KBB Collective | The Designers' Corner

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

This entry was posted on Friday, July 29th, 2011 at 6:00 AM and is filed under Business. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


  1.  Ann Porter, CKD |

    Great post, Kevin. It seems having more options generally decreases happiness because we get stuck in second-guessing all our choices.