There are times when complete conformity is a desirable quality.
A football team’s uniforms should all look the same. If you order a burger in a fast food chain, each one should look pretty much like the one that was made just before and the one that will be made just after. A company manufacturing a commodity item such as a semiconductor will want all units coming off the line to be identical. In all these cases, conformity is a pretty strong indicator of quality and consistency.
In other instances, however, conformity is not desirable. Hotels are a perfect example. There is currently a tremendous amount of clutter in the hotel market. Many properties cannot easily be distinguished from one another in design, look, feel or overall guest experience. Consequently, it is becoming increasingly difficult to market these hotels; a similar situation exists in the condominium market as well. It is not unlike advertising, where so few commercials stand out creatively that most of the messages are lost on and forgotten by the consumer.
How then, can a property cut through the clutter among hotel and condominium offerings? Customization is the answer. Customizing various aspects of the project creates differentiating characteristics and attributes, making the hotel or condominium inherently more desirable to consumers. But that only scratches the surface of the value of customization. The true value of customization is illuminated by the phrase, “Unique Designs Build Equity”: the more distinctive an item, the more intrinsic value it will have on the open market.
But where does the property owner begin? There are several ways a designer or architect can customize a hotel or condominium project, from the carpets and pillows, to the furniture, even to the artwork on the walls. It is important to customize the areas that will have the most significant impact on the guest experience. Not surprisingly, the bathroom has a large impact on this experience; in fact, when rating the aspects that contribute to memorable hotel stay, guests consistently rate the bathroom and shower experience among the top spots.
One might question whether customization presents any downsides-specifically, does customization in a hotel that is part of a chain dilute that hotel’s continuity with the company’s brand? The answer is no-bathroom customization is usually effected within what is known as the “subset” of design. Most hotel chains have a general motif for the major parts of the hotel-the lobby, the pool, even the bathroom. Custom fixtures will not change the overall design of the bathroom, but rather will blend in or enhance the look without detracting from the chain’s visual branding.
In a boutique hotel, there is no such concern; the owner would theoretically be free to incorporate any design that pleases his or her sense of aesthetics. A chain hotel, however, might be looking for customized fixtures that involve a tweak here and there of the existing standard: enough to stand out, but nothing so different that it would be unrecognizable as part of the larger brand. And this move to customization has even been embraced by lower-end hotel chains trying to create a higher-end guest experience.
Few Suitable SolutionsUntil recently, there were few suitable options available to architects and designers who wanted to bring a unique touch to a property. Total customization of a bathroom could be achieved, but only with a tremendous price tag. Trying to customize through a static catalog was an exercise in futility: not only was the designer relegated to choosing from stock faucets, shower heads, and other accessories available to everyone else, the designs themselves were already outdated. No matter how “current” a catalog is, its lifecycle is already about 18 months old, as that is how long it takes to develop a product from scratch. Thus, what a designer sees in a catalog is a reflection of styles already one-and-a-half years old.
A solution to this problem has arrived in the form of the Signature Design Studio (SDS) from Symmons Industries, a premier manufacturer of commercial and residential plumbing products. The program’s mission is to create custom-designed and custom-manufactured bathroom fittings for luxury hotels, resorts, destination locations, and condominiums. It offers designers and architects the best of both worlds-uniquely designed bathroom fixtures without designer pricing. Ultimately, this revolutionary design process is targeted at the two primary objections to customized design: “I don’t have time to do design” (designers) and “I don’t have money to do custom design” (owners).
SDS’s approach to customization is, in itself, customized. For most designers, the approach is to create products that reflect the styles and trends of the day. SDS’s approach is different, giving the customer a look created just for them, regardless of current styles. This not only ensures a more unique look, but one that is timeless, that will not become outdated when the fickle winds of style blow in a different direction.
