K+BB Collective | The Designers' Corner

Kevin Henry

Kevin Henry

As a designer, writer and speaker, Kevin Henry has been a “thought leader” to the kitchen industry for more than 30 years and is sought out for his views and observations regarding market trends and industry direction. His blog, The Essential Kitchen, is followed worldwide by both consumers as well as industry and media leaders. Henry is invited to speak internationally on a wide range of topics, including luxury branding, sustainable kitchen design and market trends. He has been behind the success of such iconic brands as Snaidero, Poliform/Varenna, Küppersbusch and ALNO in North America. Today, Henry is the president and creative director at Group42, a design + marketing collective dedicated to redefining the boundaries of the modern kitchen.

Sep 15 2011

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Red, white and blue is the new black

There was a time when people just assumed their cabinetry and appliances would be built in the U.S.A. Now, given the current economic strains and the foreign options in cabinetry, appliances and accessories that are invading the U.S. market, I wonder if the American kitchen industry will go the way of American steel, autos and home electronics—to some third-world country—taking American jobs as well as the American Dream with it?

We, the American people, have been sold a “bill of goods,” which is the idea we can somehow maintain our standard of living by purchasing cheaper and good, not great, products that were once produced here in the U.S.—such as cars, clothes, TVs, phones, even food—from some other country and that our lives will be better. I say, look around you and wake up!

We have lost great companies and millions of jobs to other countries that will never come back, and the current economic situation and growing jobless rate are just tips of the iceberg. There was a time when American steel, cars, TVs were the cornerstone of modern technology and the envy of the world. And now we are willing to buy cheap imitations without once thinking about the ramifications of those actions.

The new Jobs Bill proposed by the Obama administration means nothing and will do nothing to stem the tide of joblessness unless there is a job connected to it. We need to bring manufacturing back to America and need to buy American products. It’s patriotic…it’s the American thing to do.

My question is this: Does your client care if it is made in America? Do you care? Does it make a difference? Does “Made in America” still stand for quality, technology, craftsmanship, security and trust? I say: “Yes, it does,” and we need to educate the consumer on the options they have to choose from and how their decision can and will affect the world around them.

With U.S. unemployment at its highest in decades and in light of the ongoing uncertainty about the future of our economy, I believe that we are ready for a consumer revolution to halt the tide of foreign imports and encourage consumers to buy American-made products to stimulate economic growth and put people back to work.

For way too long, the American consumer has ignored where products are made and simply sought out products they perceived to be cheaper without understanding or realizing their decision to buy a cheaper foreign product may have caused an American factory to close and the dollars that would have gone to an American worker instead went to pay a worker in China or India at a fraction of what an American worker would have earned. Most people would say, “I bought a good product for the best price, and someone made a profit”B ut here lies the rub: The worker in China did not pay taxes on his earnings to the U.S., nor did his employer, so nothing was paid into the system, which affects everyone here.

I say “enough!” and I draw a line in the sand and issue this challenge to both consumers and manufacturers to “Buy American.” Buying something made in the U.S. is something to be proud of, it will make you feel good and you are helping out the economy by keeping the money at home and protecting jobs here.

Will if cost more to buy an American product than a cheaper foreign item? Most likely the answer will be yes, but you need to think of those few dollars more as an investment in America, as well as an investment in our future—our children’s future.

I believe in the power of the individual and that the choices we make can change the world. The revolution begins with you and the choices you make. I say choose wisely…choose American.

Kevin M. Henry

Jul 29 2011

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Freedom of choice?

Do you want to see a grown man cry? Have him choose a color from more than three selections and he will drop to his knees in tears. I’m beginning to think that choice is highly overrated.

The scariest words in the English language must be: “Would you like fries with that?” Shoestring or country, crosscut or curly, salted or unsalted—and god forbid if you should ask for their selection of dipping sauce. And what about coffee? What happened to a plain old cup of joe? I mean, what is a “half-caff, non-fat, sugar-free vanilla latte” and while I’m at it, what happened to just a medium cup? Choice is everywhere and there seems to be no escape. We have too many buttons, options, selections and apps.

