The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and the National Kitchen & Bath Association (NKBA) moved the annual Design & Construction Week — including NAHB’s International Builders’ Show (IBS) and NKBA’s Kitchen & Bath Industry Show (KBIS) — to a virtual platform due to COVID-19 health and safety concerns. IBS/KBIS Virtual was held Feb. 9-12 and included a State of the Industry report, along with numerous other educational sessions.

Following NKBA CEO Bill Darcy’s welcome and State of the Association report on Feb. 9, KOHLER President and CEO David Kohler took to the virtual stage for a State of the Industry analysis. 

Kohler spoke to the thriving residential remodeling and construction market. “The strength of residential construction and remodeling have powered economic activities in 2020 and will continue in 2021,” he said. “Home sales have been strong due to health and safety needs, the extreme surge of working from home and record low mortgage rates.”

He continued to explain how the lack of available housing in some areas could present some issues for new construction. “The urban areas single-family homes are in high demand, but we have a low inventory of available homes for sale,” Kohler noted. “This conflicting situation could drive up prices for new construction, but maintain the momentum we’re experiencing and remodeling and replacement activities.”

In addition to job loss and financial strain, high lumber costs are affecting the new construction market. “Rising home prices will temper some buyers,” Kohler said. “Home builders are also facing high lumber prices and the shortage of skilled labor. That being said, the Biden administration is likely to remove tariffs on home construction supplies, including lumbers steel, aluminum, which could ease the cost pressures.”

The industry knows the non-residential construction sector has been hit hard during the pandemic. Kohler predicted commercial building and multifamily construction will not reach pre-pandemic levels until sometime in 2022.

Again, mentioning how the new administration could affect the industry, Kohler noted immigration is a factor. “Immigration may also rise under the new administration, which could provide some needed relief to our building trades,” he said. “This is likely not in the immediate term, as more and more consumers have decided to make their current home their place to work. But in the long-term, this translates into growth in a variety of remodeling projects as well.”

Next, Kohler touched on e-Commerce and consumer buying habits. “As we all know, this year showed us quickly how purchase behavior can shift,” he said. “It’s important to keep your business, your brand, products and services visible digital platforms, delivering an experience that aligns with your value proposition.”

Products and innovation

After covering market conditions, Kohler spoke on bath and kitchen product trends, noting consumers’ desire for versatility, hygiene and comfort are the main driving factors.

“Demand for clean kitchen and bath products has soared,” he said. “Touchless faucets and intelligent toilets with bidet capabilities and self-closing seats are popular.”

In addition to hygiene, homeowners are looking to manage stress and maintain positivity after too many hours in front of the screen each day. 

“More people are looking for ways to have a multisensory experience at home, which could mean taking a bath with essential oils or adding music and steam to their shower,” Kohler noted. “The evolution of smart home technology adds a new level of convenience and comfort. Offering a whole home water monitoring system or a personalized experience of digital showering or an intelligent toilet creates peace of mind for the consumer.”

Kohler closed by mentioning the role the plumbing industry has in advancing sustainability and advocacy. “Continuously improving business, environmental performance and taking action for social justice issues is essential,” he said. “KOHLER’s internal sustainability stewardship and innovation focus as an organization is to bring our expertise and passion to discovering and implementing solutions that are better for our planet, our communities and the lives we touch.”