SDS has the uncommon ability to create unique designs at reasonable costs thanks to several factors. To begin with, Symmons’design process is quick and efficient. Specialized software allows Symmons designers to turn an initial concept into a 3-D prototype in as little as four days. What’s more, designers who are registered with the SDS Web site can log in and gain access to “sampling” items, since the program is based on open source coding. As a result, designers can take any faucet off the site and ask to see it with modifications, giving SDS a starting point that will reduce the overall design time and lower the associated design costs.
Proof of SDS’s rapid turnaround on design concepts can be found in its work for AGM Architects. SDS designers requested that one of AGM’s interior designers send the studio a sampling of a concept for a new shower system. Symmons received a fax of a rectangular shape with a circular massage head up top and a handle bent around it to resemble a “smiley face.”
The designer subsequently called to inform SDS that a prototype of that concept would be unnecessary, since it was relatively complicated and would probably take too long to produce. Yet SDS representatives were able to walk into the next meeting with a detailed sample; in fact, the representatives displayed the full progression, from the designer’s initial sketch to the digital file to the prototype, much to the surprise of those in attendance.
While Symmons’ venture into the customization world has generated obvious benefits, it has not been without considerable cost. The company invested over one million dollars in machinery and software; the machine that turns a drawing into a 3-D model costs about $160,000 by itself. Still, the capabilities that Symmons has acquired are well worth the cost.
While these services are of obvious benefit to hotel and condominium owners-who gain a property with greater aesthetic appeal and higher equity-the architect and designer can find significant value as well. Most architects and designers have, to varying degrees, contentious relationships with property owners. They are under tremendous pressure to deliver a unique product and to do it in a sometimes unreasonable time frame-and with an equally unreasonable budget. Services like Symmons’ SDS provide a resource that allows architects and designers to bring affordable creativity to the table and meet all of the owner’s objectives in the process.
In summary, today’s hotel and condominium market is all about separating and distinguishing a property from the plethora of offerings that are competing with it. For example, say there are three or four condominiums up for sale. All four have spectacular ocean views, pools, gorgeous lobbies, and comfortable lounges and bars. Now let’s say that in one, the bathroom fixtures are Kohler, in the next they’re Dornbracht and in the next they’re Kohler again. But the fourth one features one-of-a-kind, luxurious custom-designed bathroom fixtures. Assuming that everything else is the same, which one would you buy?
Customized bathroom fixtures don’t define properties. But they do enhance them. And in the process, they help turn conformity into equity.
Start-to-Finish Fittings... in 16 WeeksEarly in Sept. 2007, Symmons Industries announced the launch of Design Studio Live, a user-friendly Web-based tool that makes it possible for designers, architects and property owners to participate in the Company’s Signature Design Studio experience without having to leave their desks.
Signature Design Studio and Design Studio Live challenge the designer to create a unique idea, resulting in an exclusive fitting for their newest project. Using this innovative new tool, customers can receive 3-D models of their design within four days, metal prototypes in 15 days, and delivered product for the property in 16 weeks. Design Studio Live is available at www.symmons.com/live.
With Design Studio Live, designers, architects and property owners are able to participate in the customization process during any time of the day and from any location. After creating an online account, users can browse through existing design templates or begin a completely fresh design using Google SketchUp software. Selected project files can be organized and easily managed using the tool’s Product Lightbox.
Customers also can build a library of ideas and projects, which can be catalogued to provide an open-source sharing of ideas among members of the design community. Symmons personnel are always on-hand to provide assistance during the design process, and a special training section offers SketchUp and faucet design tutorials, which are available both online and in downloadable PDF formats.
Once the design sketch is uploaded onto Design Studio Live, Symmons delivers a 3-D model to the customer in four days or less. With complete flexibility, the customer may experiment as much as they want, and can utilize Design Studio Live to manage and track the progress of their project. The customer can suggest changes for Symmons to incorporate into a prototype, through which the design can be analyzed and tweaked further as many times as necessary.
There is no charge for design time or prototype tooling, and no obligation to buy the product after participating in Signature Design Studio. The result is unique, custom-designed and quality-manufactured fittings that create an individual style in as little as 16 weeks.
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