The kitchen industry has not been spared from this curse. In fact, it seems we have embraced choice with gusto. On the cabinet side, we have more variety in wood species to choose from than ever before. It’s not just oak, pine, maple and walnut. Now we can offer wenge, rosewood, zebra and pear, as well as exotic veneers and technical veneers—all in different cuts and finishes. And colors. There was a time you had four or five standard color selections—some companies may have even offered as many as 20—but today with computer color-matching, there are more than 2,000 variations from which to choose. And what about features and accessories? There are drawer options, waste options, cutlery dividers, pan storage, tall storage options and lighting options, both interior and exterior. When we look at the appliances, the mountain of choice is even higher: convection oven, micro-convection oven, steam-convection and just plain radiant heat. And the choices of refrigerators would make your head explode: 24 in., 30 in., 36 in. and 48 in., available in single-door, double-door side-by-side or French-door with- or without-ice options that would dazzle any Barman worth his salt. Not to mention choices in cooktops: gas, electric and induction, as well as combinations of all three. And the selection of dishwashers available with sensors, onboard computers and WiFi connected and with enough technology on board for a manned mission to the moon.

What brought all of this to mind was a presentation I recently gave for a new kitchen. A client and I were going over each detail—what wood, finish, handle, accessories and features, as well as lighting—when at one point, the client threw up his hands and shouted, “Enough! Kevin, why are you asking me all of these question? You’re the expert. What am I paying you for?” It was a clear-cut case of “sensory-overload”: too many selections, too many options and too many choices.

Henry David Thoreau once said “Simplify, simplify!” I say just “Simplify!” I truly believe that we have so overcomplicated the process that our clients can become paralyzed with fear. We need to take greater control of the process. During another presentation, where a client and I were again going over every detail in the kitchen—how many drawers, hinged left or right, which side of the sink would they like the dishwasher on, what knob or pull—I looked up at the client and saw that her eyes were half-rolled up. When she noticed me watching her, she sat upright, gathered herself together and asked me, “Kevin, it’s going to look like this, right?” while pointing to the display. She then said, “Fine. How much do you need to get started?”

Keep your sales approach simple, uncomplicated. Your showroom and displays should educate your clients to the benefits and value of your product or service, as well as create an atmosphere of trust and dependability. Keep your options to a minimum: How many cabinet and appliance lines to you really need to show? What are the three or four finishes that make up most of your business? What countertop material do you always specify? If you go back over your projects from the last year or two, you will see a pattern of design elements, appliances and finishes.

So take control, lead your client, and don’t drown them in details. Simplify their lives and you will see your jobs close faster and your clients will be happier. I think that DEVO, the iconic ’80s band, said it best: “What we want is Freedom from choice.”

Kevin M Henry

May 06 2011

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KBIS 2011…Was it all really necessary?

Another KBIS has come and gone. As I arrived home from Las Vegas with a bag full of brochures and several pockets jammed full with business cards, my feet, as well as my head, are numb. It was a good show, smaller, less crowded and easy to get around. I do not know the final numbers of those attending, but it was easy to see that there were fewer vendors than in past years. I have been attending KBIS for nearly 25 years and the last few have been getting smaller and smaller.

Who was there did not surprise me so much as who wasn’t. The biggest names in the industry chose not to show, and the void left by their absence was staggering. If brands, such as Kohler, Masco, Dacor and ROHL had taken flight, I would have to ask: Would there had been a show at all?

I spent two days at the show and for the first time ever I saw the whole show in one day. I spent the second day catching up with old friends and associates, sharing tales of economic disaster and trying to pump each other up with visions of hope and prosperity. What struck me as odd was that there was little new product, design or innovation and definitely nothing surprising or awe-inspiring. If I had to find a word to best describe the overall theme of the show, it would have to be “blah.” The show was blah, bland and boring! There wasn’t anything there that I did not already know about, read about or had seen online. To be honest, I am sure that many of the displays, presentations and products were the same booths from last year’s KBIS in Chicago. Who do they think they are fooling? We come to KBIS to be lifted up, to be enlightened and inspired—none of which happened. This left me thinking: Do I really need to take time out of my schedule to come and see what I already have in my own showroom? And I have to ask myself…was it all really necessary?

So maybe it is time to rethink KBIS altogether. In this modern world of instant communication, Facebook, Twitter and blogs, as well as the ubiquitous iPhone, we need to ask ourselves is KBIS relevant in the larger scope of things?

