Why do people buy both Prada shoes and paper goods from Costco, drive Hummers and recycle paper, or surround a Viking range with country French cabinets? Upscale remodelers who plumb for what lies beneath these contradictions will have more satisfied clients, according to Robyn Waters, president of RW Trend. She is the former vice president of trend, design, and product development for Target who is credited with helping turn what was a small regional discount chain into one of the hottest brands in retailing.
Paradoxes are her province. The author of The Trendmaster's Guide: Get a Jump on What Your Customer Wants Next and The Hummer and the Mini: Navigating the Contradictions of the New Trend Landscape has built a career on exploring the contradictory nature of today's consumer.
FIT IN AND STAND OUT “Every human being exhibits schizophrenic behavior,” Waters says. “Our very nature is made up of two basic human desires that are completely contradictory: the desire to belong … to a group, a family, a club; and the desire to stand out … to be a unique individual.”
“Knowing this, upscale remodelers can help people connect to their surroundings at a deeper level,” Waters says. Their clients likely know the current trends and have the resources to capitalize on them, but they may not understand how employing these trends will affect their lives.
That is where Waters believes remodelers can help. For example, a client who wants a big center island needs to understand how it will change traffic patterns in the kitchen and that it may mean longer walks from one appliance to another. A client who does a lot of formal entertaining might ask for an open floor plan, but open spaces that expose a messy kitchen may not be the best design solution.
“It would be a huge mistake for a remodeler to just say, ‘Yep, I can do that,' without elaborating, ‘Here's what you need to know,'” according to Waters. “Good remodelers should be expedition leaders instead of just executors. They should be able to reframe a client's request in a way that satisfies a need and addresses what's important to the client.”
HOMES, NOT TRENDS Waters' understanding of consumers and their homes began in early childhood in the Midwest. Her father built custom homes and her mother decorated them. Her family would move into the houses until they sold. She lived in 20 different homes before she was 21 and claims that she was the only fourth grader who could cite the prime interest rate on any given day. But she came away with an enduring appreciation for the depth of feeling people have about their homes.
“Remodelers need to connect to those feelings and be able to deliver to their clients what they may not be able to fully put into words,” Waters says. That requires listening for what clients don't say and observing how they live. Trends can be clues.
“Trends are signposts pointing to what is going on inside the hearts and minds of consumers,” she says. “These days, if you want to be on trend, it's more important to figure out what's important, not just what's next.”
So, what's behind the Prada-shoed Costco shopper? According to Waters, her purchases suggest an appreciation of design, a desire for value, and the need to be part of a community — none of which contradict.
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Loring Leifer is a freelance writer based in Shawnee Mission, Kan.