Kitchen and bath industry sees sales increasing


ATLANTA – Homeowners typically postpone expensive remodeling projects in the kitchen and bathroom during
a recession, but manufacturers say they are seeing a slow increase in sales.
"In many parts of the country, people are starting to feel the thaw" in business, said Suzie
Williford, president of the National Kitchen and Bath Association.
With so many homes for sale, some homeowners are sprucing up their interiors to make them stand out. At
the same time, the housing market is so bad in many areas, more homeowners are upgrading rooms because
they can’t or won’t sell their properties now. On top of that, there’s a growing number of homeowners
who are ready to spend on eco-friendly toilets, showers and the like.
At the association’s four-day trade show in Atlanta recently, industry executives were more optimistic
than last year, although attendance was only about 30,000 – half of last year’s number.
Williford says, during her 30-plus years in the business she has watched the industry recover mightily
after a recession. She says homeowners understand how slow the real estate market is right now, so they
feel the need to make their homes look better than their neighbors’ if they want to sell it.
"When building goes down for us, even when it’s flat, remodeling goes up," she said.
"People might ask, ‘How can someone afford to remodel their house right now?’ Well, people don’t
want their homes to take the same precedence as the next. It’ll give you the competitive edge when you
need to sale your home."
That’s especially true in this market.
Last year, the number of Americans who moved declined sharply, reaching the lowest percentage in 60
years, according to census data released last month. There are several reasons why more people are
staying put, notably rising unemployment, tighter mortgage standards, and, of course, the worst housing
market in a generation.
"People want to stay where they are and update," said John Kellerstrass, vice president of the
Oklahoma-based company D’Vontz, which offers luxury bath and kitchen decor.
He said the company’s sales hit their lowest point between September and December of last year, but
started to see a turn in mid-February.
Craig Smith, chief executive of ServiceMagic, agreed that people are realizing they might be staying in
their homes longer than originally thought. His company’s Web site, which helps homeowners find
prescreened service professionals, recently sampled homeowners and found that 65 percent of them intend
to make home improvements this year.
"It’s going to help businesses rebound," Smith said.
Another way interior and furniture designers have been trying to evolve with the market is by going
Mike Chandler, a vice president at Kohler, the faucet and fixture maker, was skeptical at first about
going green. But he’s had a change of heart after noticing how most consumers are conscious about the
To stay relevant, Chandler said Kohler introduced show new lower-flow facets, showerheads and toilets at
the show.
"If (customers) can find something that’s good for the planet, looks great and save money, they’re
all over it," he said.
Antonio Mendez, who is the marketing manager for Orion, said the Mexico-based company, which makes
toilets and urinals out of ceramic material, wants to go entirely green by the end of this year.
"This is something that’s going to work," Mendez said.
But while business is beginning to stabilize for the seller of the kitchen and bath retailers, the
manufactures making the parts are still struggling. Manufactures are receiving payments from the
commercial clients sometimes two months after the due date.
"We have to really get on them," says Cindy Eggersgluess, a sales manager for the
Minnesota-based company The Pinske Edge, which makes cabinet and shower parts. "Everything is so
stretched out now."
Tom Pinske, owner of the 15-employee company, said sales have dropped almost 50 percent over the last two
years. To stay afloat, he said his local bank has cut him a break on his loan payments, giving him some
extra time to recoup the costs from clients.
"It’ll come back OK," Pinske said. "Absolutely. I think our industry has hit its bottom
but the market will recover."

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