Whole subdivisions that started out with solid surface as a standard are converting to granite. Home centers now show more granite and engineered stone than any other surface. The shift in consumer preference would be great if we all fabricated and installed granite and it didn't cannibalize our solid surface sales. Consumers do not purchase our products based on performance values, if they did none of us would ever have torn out new looking 10 year-old laminate tops.
The product we are selling to Mr. or Mrs. homeowner represents their image of themselves hanging out around their island with their friends or neighbors, admiring the feel or look of their countertops. Commercially, the performance values remain much more important. In order to affect consumer preference we need to understand how a customer selects materials and a source for tops.
Consumers will be influenced by advertising, a builder's standard offering, upgrade options, word of mouth from friends or families, and price. Price will dictate the range of materials to choose from. In today's market of well-informed purchasers, a consumer will do some initial research and go back out into the market or to a home center to compare brands and price. Consumers will then pick the highest performance and aesthetic value within the range of options provided within their budget.
We can affect the consumers decision to purchase solid surface by:
1. Educating consumers about material differences and performance.
2. Stressing seamless integral sinks.
3. Relating our own experiences with each material.
4. Pricing groups to maximize choices within a material category.
5. Promoting our business brand and service, not the brands of the materials we are selling.
6. Diversifying our offerings to create a one-stop shop so customers do not go elsewhere.
7. Marketing solid surface as a premium high performance material.
Home centers are counterproductive to the effort to shift consumers to solid surface. A shopper in a home center will be faced with poor training of associates, products that are shown as equal, and a lack of quality information. Kitchen and bath dealers are not much better and will typically sell high-gloss over performance. The solid surface industry needs to take back the marketing effort by promoting itself first and the products it sells second. We must sell our service as consultants and experts.
In the current retail market situation, a customer who is pleased with the work purchased through a retail source will recommend friends and relatives go to that retailer for countertops. This new customer will then go to a retailer that has no means or incentive to push this customer back to the installer that brought this work in, creating a market environment that gives referral customers a choice of all brands and materials on display. This vicious cycle is repeated daily with every fabricator serving any big box retailer across the country.
Manufactures need to get out of negotiations and involvement with price and allow the fabricators to represent themselves with their retail outlets. Continuing to cut the fabricator out of the price negotiation process will ultimately lead to lower profits and a loss in the service level that fabricators are able to provide. Fabricators provide the single most influential source of information in the customer purchase decision. If we are going to stop the shift in sales to granite or other surfacing materials, manufacturers need to stick to their brand-marketing role and let solid surface fabricators sell the service that will promote the solid surface industry.