Plumbing contractors and bath-and-kitchen designers don’t always see eye to eye. Where they do, they can agree on choosing quality products that provide value to their customers.

“We research what suits our needs, so we look for high-quality products at an affordable price,” says contractor Tom Drexler of Tom Drexler Plumbing.

If a customer asks Dave Ariano’s Ravinia Plumbing & Heating to install an inferior product purchased online or elsewhere, he replies, “You’re paying professional rates for us to put in a piece of junk.”

Like Drexler, Ariano uses his showroom to steer his customers toward products that hold up and can be repaired easily. He steers them away from products that will result in callbacks and other problems down the line.

The two contractors, whose companies are featured in this month’s cover story, may not be aware that many designers share their view. In a survey conducted at last year’s Kitchen & Bath Industry Show in Las Vegas, quality came out as the top reason why design professionals select one brand of products over another.

“In the end, design professionals want products that work and don’t cause them to worry,” according to Accountability Information Management, which interviewed more than 100 designers, kitchen-and-bath dealers, builders, remodelers and contractors in the aisles of KBIS. AIM quotes one designer as saying: “Quality is No. 1. I want repeat customers, not unhappy ones.”

Of 30 reasons given on why one brand is chosen over another, quality was cited by 39% of respondents, 71% of whom are designers. I should tell you that ease of installation was mentioned as a top reason by only 1% of them, so you may not agree with designers on everything, as I said.

But Drexler says affordability is an issue, and price certainly ranks high as a factor with designers. They identify budget or cost as their second top reason for selecting one brand over another.

“It is not surprising that design professionals want more - more quality, more functionality, more aesthetics all with less cost,” AIM reports. “Designers continue to push product manufacturers to achieve the primary reasons they pick one brand over another: the highest quality at the ‘best price.’

Designers put more emphasis on both quality and price than they did the previous year when AIM President Jim Nowakowski and his colleagues surveyed attendees at the 2010 KBIS in Chicago. Budget or cost increased from being cited by 24% of designers and other industry professionals to 35%, while quality grew from 32%.

Other reasons cited in 2011 for brand preference include: aesthetics or style, 19% (up from 13%); client preference or needs, 19% (up from 10%); availability or ease of purchase, 14% (up from 7%); experience or familiarity with the product, 13% (up marginally from 12%); and customer support or service, 10% (down from 14%).

The research also reports where designers get product information and inspiration for their plans. Two-thirds say manufacturers remain the best source of product information, with almost an identical number preferring email as the best way for manufacturers to communicate this information to them.

 Almost half (48% in each case) say that websites or magazines are the best places to get product information. Only 19% prefer to learn about products in showrooms and just 10% at trade shows.

The report notes that many designers still enjoy meeting with manufacturers reps and their suppliers face to face. That’s a point on which Ariano agrees.

“I like it when reps come in here,” he says. “I like to see what’s new, and they know what comes out the door at the factory.”

For inspiration, designers say magazines still lead the way.

“In fact, more design professionals indicated they use magazines for inspiration on their projects than in 2010 - from 57% in 2010 to 76% today,” AIM reports. “That’s a significant increase.”

Other sources of designers’ inspiration include websites (48%) and showrooms (19%). Home shows or KBIS each inspire 10% of respondents while HGTV just 5%, which is up from 3% in the 2010 survey.

As was the case in 2010, AIM intended its survey results to help manufacturers market their products more successfully to the design community. They can benefit you as well if your bath-and-kitchen work involves designers and their clients, or if you work directly with homeowners.

Drexler says his bathroom remodeling jobs in Louisville, Ky., are increasing. The remodeling market presents opportunities to you in other parts of the country where new home construction still struggles.

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