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The Invisible Workplace Crisis

There’s little doubt that COVID-19 has radically transformed the residential remodeling, housing and kitchen/bath landscape.

For one thing, remodeling demand is reportedly at record highs, with both short- and long-term forecasts overwhelmingly positive. At the same time, new lifestyles emerging as byproducts of the global pandemic are proving responsible for the current mindset driving home design, product preferences and consumer purchases. Homes have literally been transformed, doubling in many cases as offices, schools, playgrounds and multi-generational residences. Wellness, sanitization, biophilic design and an emphasis on outdoor living have become more pronounced than ever. Multi-functional kitchens and eco-inspired baths remain high on the list of remodeling projects favored by homeowners.

But there’s more to the impact of the coronavirus than simply that.

Businesses on every rung of the product-distribution chain have been forced in the past 18 months to essentially reinvent themselves, implementing virus-mitigation strategies ranging from masking and showroom protocols to an increased emphasis on remote employees and digital-connectivity tools. Product costs have risen sharply, while labor shortages have been exacerbated and supply chain disruptions continue to result in project delays. Home prices have also spiked amidst shrinking inventories and a pronounced flight from the cities.

And now there’s yet another COVID-related issue that’s increasingly impacting the residential construction trade: the profound impact that the public-health crisis is having on workplace mental health.

Indeed, throughout the months-long pandemic, employees and business owners alike have faced an unprecedented confluence of issues threatening their physical and mental wellbeing. Routines have been disrupted, relationships strained, fears heightened over personal health and the health of loved ones. Feelings of isolation have led, in many cases, to a pervasive sense of loneliness and vulnerability. Anxiety, uncertainty, depression and stress have similarly taken a toll. While many remote employees are handling the disruptions well, others miss the sense of connectedness they had once in offices, factories and showrooms.

The subject of workplace mental health has been thrust into the public spotlight in recent months, particularly now that the nation is experiencing a resurgence of the coronavirus amidst contentious differences regarding issues like masking and vaccinations. And now, with no end to the pandemic seemingly in sight, many people are experiencing a sense of “horizonlessness,” the lack of a firm reference point regarding the future, as well as a sense of déjà vu regarding potential job losses and business closures.

All of this has had a cumulative effect. Indeed, workplace mental health is being described by experts as an “invisible crisis” that has yielded a palpable rise in chronic pain, fatigue, substance abuse, loss of productivity and suicide.

It has also yielded, thankfully, some decisive action.

The National Association of Home Builders, for example, is actively attempting to change the culture regarding mental health awareness by providing resources tailored to employees and business owners in the residential construction trade. As evidence, the NAHB recently launched a multi-faceted initiative focused on helping business owners support healthy work environments and turn mental health awareness into action. As part of that effort, the NAHB partnered with other trade groups and mental-health experts to develop specific tools for business owners to learn more about employee wellbeing, help eradicate the stigma associated with mental illness, and encourage employees to utilize the resources available to help navigate this complex, sensitive issue.

This effort is more than simply commendable. Indeed, it should serve as a model for others.

Business leaders and industry trade associations have an important role to play when it comes to balancing worker health with the ROI that can be realized by focusing on wellness through the lens of lower healthcare costs, reduced absenteeism and increased productivity.

Corporate management should fully understand why mental health is essential to the success of their companies. They should also understand how they can be proactive in incorporating mental health into a company culture that prioritizes the wellness of employees as much as it does revenue and profits.

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My Phone is Ringing, and This is Why

I am frequently contacted by business owners who are dissatisfied with their digital marketing efforts. The number one reason I hear time and time again is “My phone isn’t ringing.” The owners want more customers, and their marketing efforts are not achieving that goal.

I have pinpointed three categorical reasons this disconnect occurs. If you are spending money on digital marketing and your phone isn’t ringing, read on for a guide to garner more customers. As an advocate for businesses, my hope is to empower owners with educational insight from independent sources so they can make informed decisions with confidence.

Reason #1: Agencies Selling the Work Wanted

To understand the business/agency disconnect, we must explore the typical marketing agency business model. Most are structured around a staff that includes website builders, social media marketers, graphic designers and copywriters who often work on search engine optimization as well. The website builders are project oriented and need an ongoing supply of work to justify their pay. Conversely, the social media work is typically ongoing.

The most common occurrence I see is building an entirely new website for a client when a less expensive update would suffice. If a website builder is needing new work, unscrupulous agencies will begin pitching websites to all their prospects, and statistically they will get work. I personally discovered one agency that designed a website template programmed to increase additional billings and work. They created internal coding on the website that overrides automatic search engine optimization (SEO) from working so they could bill for SEO work separately after the website build. I had the uncomfortable task of informing the client of my discovery and the cost of re-coding the website.

Green Light: An agency that produces documented reporting that shows your website needs SEO work and provides a market share report that demonstrates a deficiency in your website visitors compared to your competitors visitors is an indicator they have the expertise and have done research to support the suggestion. Reporting that clearly shows the deficiencies that need correction is a good sign.

Red Light: When the agency relies only on the visual appearance of the website, or wants to produce a website that is photography based with no supporting analysis of your site. Websites that serve as a photo album with little or no written content will not increase new visitors from Google searches.

