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IBS 2016: Innovation Starts at the End of the Channel

4 Feb

Why I’m Demanding a Disruption in Building Products Development


It seems like every meeting I have been in over the last few months has the same common theme. When asking any building materials manufacturer what they want to be famous for, the one word I hear over and over is “innovation,” or being an “innovator,” or being “innovative.”

No matter the iteration of the word, they’re saying the same thing: they want to come to market with products that chart the path for the industry. The question is: what is anybody doing to really accomplish that? Just stating the word does not change the product development process or disrupt the industry with new and truly innovative products.

That’s why while I was at the 2016 International Builders’ Shower (IBS) and Kitchen and Bath Industry Show (KBIS), I was delighted to run across a company doing exactly that. Cosentino® is a building products company that develops stunning quartz and stone options for kitchen and bathroom surfaces. One of their products, Silestone®, is a beautiful high-end surface made of 94% quartz.

But what makes this product so innovative is not just the advanced bacteriostatic technology or its incredible resistance and durability, or even its numerous designs; it’s the way Cosentino develops those designs.

Through the support of their Silestone Trendspotters, a diverse group of top designers from across the country, Cosentino creates new looks every year inspired by some of the most cutting-edge and forthcoming designs in the market. How do they accomplish this? Cosentino goes straight to the other end of the channel to talk to the people using their product (and, presumably, their competitors’ products), and then gets their insights to develop a product that will set the course for tomorrow’s trends.

Let’s be clear: these designers aren’t just choosing colors. Manufacturers everywhere bring in a designer or two to pick out colors; that’s nothing new. The Trendspotters is a team of designers from all different places across the country, from different points in their careers (some veterans, some up-and-comers), from different styles and backgrounds, from different philosophies and clienteles.

Cosentino made a bold move in picking them, flying them to Italy, and turning them loose to work with engineers, product developers, and others on the manufacturing team to create a product they collectively thought reflected where design is headed. The magic of this is in how fearless Cosentino was in being open to the opportunity of what could be made when this diverse team of forward-thinkers got access to their resources, intelligence, and the inspiration of Italy.

Here are two of the new looks from the Etchings collections created this year by the Trendspotters:

  • Ink EtchInk: This jet black design is a classic, clean, and simple showstopper in most decor. By complementing the boldness of the Etchings design with a timeless shade, homeowners can feel confident their choice won’t go out of style any time soon.
  • AquaTint EtchAquatint: Look familiar? Our Art Director, Stephanie Voss, wrote a blog last year about how calming blue hues like Pantone’s Serenity will influence the building products industry in 2016. Proof pudding.

This approach to product development and design is brilliant precisely because it seems so obvious—but it’s not. Not everyone in building products is doing this. In fact, a lot of manufacturers either base their designs on focus group input or simply create designs based on studies published through standard trade outlets. Both options have their place, but are also inherently reactive—not always the best option for companies who seek to be innovative.

But who better to tell building products manufacturers at the top of the channel where design is going than some of the top designers in the country? By using these designers’ “on the ground” knowledge, Cosentino’s Silestone product is poised to set the tone for other designers and consumers in the coming years.

It takes time, energy, patience, investment, and courage to utilize an approach like this—an approach that empowers someone outside of your company to not only influence product design, but to create it. But that is true innovation. It’s listening, it’s using resources, it’s collaborating, and it’s understanding the channel on every level and using those insights to better your product and better the entire industry. Using focus groups and studies is also necessary for understanding today’s trends, but setting tomorrow’s requires further channel insights—exactly what Cosentino is doing with its Trendspotters.

I’m certain that this new line is going to be a hit, but I’m even more certain that the process will open the building products world to even more innovative creations.

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10 IBS Insights You Need to Know (Part 2/2)

28 Jan

Part Two: 5 Design Trends from IBS 2016

Indoor Outdoor Living

Every year, the International Builders’ Show (IBS) is the best place for marketers to keep a finger on the pulse of where the building products industry is going. The ER Marketing team and I attended this year, and we were able to learn everything from the latest marketing trends to a general economic housing outlook to the latest products that will impact everyone down the channel.

There’s no question that tech and high-performance homes are big, overarching trends to look for in 2016. But the show proved that neither of those trends can come at the expense of design, so the onus is on marketers at the higher end of the channel to educate their customers how these products can integrate into a home’s design beautifully and seamlessly.

