CORRECTION: Following the publication of this article, a correction was issued stating that The Home Depot has no plans to carry or market American Standard's Town Square collection. However, The Home Depot has an exclusive bathroom suite collection manufactured by American Standard called "Williamsburg." Bundling products in easy-to-choose packages that ease consumer angst and aggravation is what good design centers are all about. For product manufacturers, the concept of selling convenience is not as familiar, but it's becoming more so – and quickly. We saw a variation on the theme earlier this year when Delta and Progress Lighting jointly designed coordinated lighting and fixtures for the bathroom and advertised them together in a co-branding arrangement.
Now, American Standard has entered the suite arena by introducing a collection of fittings, fixtures, and accessories that are designed to go together and, more significantly, to be displayed together.
The manufacturer will try out this aggregated product approach in a number of retail venues. First up is a pilot program at 100 Home Depot stores. Beginning this summer, in locations still to be determined, consumers and contractors will find a single display featuring all these products under the label Town Square. In some stores, they will replace individual component displays; in others, buyers will also see the products in their respective category aisles. The display size will vary by store.
For its part, Home Depot has also recognized the value of merchandising products in bundles, particularly in kitchen, bath, and flooring, and is working with several vendors to achieve it.
It's a dynamic that everybody is trying to tap into, says Mike Hogenmiller, Home Depot's global products merchant for bath fixtures, in Atlanta. "Our research shows that as the population continues to age, the buy-it-yourself segment will grow substantially." As before, customers will pick out a lot of their own products. The difference will be that they have others do the installation, he says.
"What American Standard, Home Depot, and others have figured out is that we'll have to market products a little bit differently," says Hogenmiller. That means more emphasis on lifestyle, greater appeal to women buyers, and especially, a nod to convenience.
The concept of selling the entire bathroom has always been American Standard's philosophy on the wholesale side, says Marc Nover, the company's vice president of sales, in Piscataway, N.J. Its new Town Square product, he says, takes the concept directly to consumers in the retail environment and plays off buyers' desire to simplify the purchasing process, and indeed, their lifestyles overall.
"Research shows that consumers have very little time and that they're looking for solutions," says Nover, noting the recent success of a number of retailers, including the Rooms To Go furniture stores (www.roomstogo.com). The company, which has stores in several southern states, tells customers: "We work for hours designing and coordinating each room so you don't have to."
Town Square's first press notice, released last month at the Kitchen & Bath Show in Chicago, was meant to appeal to this yearning for simplification. Its opening sentence: "For homeowners who have postponed their new bathroom rather than face an overwhelming number of decisions, American Standard welcomes you to your new bath."
"The Town Square suite is the first of many [product suites] to come from American Standard that are designed as a total package with the emphasis on providing those solutions," Nover says. Town Square is meant for first or second move-up buyers, but products geared to a wider range of price points will follow.
On the retail side, this approach is significantly different than what the manufacturer has done in the past, says John Hyde, the company's vice president of retail sales. "It's a matter of selling projects versus products."
National ads running this month in Country Living, House Beautiful, and Southern Living, among others, will introduce the idea to the general public. Wholesale customers saw the products for the first time in April.
It's too soon to tell how either group will respond–and what will be the effect on sales. The company has used the concept with success for some time in Italy. When buyers have the option of choosing several matching products, available in one place, says the company, they typically buy more than one, and often they buy the entire suite.
Consumers and builders, alike, can expect to see more product bundling and a greater emphasis on brands, says Home Depot's Hogenmiller. Product display, branding, and marketing are changing into more decor-oriented settings and the use of suite packages, he says. "If you look at a store we opened today versus one we opened two years ago, you will see a difference."
The Bath as Sanctuary
Craving the comforts of home and family, consumers are showing a willingness to spend on nicer touches, but that doesn't necessarily translate to wanting more luxury, according to Jim Krengel, a certified kitchen and bath designer.
"Consumers want to add comfort, convenience, and simplicity in the cocoons of their homes," he says. While nearly every homeowner wants larger bathrooms, even at modest income levels, he says, the bathroom as showplace is out; the bathroom as private sanctuary is very much in. That should be reflected in builders" merchandising.
Shower systems and hot tubs continue as the two must-haves, he notes. "Consumers want products they can wrap themselves in," he says. In design, buyers are looking for less whimsy and more nostalgic designs reminiscent of simpler times.
Published in BIG BUILDER Magazine, May 2002