Hint: You can check your website’s SEO score for free on many websites. This one scores on a scale of 100: https://www.seobility.net/en/seocheck/. This is the perfect tool to utilize to double check agency website work for integrity. This tool (or a similar third party) should also serve as a deliverable to achieve prior to final payment for website work.

Hint: If you are rebuilding your website, insist on an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant website. This ensures disabled visitors can access all the information. Websites are legally required to be ADA compliant; additionally, ADA-compliant websites are more SEO friendly, as the requirements of ADA and SEO overlap. Following is a link to a free ADA website checker: https://wave.webaim.org/

Reason #2: Owners Believe Digital Marketing is a Finite Process

Digital marketing is an ongoing process of pivoting with the additions of experiences on social media. Instagram Live video feeds and Facebook Business Suite are a few of the latest 2021 additions. Additionally, building traffic to a website is an ongoing process of deliberate growth dictated by Google, Bing and others. All of these show your content based on algorithmic updates that change how they choose, and who to show, your content. To add to the complexity, your competitors are actively adding content to drive visitors in tandem.

I demonstrate this to clients by showing them their market share of the products they offer, as it is an effective benchmark. For example, the search terms “cabinet hardware” and “kitchen cabinet hardware” total 124,000 per month. If your website generates 4,000 monthly visitors, you have 3% of the total market. By showing this data in numerical form, it speaks a language most owners can understand and they can then develop a budget. After a website is built, there is work to be done on the SEO side, digital advertising, or both, to drive people to it.

Red Light: Business owners who think a website just needs to exist to increase visitors, or they sporadically post on social media with no brand campaign.

Green Light: Professionals who have market share reports to determine the growth potential and the credentials to grow, and will supply references for website SEO initiatives. Social media posting plans that encapsulate more than one post type, ie: Stories, videos AND Feed posts.

Hint: Consistent Blog Posting is the perfect vehicle to connect with your customers and provide new content that search engines want.

Reason #3: The Marketing is Lacking

Targeting the correct audience is easier than ever with the amount of demographic and geographic data that every digital platform collects. When advertising on Google, Bing or social media, the success is in the details. If you are spending on digital advertising, you need to be guided by the reporting that shows the success rate by your audience demographics and geographical location. If your phone is not ringing, dig deeper into who exactly is being targeted to view the ads and adjust it accordingly.

Hint: Request reporting that shows the detail of the audience, the platforms the ads were shown on and the geographic locations.

A consistent brand identity provides consumers with the confidence of knowing the caliber of your products and the service associated with it. Does your social media brand mirror your website and printed collaterals? Does the customer experience stand up to the message? Are your employees educated on your brand identity? Having a solid, well-defined brand identity that clearly demonstrates your unique value is crucial. It ensures the customers are receiving the brand experience they expect.

Hint: Train your employees to ask customers qualifying questions. How did you find us? How was your first experience with us? How can we improve?

Savvy business owners view marketing as an extension of their business, and managing it with loyal partners and a staff that is accountable is a pathway to success. Trust your gut if there is any hesitation on your part and educate yourself with the help of third-party consulting when needed. Digital marketing is complex and is a powerful tool to grow your business, and make your phone ring.

Denise Grothouse has an extensive background in international business, branding and marketing. She specializes in digital and social platforms and integrating them with traditional marketing and branding strategies. No stranger to the kitchen and bath industry, she is best known for her work as chief brand officer of Grothouse, Inc., and is the current president of the marketing firm Perfect Six.

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Ferguson Donation Aimed at Children’s Mental Health

NEWPORT NEWS, VA — Ferguson LLC, the Newport News, VA-based distributor of plumbing and related building products, has donated $2.5 million to a local pediatric hospital whose efforts will be aimed largely at children’s mental health, the company announced.

Ferguson’s donation, proffered to the Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters’ Lighting the Way campaign, will assist in the construction of a 14-story, $224 million mental-health hospital and outpatient center for children. The facility is scheduled to open in 2022, with 60 private patient rooms and space for programs that address gaps in mental health care in the region, Ferguson officials said.

“One in five children in the U.S. has a diagnosable, treatable mental-health condition, and yet the majority go without either diagnosis or treatment,” said Kevin Murphy, Ferguson CEO. “The need is only trending up, as we are just starting to see the impacts of the pandemic on the social and emotional health of children.

“The children’s mental health crisis has deep and lasting impacts in every facet of our community,” Murphy said. “Ferguson is extremely proud to be part of this endeavor.”

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Nicholas Vanderhovel

An innovator not only because of his designs but in what it means to be a professional designer and how that translates into a design experience for clients, Nicholas Vanderhovel is one of the youngest designers in the country to have achieved his Certified Master Kitchen and Bath Designer from the NKBA. Vanderhovel, CMKBD, CAPS, CLIPP, the owner and designer of Kitchen NV, in Pinckney, MI, achieved the certification at age 32 and is said to be one of only a handful of people in Michigan with the title.

The designer is a purist when it comes to function and aesthetics and curating a space. He has worked on every side of design – from installation to drawing to material selection – in order to anticipate client needs and educate them.

Vanderhovel believes that luxury doesn’t have to be unobtainable. Rather, luxury has to do with how a person is treated and whether that person’s needs are met. He always wants a client to leave with that feeling, and that is what has led him on his quest for knowledge, reaching out to other leaders in the industry to learn more, and working with manufacturers to improve processes and products. He is dedicated to mentoring others, as well.

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