There's no denying 2010 was a tough year. But are the hard times really over? What will construction and remodeling be like, on both the consumer and professional front, in 2011? Take a look at some insights from Dick Wolfe, a columnist from our sister publication's Web site KBBonline.com, to find out:
As we wheeze our way to the finish line in 2010, I’m sure we’re all breathing a collective sigh of relief that it’s over. A lot of people predicted that 2009 was going to be the bottom of the housing market. We heard it from pundits and I heard it directly from industry pros at trade shows and other meetings. Depending on whose statistics you believe, this year was either just as bad or only slightly better. Based on what I heard in my travels this year, it didn’t get better for the majority of product manufacturers or design/remodeling pros.
TIMES ARE SLOWLY GETTING BETTER
The Wall Street Journal recently predicted an uptick in construction in 2011 based on the trend of slight growth their statistics say happened this year. Any growth next year will be modest and well off the record-setting year of 2006.
The market we are most concerned with in this column, remodeling and renovation, was mostly flat 2010 versus 2009. However, the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard is predicting as much as double digit growth in 2011 via its Leading Indicator of Remodeling Activity. That’s very ambitious to say the least. Again, if this holds true, it will still be well below the peak year for remodeling of 2007.
THE LIMB I'M OUT ON
You, as a design/renovation professional (or product manufacturer), have just come off two of the worst years you have probably ever seen. You need some sunshine, right? You‘ll most likely get some. But I’m going to go out on a limb and say it probably won’t be as much as forecasts predict. You’d better keep your foul weather gear handy.
There are a lot of social, political and emotional trends that, if predicted accurately, could impact housing/renovation and other industries in ways that are hard to foresee. Trend-spotters, including Faith Popcorn, see a lot of changes coming in how people live their lives and consume. Her predictions are consistent with what is being written and talked about by others who make their livings looking ahead. Just Google “consumer trends 2011” and you’ll see a plethora of predictions and predictors.
I don’t think I’m out on a limb at all when I say that we may not see anything like the boom years anytime soon. However, there is still plenty of opportunity for those who are willing to do what is necessary to command a larger piece of smaller pie.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
 Embrace social media because it is no longer a trend and will only get bigger and more integrated into the fabric of our lives.
This is a must. Your next generation of customers lives electronically and they are already in the marketplace. You or someone in your organization has to master this.
Setting up a Twitter feed that links followers back to timely design or product information housed on your website is one way to drive engagement (yes, your website should be viewed as a social media tool). Maybe it’s creating a mobile application downloadable from your website that activates a loyalty rewards program for referrals from your customers and business partners. There is likely more than one answer and you need to determine which options are most effective for your goals.
 Become more focused on sustainability products, services and practices because it is not only good for the planet, it is also good for business.
If you’re in the high end of the market, this is an easier sell. Your customer can afford green products if it costs more. The key going forward is translating sustainability into affordability for the mass market. This doesn’t mean cut-rate. Even people who can afford stylish renovations have budgets and many sustainable solutions right now throw those budgets out of whack.
Many surveys still show that middle class consumers who aren’t “green evangelists” will not pay more for sustainability unless there is some kind of real ROI. These consumers have money to spend, but they want meaningful value they can see in return.
 Get a value proposition and offer that differentiate you in a meaningful way from your competitors.
There is more than one cabinet company, more than one appliance maker, more than one you-name-it and tens of thousands of design/remodeling professionals. Most are competent and offer a good product. What makes you and your company different? What can you offer that makes you better or unique?
This value proposition needs to be clear, easily understood by the consumer and compelling. If you can’t articulate that, then you’re reduced to selling on price and that’s a loser’s game.
CLOSING THE BOOK ON 2010
As you reflect on the past year, take some time to think about the future and how you are going to make your business grow by standing out from the crowd. The opportunity is there. Growth will be slow, but it’s coming. Don’t wait around on the leftovers. Plan how you can get a bigger slice of the pie while it’s fresh.
—Dick Wolfe is VP of Gibbs & Soell Inc., a leading independent public relations agency that specializes in the residential and commercial building and remodeling industries. As a part of G&S’ Consumer Lifestyle and Building Solutions Practice, Wolfe brings deep experience as a trusted communications advisor to companies seeking successful brand positioning, marketing communications and visibility campaigns that focus on the design community. To contact Wolfe with questions and suggestions on topics for future articles, please email him at email@example.com.