Remodeling budgets are smaller. You know it, and your clients know it, but no one wants the neighbors to know it. Stretching project dollars means choosing the right products — those with the best look for the best value.

In the countertop market, improvements in laminate imaging techniques and fabrication point to manufacturers’ efforts to offer high style at lower prices. Cast concrete or concrete tiles and slabs are other options. And now one manufacturer of high-end wood countertops, J. Aaron, is making a move. Over the past year, the company has introduced a new construction style and a DIY option, each of which can reduce customers’ costs by 40% or more.

Dropping the Price Point

“Price has been a dictator for the whole market,” says company president Joshua Johnson. “We’ve been working on modifying our products and thinking outside the box with this new economy.”

Recognizing the amount of DIY interest among home­owners, Johnson determined that a finish-it-yourself wood countertop might attract interest. The DIY option uses the company’s same species selection and fabrication techniques, but the countertop is shipped before sanding and staining. “The price point goes down from $100 per square foot to just $30 per square foot for walnut, which is our top seller,” he says. Customers can order the countertops direct, rather than through a showroom.

Alternatively, homeowners who aren’t prepared to test their sanding skills can opt for J. Aaron’s new countertop construction technique using 3/4-inch-thick tops finished with breadboard ends, plus thick ledges for a bulkier look. “The tops are beautiful, and the end result looks identical to a solid 2- or 3-inch-thick countertop,” Johnson says. “You’re getting that wonderful look for about 40% less.”

Johnson says that the breadboard construction has gotten a great response from customers over the last year. The DIY product launched in fall 2011, and he’s looking forward to feedback from those customers as well. Johnson says he intends to post sanding and staining technique videos on the J. Aaron website to help guide customers.

—Lauren Hunter, associate editor, REMODELING.