Using our own team hashtag, #IBSDoubleTake, we captured the things that made us stop and take notice during IBS 2016. And they’re things you should take notice of, too—they’ll be impacting the way we market these products as we get deeper into 2016 and the coming years. Here are some of the design trends spotted at IBS 2016 by my team:

Top 5 Design Trends from IBS 2016:

  1. You are no longer in the building business. You are in the technology business. As customers at the end of the channel nutonebecome more and more tech-savvy (and tech-reliant), so too will their homes and the products they choose to build it with or put in it. Even down to seemingly simple products like this Nutone doorbell with 250 MB of space for custom doorbell rings/music, tech was the showstopper. Nutone did an excellent job of showing how a fun piece of technology can also inspire a clean and simple design aesthetic.
  2. Tech is big, but so is functionality. And new tech needs to integrate seamlessly into any design, including traditional, to be truly functional for customers. Wellborn Cabinets did that well with their remote control island—super functional, super classic, super innovative.Kohler Bath
  3. Lighting is big. Kohler highlighted the fact that whether in the home or in the booth, eye-catching lighting will be important for building products marketers to account for in 2016 and beyond. Consider how you might use unique lighting tactics to modernize your product photography as well.
  4. The style of the New American Home was “Rustic Modern.” What does that mean for building products marketers? Focus on a design that combines natural elements, textures, and colors with clean, simple, and crisp lines. In fact, the home executed this so effortlessly, it appeared to be a part of the natural landscape!New American Home 1
  5. Wondering how outdoor living plays in? Don’t worry—it hasn’t gotten away. In recent years, outdoor living has meant bringing amenities you would normally expect indoors (fireplaces/pits, speakers, covered seating) to the outdoors. Now it’s about bringing outdoor elements in with seamless, even tenuous, transitions from the indoors to the outdoors. This means floor to ceiling glass, pocket doors, cable or glass railing, clean lines, and corresponding design elements (like using recessed lighting and using the same flooring styles inside and outside, for example).

If you missed our post earlier in the week, make sure to read the Top 5 Marketing Trends building products marketers need to know from IBS 2016.

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What Building Products Marketers Need to Know About Millennials (Part 1/2)

7 Jan

New Customers, New Expectations

Millennial home buyer

Things are changing in the building industry, and anyone who has worked in it for a long time can see it. Whether it’s the trend towards outdoor living or intergenerational living, there is a common thread: Millennials. And now, Millennials are moving into home buying roles, with their own unique demands and expectations. Building products marketers hoping to grow their business—especially those in renovations and remodeling—would be remiss to ignore the advantages of catering to this growing audience, which is showing strong preference for home restoration.

A recent article in Builder Online discusses some of this generation’s demands as they become homeowners, and how these demands will (or at least should) impact how you do business. Here are a few key takeaways:

  • Millennial homebuyers want authenticity: “They favor character over convenience, and history over homogeny.”
  • Millennial homebuyers want fixer-uppers: “They see themselves as modern day stewards, charged with bringing their home to its original glory.”
  • Millennial homebuyers want you to listen: “They represent the first generation that is aggressively challenging the home building industry to listen to their needs.”

As customers, Millennial homebuyers offer great promise for building products marketers focused on renovations and remodeling. There is one caveat: people in the building industry will have to move “from a ‘push strategy’ (buy, stock, and sell) to a ‘pull strategy’ (listen, inspire, and care)” if they hope to capitalize on this opportunity.

Clearly, this group is affecting the buying process as consumers and customers. But Millennials are not just your customers—they also represent a growing part of the workforce in the building products industry. For more on that, see my blog post here. As the industry grows and evolves, Millennials will also begin affecting your business as employees—at all stops in the channel.

Part 2 of this series (coming next week) will tackle the importance of incorporating Millennial employees—and their values—into your business, and how that just might impact your customers as well…

Make sure to read the full article for further insights into the minds of Millennial homebuyers.

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6 of My Favorite Building Products Manufacturer Apps

10 Dec

Are You Using All the Sales Tools Available to You?


As of July 2015, there are 1.6 million Google Play apps, 1.5 million Apple App Store apps, and 400,000 Amazon App Store apps*. The building products industry is beginning to take notice of this phenomenon with apps of their own—apps that can be used to visualize, quote, install, and educate customers about various products and services. These are apps that can make a huge difference when selling and marketing building products, and they should become a strong part of your strategy both in working with pros and consumers alike.

