‘Houzz is much more than beautiful pictures – it’s the 21st century way to design your home’
As more people are doing their research online when looking for a kitchen or bathroom, design platforms such as Houzz UK and Ireland have become indispensable as a source for KBB businesses. Managing director Andrew Small tells Rachel Ogden how a small community grew into the success story of today, why retailers should be part of it and its plans for the future
Managing director Andrew Small wants to make one thing clear. Houzz UK and Ireland is free to use. No catches, no fees – it’s not even freemium. Which is a strange thing in a digital world, where the slickest apps and online offerings seem to focus on premium content, upgrades and packages.
However, it’s a strategy that has worked well for the company so far. A far cry from the modest website founded by a husband-and-wife team to help them renovate their home in 2009, Houzz in the US is the biggest online residential renovation and design community in the world. With 40 million people visiting the site every month, it’s a key player in the $300 billion (£226bn) home design and remodelling market.
Around two years ago, following a realisation that 30% of Houzz’s traffic was from outside the US, the company expanded internationally and Houzz UK and Ireland was born. Created to give a ‘local’ experience, where the businesses that visitors discovered could be in Birmingham in the Midlands or Birmingham, Alabama, the platform has seen rapid uptake from its launch, growing from around 10,000 active design professionals to more than 40,000 today.
It currently covers 60 categories of design professional, with kitchen and bathroom businesses, designers and fitters making up about 10% of the active companies. With more than nine-and-a-half million high-quality images uploaded by its design professionals and more than two million visitors every month, it’s clear that Houzz UK is more than yet another social media platform.
Small joined Houzz UK just over a year ago and has since been a large part of its growth. Yet, with a background in finance and consulting, it’s his first foray into the world of design. However, he’s fluent in what makes Houzz UK such an important platform for KBB businesses.
“In the old world, as it were, it’s a challenge to source new clients, or your clients typically come through word-of-mouth referrals, particularly for smaller businesses. There are limited marketing tools available that are effective and measurable and even collaborating with current clients can be a challenge,” he explains.
“If you’re a kitchen or bathroom design business, and you want to showcase the work that you’ve done, Houzz is an elegant and simple platform to do so. You create a free profile, share your work, engage with the community in discussion threads, where homeowners are seeking advice and use ‘Ideabooks’ to collaborate visually with your client base. It’s about putting your work in front of a very large, engaged audience who are browsing Houzz with real intent.”
As well as creating a profile, Houzz UK offers a host of functionality you might not expect to find for free. “There are great tools, such as Sketch, a collaboration feature, and Site Designer,” says Small. “So if you’re a small business and your website is a bit outdated, or isn’t mobile-responsive, or you don’t yet have a website, you can create a website on Houzz. It takes content directly from your profile and is hosted on Houzz, but it looks like your website and you can choose from a range of different templates and customise it.
“We talk to professionals all the time and they often ask what the catch is, if they’re getting all of this functionality for free. The answer is that the professionals bring so much fantastic content, which creates our community of 40 million visitors, so we want them to share their work. We provide tools that work for them, because that’s the reason homeowners come to Houzz.”
Which brings the conversation round to images of past projects – essentially, what pops up when homeowners search for kitchen companies in Carlisle or bathroom showrooms in Surbiton. Whether for reasons of client privacy or simply a stretched marketing budget, some companies lack photography of their work – is it still worth them being part of Houzz UK? Small believes the answer is a resounding yes. “Even if you don’t yet have a significant visual portfolio, by being on Houzz UK, you’re still participating in the discussion on a topic that you care about. There’s tons of stuff that professionals can be doing, even without having that broad body of work. Just starting to use Houzz as a collaboration tool, to work with clients and to see their Ideabooks and the things that they’re thinking when you’re engaging with them at an early stage in a project, can be really useful,” he asserts.
“That said, we would still recommend that companies invest in photography. When homeowners search, what’s going on is that Houzz is algorithmically serving up images at the top of that photo stream that the community are engaging with. It’s not about whether they are or aren’t good quality or pretty, it’s about whether users on Houzz are commenting on them. However, it’s worth spending a few hundred pounds building even just a small portfolio of images of work when engaging with a very visual platform. We frequently run workshops and events with professionals and that’s a key message that we hope people take from those sessions.”
Of course, it’s not just photography that can elevate your business in search results, but Houzz’s ancillary offering of advertising, which enables you to pay to get an enhanced level of exposure, as Small explains. “Where Houzz has the opportunity to make money is by selectively offering some design businesses the chance to get more exposure in a specific geography and in specific categories,” he says. “So I’d use it, for example, if I was a design business based in west London, and I wanted people in west London to be consistently seeing my work and my profile on Houzz.”
Beyond images, another good reason for KBB businesses to be on Houzz, according to Small, is client feedback. “We have quite a lot of data about what homeowners are saying and doing and what we do know is that the most important criterion when hiring a professional is reviews,” he explains. “You can be a professional with a modest portfolio of images, but you can still have a word-of-mouth referral network of clients that you’ve done great work with and where you didn’t maybe invest in professional photography at the time. Now you can ask those clients via Houzz to submit a review about your business and your services that’ll improve the authority of your professional profile, raise your ranking within our service directory and increase the relevance and authority of the images that you’ve uploaded. It’s not just about having tons and tons of great images – that’s not the goal here. It’s about ensuring that your clients are reviewing the great work that you’ve already done – Houzz is much more than just beautiful pictures.”
While the feel of Houzz UK is clean and easy to use, Small also wants to make it clear that it’s by no means only catering for one section of the market. “We have a very broad homeowner audience, working on all kinds of renovation projects, from the very smallest of spaces to very large budgets and hundreds of thousands of pounds,” he reveals. “To bring that to life, one of the themes that we often see people talking about is small space living solutions, innovative pantry cupboards, narrow hallways and utility rooms with the ability to maximise the space. Those discussion threads are the things that get the most engagement from the community.”
It’s not just watching conversations that informs Houzz UK about what homeowners are up to, but also its surveys and reports – a key resource that helps design professionals understand who the platform’s users are and can be accessed by anyone [http://info.houzz.com/HouzzUKResearch.html].
“What we know from our Houzz & Home data is that of those who are actively renovating, or are planning to in the next 12 months, one-in-10 are looking at an entire home project,” says Small. “The living room and the kitchen are the most popular areas to target, with 27% focused on the latter. The kitchen is the room where people are spending the most money. On average, people on Houzz are spending £18,000 on major renovations on kitchens that were over 150sq ft and on average £9,000 for major renovations on kitchens that were less than 150sq ft. We’ve seen, from the kitchen study that we ran last year, the emergence of the super-kitchen, with people often opening it up to other living areas and outside.”
The same survey also noted that 91% of homeowners are enlisting professional help for their large-scope kitchen project and more than half of homeowners are budgeting up to £25,000 for renovations.
Looking forward to the future, there are some features of Houzz that are yet to make it over to the UK, such as the product marketplace, where it’s possible to buy items that have been tagged in images, generating commercial revenue. For now, Small is more focused on building the community and supporting the design professionals who use the platform in the UK.
“We want to continue creating a great product for the UK market, enabling homeowners to have an end-to-end solution that supports them through the design journey,’ says Small. “We talk about Houzz as being the 21st-century way to design your home, so there’s a large opportunity there, and an equally large opportunity in Europe and Asia and the business is growing quickly in those territories. Our mission is creating the best possible experience for home design – removing the barriers between homeowners and designers, and between professionals and their potential clients. In the UK, it’s still early days, but it will be exciting to see how that continues over the next couple of years.”