Established in 1963 as a network for kitchen dealers, the National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA) has evolved into the only all-industry, not-for-profit trade association for the estimated $189 billion kitchen and bath industry. The association offers resources, research, events, certification, professional development and education to thousands of professionals — designers, retailers, remodelers, manufacturers, distributors, fabricators, installers and other industry professionals.
Celebrating its 60th anniversary, the association continues its legacy of being the go-to resource for kitchen and bath industry professionals. It offers monthly events from coast to coast via its local chapters, and its keystone event — the Kitchen and Bath Industry Show (KBIS) — to showcase the strength, resilience and growth within the industry. This year’s KBIS takes place Jan. 31–Feb. 2, at the Las Vegas Convention Center.
There is no slowing down for NKBA as it expands opportunities to support member growth and drive channel health. We wanted to hear about the organization’s new opportunities, what’s new at the upcoming trade show, and how the association will be celebrating its milestone anniversary. We sat down with Suzie Williford, NKBA’s executive vice president of industry relations and chief srategy officer, to learn about these iniatives.
Ruth Mitchell: Suzie, thank you for connecting with The Wholesaler magazine as we celebrate the NKBA and its 60th anniversary. Your involvement and imprint within the association and the industry run deep. From your perspective, what macro trends is our industry facing, and how is NKBA addressing the issues?
Suzie Williford: I have been in this industry for a long time and have seen a lot of ups and downs. I see a lot of opportunities in the market. Yes, there are supply chain and labor issues, but overall, the kitchen and bath industry remains robust. Where new housing starts may be slowing, the remodeling of existing homes is booming. Consumers are making the decision to stay put and are taking stock of which rooms would benefit from do[overs. This is a huge opportunity for our market.
In addition, with the trends shifting to health and wellness, aging-in-place, and the literal opening up of both the kitchen and bath spaces, we are poised to do well as an industry. The kitchen is the hub of activity —- a gathering place where people not only cook and entertain but where they truly live. The bathroom — especially the primary bath — is a haven, a place of rejuvenation. And the new products, technologies and innovations emerging to support these trends are really innovative.
NKBA is committed to monitoring and reporting on what lies two to three years ahead while also reporting on key indicators that directly affect our industry. Our Kitchen & Bath Market Index and Market Outlook research connects directly with all member categories, giving us visibility into real-time data.
We also are committed to our professional development and educational programs being the most up-to-date and relevant to the way people are living today and plan to live in the future. We recently launched our newly updated Professional Resource Library with a group of NKBA-certified designers who are true subject matter experts.
Additionally, we’ve launched a number of thought leadership summits, both virtually and in-person, so members can tap into industry experts from the association and beyond. Our Luxury Bath, Luxury Kitchen, Design Trends and Futurist Technology Summits are just a few examples. They really are helping our members, from manufacturers to design professionals, prepare for how the market is shifting.
RM: NKBA’s mission is to enhance member success and excellence, promote professionalism and ethical business practices, and provide leadership and direction worldwide for the kitchen and bath industry. Outside of the national trade show, please tell me about the top three opportunities members took advantage of that will help wholesale distributors and their team members to be best in class.
SW: I love this question. You may know, I spent the first 30 years of my career on the showroom side of our industry. My partnerships and direct experience with wholesalers has been key as I think about our association and how we engage all areas of our industry.
While much of our work does, indeed, directly support kitchen and bath designers and dealers, channel lines are blurring more and more — and that’s a good thing. We at the NKBA are actively researching the shifting role of home ownership. We’re tracking how younger homeowners are thinking about home and how they want to live. We’re looking at the role of property tech firms and the impact they are having on the real estate market. All this information is intended to serve the wholesaler segment as it plays a huge role in potentially servicing these customers.
As I mentioned previously, professional development and ongoing educational programs, such as our specialty badges and topic-specific CEUs, are great ways to demonstrate deeper knowledge on a particular topic. And while members of a wholesaler or distributor team may not need CEU credits, the information gleaned can be tremendously helpful, augmenting product knowledge shared by manufacturers.
Our Thirty Under 30 program is a super way for wholesalers to demonstrate their desire to be a part of cultivating the next generation of industry professionals. We are pleased so many wholesalers and distributors nominate emerging leaders.
Our collaboration with the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) on workforce development/Next Up to encourage growth of the skilled labor force is an ongoing initiative directly supporting many supply houses and wholesalers. It’s a tough one for us since we don’t have direct relationships with many of the trades, but it is vitally important and must continue to have a seat at the table.
RM: NKBA is a vital resource for information in the kitchen and bath industry — from its economic forecasts, the KBIS trade show, and events across North America for designers and distributors to showcase excellence. What should wholesale distributors have on our radar from NKBA for 2023?
SW: Our work understanding more about the real estate technology sector — the PropTech arena — and how it is impacting our industry is a big one. We continue to explore lifestyle and life-stage research, trying to get a tighter handle on how the boomers are evolving as well as millennials.
There is a clear need for a rethink about the topic of universal design or aging in place. How do we retrofit and remodel to offer safe spaces that are also beautiful? The wellness topic, whether looking at using healthier, more sustainable products or simply creating environments that contribute to a healthier lifestyle or some combination of the two continues to be on the docket.