I’ve put together a list of some of the standout apps in the building industry. Of course, the apps most impactful to you will depend on inventory, product relevance, location, and so on. But these are a good sampling of the types of apps you should be looking to as standard-bearers within the building industry:

  • Sherwin Williams ColorSnap® Visualizer: This app goes above and beyond the call of duty for most visualizer tools—what you would expect from a household name. Not only can users see how colors will look in a space, but they can also match colors based on images, scan colors in-store, and view entire color schemes based on a single color number. This app considers how people live and allows them to design their home around it. Plus, by letting a user pull color matches from real photos in their camera roll, they add a certain playful element that makes a user want to spend time in the app.
  • AZEK® Deck Building Products iPad App: This app can be used as a 2D or 3D visualizer of the entire AZEK product line so customers can see how it looks before any purchase is made. Users can take notes on their creations, save, and share them when necessary. You can imagine a situation in which you or one of your pros could create a visualization of a buyer’s space, share it with them, and more easily close a sale. Not only that, but a buyer could use it with a pro or dealer so they could recommend the best product for them.
  • RDI® Railing Designer App: This one is especially useful for pros, who can access the SRP back-end of the application to create customer quotes. Meanwhile, all users have the ability to create a simulation of their railing configuration and then generate a materials list for shopping. Once the design is finished, it’s simple for customers to save and print out the materials list, which they can take to their local RDI dealer.
  • Therma-Tru® Doorways: Like the others, this is another mobile visualizer, but it works on all mobile devices and integrates with social media so users can post their creations and get input from others if they’re stuck between multiple options (mahogany and oak, for example). Product information is automatically stored in every design, and users have the ability to search for the nearest dealer of each product, bringing consumers and dealers closer together.
  • Ply Gem Designed Exterior Studio: While not a mobile app (must be accessed in a computer browser), Ply Gem has put together a great visualization tool for home exteriors. Users simply pick their home style, select an area of the home to change materials and colors, then select from stone, windows, siding, etc. Ply Gem recently added a new feature called MyHome, which allows a user to upload an image of his/her own house to modify.
  • Eldorado Outdoor™ Design Tool: I love this tool from Eldorado Stone. Like the Ply Gem one, this visualizer is for web browsers, but it is a seriously robust platform. You create your space based on layout size, then you can add in everything from cabinets to walls and fireplaces, appliances, etc. before you apply the Eldorado stone and brick of your choice. Like the others, it offers an easy way to save, print, share, and get quotes. With all of these features at your disposal, Eldorado Outdoor is not your average design tool.

A recurring theme of the blog lately has been a discussion of how the building industry will need to modernize in the coming years (see here and here for more). Integrating manufacturer apps into your sales and marketing efforts is a simple yet strategic way to meet the changing needs of today’s increasingly mobile/digital consumers. Whether you’re a manufacturer, a pro, a dealer, or you’re at some different point in the channel entirely, apps like these will be important parts of growing your business—in 2016 and beyond.


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Is Housing Really Back?

3 Sep

Why That Question Might Be More Complicated Than You Think


As anyone who works in building products can attest, this is not an industry for the weak of heart. The last few years have required everyone—from the manufacturers to the distributors to the dealers to the pros—to weather a lot of ups and downs. As we all know, the economy is now recovering from those difficult times, and so is the building products industry. But the real question on everyone’s minds is simple: is housing really back?

It may seem like a simple question, but the answer is far from it; in fact, the July 2015 Building Products & Construction Industry report from Piper Jaffray offers some important information on this topic:

  • Residential product manufacturers are up 19.4% over last year
  • Lumber/wood product manufacturers are down by 11.5% from 2014
  • Homebuilders have experienced modest growth over last year’s numbers—about 2.8%
  • Builder confidence and remodeling spending remain positive as of July 2015—an exceptionally good sign for residential product manufacturers

As most in the building products industry can agree, the big number will always be starts. In its heyday, the building products industry was at around 1.5 million starts. As of July 2015, housing starts in the US are up to 1,206,000—the highest since October of 2007.

So the question remains—is housing really back? You’re not likely to find a single answer on this, because a simple, universally agreed upon answer doesn’t exist. There are glimpses of great happenings in the industry including multi-family growth and remodeling growth, but most of us in the building industry agree that getting back to 1.5 million starts isn’t going to happen. Ever. Those times are gone—and maybe that is a good thing. We are back to numbers that are reasonable and—dare I say it—sustainable. The trick is now, as building product marketers, to capitalize on these upward trends to promote further growth.

Here’s a quick digest of relevant articles about the state of housing. Give them a read!

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