.

Moving the customer into other room projects is also an option for remodeling contractors, HomeSight shows.

Why? For high-end projects and upper-middle to upper income households, there has to be a synergy, not only in the single room (kitchen, for example), but with other adjacent rooms. So, faucets that work as a design or style in the kitchen are likely to generate the desire for a complimentary design or style in a nearby bathroom.

All of the decisions are made within the context of a “gut hunch” budget that steadily increases as the project moves forward, HomeSight shows. Interestingly, though, the difference between original estimated budget (stage one) and actual expenditures is quite similar on a percentage basis, regardless of actual project cost.

For example, on projects that cost less than $5,000, the difference between estimated budget and actual expenditure is roughly 14%. On projects with an estimated cost of more than $45,000, the actual expenditure is roughly 13% higher.

Overall, HomeSight research gives clear indications of how to improve sales and increase the customer satisfaction of home improvers. The huge sample and rich data also provide statistical and empirical support for what many in the industry have known intuitively for decades (women drive kitchen remodels, for example).

The key to using this new research source is first picking at the corners. That is, finding generally accepted truths and putting effort into capitalizing on those truths. On a longer term basis, use of the research should generate ideas and new visions of how to meet customer demands.


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