The HGTV effect

Celebrity culture and social media drive consumers’ design thinking

A wife, a husband and a contractor walk into a bar — no, make that a retail flooring store. The start of a joke? No, but it’s the inevitable start of a design process, as each brings a set of creative ideas about the next home renovation project.

Where do these design ideas come from? In our information age of sharing (and oversharing) there are many sources, including old-fashioned television programs such as those found on the HGTV channel.

Jeff Card, product manager at Patti-Lynn Interiors in Stouffville, Ont., says his contractors face the “HGTV effect” periodically. “Sometimes customers have unrealistic timelines and expectations. With HGTV, at the end of the episode the whole thing is done (in under a half hour).”

Jeannette Martin agrees with Card about the time-compression expectations. Martin is owner, MYBC Consulting of Abbotsford, B.C., and former social media and marketing coordinator at Surrey, B.C.-based British Columbia Floor Covering Association.

“The biggest thing with the advent of HGTV and all of those lifestyle programs is the sense of reality not being true,” says Martin. “Or what you are seeing is not reality. There are still consumers who believe that 1,000 square feet of floor looks like it can be installed in three days.

“They are not doing the consumer any favours on those shows by not being truthful about expectations.”

Consumers watching renovation shows on TV often make false equivalencies, according to Martin. “You could have been watching a 37-storey high rise being remodeled and you live in a 100-year-old wood frame home. Your house is your house and that project is that project.

“To bring some of what you ‘learned’ while you watched that show in your house it doesn’t transfer.”

Cheryl Doak, owner of Floors In Motion based in Whitby, Ont., doesn’t get customers referring to HGTV as their source of inspiration but rather social media sites such as Pinterest, the searchable image-sharing platform or even print photos. “My customers seem to always show me Pinterest pictures and a most recent customer just had some magazine.”

Social media followers also look to Instagram, Houzz, Facebook and YouTube, the latter especially for “how-to” installation videos. Before Doak started her own business over five years ago, she worked at End of the Roll where many DIY hopefuls came through the door after watching YouTube videos.

“But it’s not professionally done when it’s finished,” she says. Even today, with her mobile shop-at-home business where a Floors In Motion van comes to the customer’s doorstep, the DIY temptation is still in evidence. “I see what people do. They say, ‘I did this myself and I’m so proud.’ I think ‘oh my God’ — but don’t say that out loud.”

There is often a cascading effect that consumers go through when they are searching for design ideas, according to Martin. She says it often starts with Instagram. “In those first quick hits what is possible in design then goes deeper into someone’s website in order to sort through the instructional videos — if they are going to be the DIY person.”

Martin finds that a lot of people are going to YouTube because they are able to search with a question. “For example, ‘how do I use chalk paint to do my kitchen cabinets or can I install hardwood floor myself?’’ she says.

Without even having cable TV anymore, Martin relies on the internet. “With my internet I’m able to dial right into that person’s personal YouTube channel to get my ideas,” she says. “Then go to social media, specifically Facebook.”

Each social media platform has its particular role to play as consumers comb the internet. “Pinterest pulls together your overall lifestyle that you want to have,” says Martin. “Then when you want to pull ideas together for your home project people go over on to Houzz. Instagram is for those click in the moment inspirations, almost like a Yellow Pages directory kind of thing.

“A visual Yellow Pages where I type into the search engine like ‘Annie Sloan Chalk Paint’ because I’ve heard so much about it and then I get those quick visual hits to understand what the product is about. Or I have heard about clay construction and I type that into the search engine to see what that is about. It helps those people that are visual-based in learning.”

Martin acknowledges that the internet and television landscape has changed drastically in a short period of time. “When I started in the industry 12 or 14 years ago, Houzz was the key player. Now the ’net has been spread so far and it is so diversified as to how the consumer now goes and shops for their home decor or home DIY projects or their builder.”

But is a little knowledge a dangerous thing for flooring professionals when confronted by consumer expectations? Card thinks it can be for his contractors and installers. “Before the guys get to the project site, the customers are asking, ‘are you going to do this because I saw it on a video?’. They educate themselves a little bit on YouTube or social media on how things should be done. Then they tell us how they would like it done because they saw it done that way on a TV show.”

The unrealistic expectations absorbed by homeowners from TV shows goes back a long time, according to Card. “Look at Bob Vila or This Old House (on PBS). Basically, that was the same idea, except they would film a renovation over five or more episodes.”

Card points out that now filming is presented at a quicker pace with faster editing cuts and even “a little more musical. In the really fake shows, there is usually a conflict. They have to have a conflict!”

Patti-Lynn Interiors has participated a few of those shows, so Card speaks from direct experience. “There always has to be a ‘Oh no, it’s the wrong floor,’ just to create a little bit of drama,” says Card. Another trope on the shows is having the “celebrity builder” save the day. “We did a kitchen reno awhile back for a celebrity builder guy. So, the guys did the floor and of course on the last row he swoops in and he clicks the last row of cork down and shows how it’s done — like he did the whole floor!”

While Card admits that some of them were fun to participate in, they didn’t bring more people in the store. “I don’t think we have seen a lot of return on investment for our own time being on one of those shows.”

Doak, Card and Martin all recognize that social media has created a new generation of celebrities that exploit platforms such as Instagram and YouTube, often with TV renovation stars expanding their profiles by crossing over to internet platforms. These celebrities have become the so-called “influencers” on domestic tastes — but beware of authenticity as sponsors challenge their independence. “If you are in the trades at all,” says Card, “your Instagram feed will have all of these tile guys and woodworking guys. There is one guy in Ajax (Ont.) and he had some ridiculous number of followers as a ‘tool expert.’ Literally that is his full-time job now. He was a contractor and his full-time job now is reviewing tools.

“He doesn’t live far from us at all. My brother bumped into him at a tool shop and recognized him from Instagram. He said, ‘Yeah, I don’t even build stuff anymore. I am just one of these Instagram influencers and I get paid this way by showing up and doing meet and greets and that kind of thing.’”

However, Card can see that shows on the business definitely inspire people to do things, but where they are watching has evolved. “A lot of people do not want to sit down and watch a half hour show. They watch little snippets, those little two- or three-minute YouTube or Instagram videos. That is how they get their ideas because everybody has the attention span of a fruit fly now.”

Doak and Martin also agree that design ideas from social media are having a huge influence on homeowners and that the phenomenon is mostly positive. Martin is currently transitioning her consulting business focus to assist a new set of clients with their marketing and social media needs.

For Doak, she notes that while residential customers may “already have what style they want from the pictures that they’ve seen. But for the product knowledge, they still need us.”

There is also a trust issue that comes up with clients that have searched the internet, Doak adds. “The negative is that they think they are more educated than we are. If the husband is involved sometimes, he is like the know-it-all because he is the Googler and he knows about the pricing. He is the one who is non-trusting.”

And now, the punchline: “The women are all about design and they want what they want. So, I like them.”

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