By Austin Maxwell, ISFA President
The countertops and decorative surfaces industry is constantly evolving, and 2023 is shaping up to be different than years prior. The last two or three years were whirlwinds of supply chain challenges, labor shortages, and at times, overwhelming levels of activity in our industry — some of which continue to persist. Looking at the year ahead, most economists are predicting a slowdown. Although some fabricators may welcome the opportunity to reel in their lead time and catch up on their backlog, now is not the time to slow your roll.
Each new year presents the opportunity to review the prior year’s financials and overall business performance. What’s working for you that you want to continue to build upon? What isn’t working, why, and when should you pivot away from it? And most importantly, what should you start doing that you haven’t yet prioritized?
When preparing for an economic slowdown, one of the most important things is to ensure you’ve diversified your product offerings and customer base. If you’re exclusively servicing kitchen and bath dealers, you might consider starting a direct-to-consumer channel. (It can be done without alienating your dealer base!) Direct-to-consumer business has improved margins and cash flow, and it ultimately helps your sales organization when working with kitchen and bath dealers, contractors and builders since you now have firsthand knowledge of the hurdles that come with working directly with homeowners and how to overcome them best. The point is, whatever your current mix of business may be, try not to have one segment of your business account for more than 50% of your overall revenue — ideally, no more than 33%. This can help insulate your business if one market or product line experiences a downturn.
Finally, it’s crucial to stay on top of industry trends and be proactive in seeking new business opportunities. Whether it’s offering new products or services, or exploring new markets, staying agile and adaptable can help your business thrive in any economic climate. The best way I’ve found to do so is to attend industry events and be an active member of trade associations like the International Surface Fabricators Association (ISFA). As this year’s president, perhaps you think I’m biased, but I can tell you that my business wouldn’t be where it is today without the relationships we’ve made through this association. The connections you’ll make with other fabricators, suppliers and industry partners will be invaluable to you for years to come. Lean on the support system: Get involved in the industry by attending a trade show or ISFA event, dive into our podcast library or watch a facility tour. If you aren’t an ISFA member, you’re missing out on a network of fabricators and industry partners who are willing and eager to share best practices, new products and the latest trends.
Speaking of trends, one trend we’re noticing is the increasing popularity of thinner, sleeker-looking countertop materials — ½-inch to ¾-inch thicknesses. In terms of colors, we’re seeing a shift away from the stark, all-white kitchens toward warmer, more natural tones. While lighter-colored countertops are still the most popular, we’re seeing more brown tones subtlety incorporated into white and gray color schemes to tie in to the increasingly popular (again) natural wood-stained cabinetry. Designers are choosing greens and blues to add a pop of color to the space.
Overall, the kitchen and bath industry is full of challenges in 2023, but that does not mean a lack of opportunity. By staying attuned to industry trends, focusing on customer service and relationships, and being proactive in seeking new business, you can position your company for success in the year ahead.
When and if there is a recession — if we’re not already in one — nobody said your business has to participate in it.