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Opportunity Knocks at KBIS. Will You Answer?

KBIS 2020 was a banner year for technology in the kitchen and bath, presenting integrators with a treasure trove of opportunities waiting to be mined.

KBIS 2020
The Samsung booth at KBIS 2020.

The kitchen and bath are two of the most highly designed spaces in today’s home. These two rooms in particular scream out for the need for personalization, which is beginning to drive technology in the home as kitchen and bath manufacturers recognize the trend and begin to refine their high-tech offerings to be more appealing to designers. Likewise, as designers begin to see these technology options explode — much as they did at this year’s KBIS in Las Vegas — they are starting to recognize the need for partnering with an integrator.

“Going into KBIS, I was focused on smart home technology and wellness,” says Rose Dostal of RMD Designs. “There are so many technology options, and I’m now aware how overwhelming it is to try to incorporate all of these. The importance of integrators became clear as I was roaming around the show. I know now I need an integrator in the planning phase.”

Much of the tech at KBIS was driven by the trend toward personalization. “We see updates every couple of years to appliances, but this year it is about the individuality of the space,” says Molly Switzer of Molly N Switzer Designs. “We are seeing more color choices. There are culinary options in appliances, like sous-vide or the Plum automated wine dispenser, for those who want to have a better culinary experience at home. The whole idea is that people want to personalize through technology and color.”

While some of this technology is not necessarily new, such as smart faucets, the technology has become more appealing to designers. “Before, we didn’t specify products because they had issues with the way they were wired or functionality,” adds Switzer. “Manufacturers are now thinking outside the box to provide a better technology experience for us and our clients. These are products we now want to specify.”

Gordon van Zuiden of integration firm cyberManor has attended KBIS for the last two years and says the differences between last year and this year are notable: “2019 was an intro year, in which some manufacturers were showcasing smart home technology for the first time,” he says. “2020 KBIS showed that they are clearly ready to start implementing it.”

So now that the design community is ready, where does the integrator come in and what is the opportunity, exactly? Take the master bath space as a case study. You’re specifying music in the form of in-ceiling speakers, automated shades for privacy, a bathroom mirror screen where you can access email or watch the news, a shower that turns to the perfect temperature automatically, in-floor and towel-rack heating, circadian lighting, a responsive toilet, and more. With all this technology, an integrator needs to be involved from the get-go, working closely with the designer and trades such as plumbing and tiling and to provide a control layer on top of it all. “We take the technology and integrate it with voice control from and a wellness layer on top from Delos. As integrators, we have to showcase all that’s possible so that clients don’t ask, ‘Why didn’t you tell me I could do this?’” notes van Zuiden.

In general, there is a bit of a misconception about the suggestion  that integrators should become plumbers by getting into the kitchen and bath space, but, just like working with other trades in other parts of the home, integrators are finding that everyone stays in their own lane, making for amazing connectivity that KMB and many of our clients have become passionate about. Education is a huge part of that.

“We went to the show to see how we can partner with kitchen and bath manufacturers from the custom AV space, because they don’t know anything about us yet,” says van Zuiden. “And while they will still sell through conventional channels like white goods, those channels will need to be talking to the integration community. We are working with Kohler and Bosch and Thermador to outfit showrooms, because a lot of education is still needed to let people know what these products are and how to physically install it all.”

According to Jesse Silva at The ProView Audio Video Experience integration firm, the biggest takeaway he got from KBIS is that there is tech there and people are excited to bring it into their homes and appliances. Of course, security concerns are also top of mind for kitchen and bath designers, as well as their clients, and this is also an opportunity for integrators to be part of the conversation when connecting kitchens and baths.

“We need to encourage the design community to lean on us for the knowledge we have in the technology space,” says Silva. “It will relieve some of that confusion, stress, and worry. We have to protect our clients’ security, as well. And we know how to do that.”

Katye McGregor Bennett is chief strategist and CEO of KMB Communications and an avid podcaster. Podcasts include Connecting Tech + Design and AV Trade Talk podcasts. For more about KBIS from Katye, listen to the post-show podcast wrap-up here.