This article was originally posted in Kitchen & Bath Business.
Technology is changing the way business is done in the kitchen & bath industry.
Game-changing innovations in technology like mobile computing, artificial intelligence (AI), augmented reality (AR) and computer vision are providing new abilities and opportunities in our industry. All segments are deploying innovative technology on job sites and in manufacturing, communications, marketing and design.
Some changes are truly 180 degrees. For example, in some marketing departments the design of TV and print ads is rapidly being replaced with the design of interactive experiences for customers on social media. Home automation systems that are hardwired, expensive and installed by professionals are being replaced with wireless plug-and-play devices that use AI.
Design software that was once labor intensive is now simpler and has the ability to “see” so we can import real images in the blink of an eye – and they are to scale. That’s disruptive technology.
Kitchen and bath remodeling “all under one contract” is a service dealers sold a lot in the 1990s and 2000s. It was really convenient for customers to have one contract and person in charge of design, materials, labor, etc. It’s still a service homeowners want, but lately some are choosing to unbundle and have multiple contracts and people in charge and to even do some of the heavy lifting themselves. Technology makes it easier to be educated and more confident about taking on projects around the home. That’s what happens with disruptive technology, things get unbundled.
Designers are unbundling services too and are offering them by the hour instead of requiring that design and materials be bundled together.
“The way we charge our clients and what makes the most balanced and fair monetary exchange between designer and client is an hourly rate,” said interior designer Mary Douglas Drysdale. “In my experience, clients are put on notice that if they can’t make up their minds or request frequent changes, there will be a cost. We have all sought to achieve a higher level of professionalism, so we should avoid conflicts of interest and charge as other professional consultants do.”
Talking about Innovation
“People typically respond to change and technology by asking what is out there and how they can use it,” said Saul Kaplan, author of The Business Model Innovation Factory. “The right response to changing technology is “How do I use these new abilities to do things differently?”
He says the way to approach innovation is to start with the lens of the customer and then map a customer experience to learn what they want. Next, you learn about the economics for the project. Then, take a blank piece of paper and think of ways to serve your customers that are better, faster and cheaper in every step.
A disruptive innovator in the kitchen industry is Wood-Mode Fine Customer Cabinetry. The company is working with Virginia Tech on a project called FutureHAUS Dubai. Virginia Tech won first place for the project in The Solar Decathlon competition last November. Universities from around the world competed in this event to show innovative concepts about the future of home design and construction.
Jeff Wolfe, marketing director with WoodMode, said his company worked with Virginia Tech to design, build and install cabinetry that’s customized to fit new technology, such as adjustable-height cabinetry. The unitized walls or cartridges of the FutureHAUS smart home are dropped into a new home from above, one wall at a time. The technology is plug and play, and the assembly and construction is less labor intensive. We’ve always built on top of floors, so building things into walls is truly innovative.
“Wood-Mode is also using disruptive programs by integrating LED lighting into the custom cabinetry design process,” said Wolfe, who explained that the light can be applied to almost any interior and can be operated with a switch, remote control or mobile app.
The integration of lighting systems into cabinetry in a factory is disrupting the way homes are built. By combining mechanicals and cabinetry, the installation is simple and faster.
“Kitchen cabinet installations are getting disrupted too,” according to Wolfe. “As the installation continues to see more integration of product and technology, it’s not just carpenters installing a box. Now designers and system technicians are involved in the installation plan, as cabinets become connected to the home’s central technology center.”
Mobile App Innovation
AR has been around for a while, but it recently got a big boost when Apple launched the mobile AR platform ARKit. Anybody with an Apple mobile device can now experience and design with AR. Kavtek is a Canadian app start up using it to enable home design.
“Marketing and sales are the top reasons realtors use Kavtek,” said Chris Bellissimo, marketing manager with the company. “Realtors, builders and designers can easily design home-staging experiences and get different looks on the spot.”
But many realtors are struggling to connect with millennials, according to Bellissimo. Some realtors prefer computers over mobile devices for business. They buy media ads to push their content the way they’ve always done it, and they don’t do inbound marketing. But social media and new technologies like AR are exactly what millennials want.
In the 1980s, PCs and CAD design were innovative game-changing tools that gave designers and image-centric business a competitive advantage. Back then, computer input was labor intensive, and the software was expensive. Thirty years later, we have tools like AR and computer vision that are free, easy to use, smarter and better.