The desire for whole-home integrated technology and how to better connect design pros, home tech pros and the best technology capabilities is another important area we continue to explore. This one is probably key for many wholesalers and supply houses. As contractors think about evolving their skills to include an understanding about home technology integration, wholesalers will need to be educated about various technology-enhanced products and share that product knowledge with customers.
RM: Where do you see a vital need in the industry now, and how is NKBA addressing the issue?
SW: We live in a world that is getting smaller and smaller. Making global connections and sharing good practices across oceans and borders is critical. Our NKBA Global Connect program is designed to facilitate this kind of thinking. It’s omni-directional, meaning North American manufacturers, distributors and design professionals are encouraged to participate as well as those same constituents from the UK and Europe.
With the speed of our lives and technology playing such a key role in how we live and work, understanding how to integrate technology into our businesses as well as our projects is nonnegotiable. The COVID-19 pandemic forced us to embrace things we might not have quite as readily. Now the genie is out of the bottle. And, like anything, when managed well, technology can be an amazing complement to improving our lives and work.
In addition, we need to continue providing experiential connections. Physical spaces where designers, manufacturers and consumers can touch, feel and truly create a tactile connection are more important than ever. So, while technology integration is here in force, we still are humans and our senses crave and respond to tactile experiences. Wholesalers and distributors who build gorgeous showrooms, participate in showhouses and events and who construct live cooking and entertaining spaces are smart. Concepts such as Gary Friedman’s (of RH) RH Guesthouse in New York City is a perfect example.
RM: The kitchen and bath industry has evolved regarding products and people, driving innovation and change. NKBA also has evolved – driving inclusion in what was once a male-dominated industry. Please tell us more about NKBA’s workforce development and Next Up program, and how wholesale distributors can get involved.
SW: This initiative has taken several turns in the past decade. It’s an important topic and one I feel very passionate about. As I mentioned earlier, our association is collaborating with the NAHB on a combined workforce development program. There are several initiatives, and one is the Skilled Labor Fund of which NKBA CEO Bill Darcy is a member.
Additionally, the NKBA Next Up program is designed to bring awareness about careers in designing, building and remodeling beautiful and functional kitchens and baths.
We are always anxious to collaborate with industry partners on workforce development and are open to speaking with anyone who wants to get more involved.
RM: Ah, my favorite time of year is KBIS! As the national trade show for the kitchen and bath industry, it’s a must to stay ahead of industry trends and network with peers. Can you give us a few new highlights for this year’s event?
SW: KBIS is absolutely one of my favorite times of the year as well! We are so excited to be back bigger and better than ever in Las Vegas. You know we are celebrating 10 years of co -locating our show with the International Builders’ Show — an event we call Design & Construction Week (DCW).
The 2023 DCW is slated to deliver almost 1 million square feet of show floor, hosting 1,300 exhibitors and more than 100,000 guests. Plus, we’re collaborating with three other events taking place during the same week. At KBIS this year, we will have more than 450 exhibitors on 400,000 square feet of floor space. Of those 450, 85 exhibitors are international.
In addition to all those great exhibitors, we’ll be hosting quite a few programs on
and off the show floor. First, the NKBA Design + Industry Awards on Monday evening, Jan. 30, is a wonderful way to kick off the event and recognize some of our most talented design professionals. All who are attending KBIS will have an opportunity to join us for this event. It’s a beautiful event and a fun party!
On Tuesday, Jan. 31, Design and Construction Week officially launches with the opening ceremonies and keynote presentation by Mike Rowe.
The NKBA will host the State of the Association/State of the Industry sessions with special guests and a review of the past year by Bill Darcy. Of course, our 80+ Voices from the industry conference will also be running throughout the show.
The best party of KBIS — the BASH — produced by the NKBA will take place again this year and the SPIKE concert brought by NAHB and NKBA will close the show on Thursday evening, Feb. 2. You definitely don’t want to miss this event — Sheryl Crow is headlining!
On the show floor, we have reinvigorated the NKBA|KBIS NEXT Stage with new programming and a more interactive stage design. We are hosting several VIP tours, international pavilions and the Design Milk X Modenus Lounge.
The NKBA will be hosting the Global Connect Pavilion again, offering Global Connect brand partner spotlights and other talks hosted by Global Connect Advisors. There’s a lot to get excited about!
RM: Happy 60th anniversary to NKBA! How will the organization be celebrating the milestone?
SW: We are so excited to be celebrating our 60th anniversary this year! Because we are kicking it all off at KBIS, I’m not going to spill the beans here. Suffice it to say, our team has much in the works and we will be celebrating all year. Look for the unveiling on the show floor and stay tuned in to all the NKBA channels and events during 2023 as they will all have celebratory moments.
Bill Darcy and I are thrilled to be at the helm, stewarding the association at this momentous time. Our membership is stronger than ever. Our staff is a compilation of the best talent the association has ever had. We recently moved into a new headquarters building in Bethlehem, Pa., that looks and feels the way the association looks and feels — fresh, relevant and ready to embrace the next 60 years with gusto. We’re pumped about our future and that of our industry. While there may be some challenging times ahead, we are ready to rock!