I am not advocating the demise of the show, but I think we as an industry need to see how we can better leverage this annual event. The networking and education opportunities not withstanding, why do we need KBIS every year?

I suggest we take a page from our European cousins and consider a biennial event, such as the LivingKitchen show, which is held every other year in Cologne, Germany, as well as Eurocucina, held every other year in Milan. At both venues, the kitchen and bath industry has seized the idea with religious fervor.

The idea of a biennial show works well on several levels. First, the cost of doing the show is spread out over two years, allowing for greater investment and planning. Second, the time between shows allows for true product development and innovation to take place, so each show is new and fresh and not just a rehash of last year’s booth with a new coat of paint. And lastly, I think the most important is the effect on the visitor, who will come to the show with great expectation and excitement, and will most likely experience an environment that will stimulate and educate. With a biennial event, the visitor will feel the need for brotherhood and community, making the show a truly unifying experience.

I think we need to open the dialogue with the powers that be and challenge the notion of an annual show. We need to question the reasons we attend and look for and suggest new ideas, concepts and viewpoints. I believe in the power of the individual and I have decided to put words into action by skipping KBIS in 2012. As such, I will look forward to KBIS 2013 with anticipation, hope and expectation.

Kevin Henry

Apr 18 2011

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Economic recovery…the signs are everywhere

Is it me or has this been the longest and coldest winter in memory? And when you add the effects of a collapsed economy, out-of-control unemployment and rising oil prices, I am not sure why anyone would want to get out of bed in the morning to face a new day of doom.

This morning as the alarm went off, my first thought was: ”Damn…I’m still alive,” Then I heard it, a “chirping” from outside. I pulled back the blanket, just far enough for one eye to peer out, and there was the perpetrator of that delightful noise, hopping around in the morning sun on the small table outside my window. What did she know to be so happy and full of life? Hadn’t she been watching the news and listening to the experts opine that all was lost and the worst has yet to come? As I stood looking out at a most wonderous morning, I realized she wasn’t listening to anyone. She was watching and looking for the signs of winter’s end and the dawning of a new spring and a time for birth, rebirth and growth.

As a kitchen designer, my business has suffered greatly over the past couple of years. With the near-collapse of the global economy, we in the residential design community were hit the hardest—especially the architects, interior designers, contractors as well as kitchen designers and appliance suppliers. We quickly learned that “few people remodel during the apocalypse,” and the dark and endless night created by economic fallout just seemed to go on and on. Was there no hope, no rescue? The talking heads on TV just seemed to heap more doom upon doom.

Finally, I decided to take a page from my little bird friend and stop listening and start watching for signs of change, recovery and hope. And to my surprise, signs were all around, but I could not see them, being so tightly wrapped in my own shroud of doom. As I walked my son to school—for the first time in months without heavy coat, gloves and muffler—I noticed there were fewer homes for sale in the neighborhood and it seemed that every other car dropping kids off was brand new. The parents standing in small groups were talking about their travel plans for spring break or the remodel or add-on to their house that they had put off for so long…the signs were everywhere.

Like a man possessed, I was suddenly besieged by signs from all directions. Porsche had just sold out its entire production run of a $235,000 model, while at the same time announcing the launch of a $600,000 Spyder 918. An electric Swiss bike was flying out the door for $80,000 a pop and Steinway launched a new John Lennon Collection starting at a mere $90,000. It was clear to me the wealthy and the affluent, who had spent the last few years living quiet and reserved lives behind gated driveways in a state of economic hibernation, were about to awaken from a self-imposed slumber.

But the clock has run out and the time for waiting for the other shoe to drop has passed. The wealthy want and need to spend and believe it or not, this is a good thing. This simple act of self-indulgence is what’s needed to kickstart our lifeless economy and get the everyday “Joe” back in the game.

Consumer spending is the backbone of the American economy and if the rich are spending, it is the first step to economic recovery. And everyone benefits…everyone! During the Reagan Administration, it was called trickle-down economics. When luxury cars, private jets and high-end homes are all in demand, that means people are getting back to work. When you have a steady income and a secure job, the middle-class begins to spend. The economy hasn’t completely “righted” itself, but its coming and as I learned from my little bird friend…”watch the signs.”

Kevin Henry