KBB Collective | The Designers' Corner

Archive for September, 2013

Sep 27 2013

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While learning about the industry can be quite useful, it can also be quite filling

I recently attended a media event at the Wolf/Sub-Zero headquarters in Madison, Wis., and I have to say, I think I came back five pounds heavier. I also have to say those five pounds were worth it.

Amidst a variety of my peers – a food blogger and recipe developer, a designer with killer media skills and editors from Dwell and Traditional Home (just to name a few) – I had the opportunity to eat several delicious meals throughout the one-and-a-half-day program, some of them even twice.

The evening before the company’s New Generation appliance unveiling – and yes, we got to actually touch the refrigerators and oven units (see http://www.kbbonline.com/kbb/news-and-features/Wolf-Sub-Zero-Media–4748.shtml) – we were given a tour of the Westye F. Bakke Center, which was named after the founder. The lobby, decorated with elegant Chihuly sculptures and colorful paintings, leads into not just one, but two demonstration kitchens – one with a more traditional design in darker woods and furniture, and the other featuring a brighter, more contemporary look.

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Contempo demo kitchen

After that is the center’s very own old-time pub, complete with leather and marble materials, as well as decorative wood details. The tour ended with a look into the facility’s actual preparation kitchen, which was completely open so we could see our meals come to life in front of our eyes.


Our dinner dining area was a grand space looking out onto the campus – the weather was very mild for my first trip to Madison – and on the other side of the space was a large, open bar and lounge-like seating area. After we all ordered a cocktail, our appetizer course included tuna tartare and various cheeses on the patio. I would have been fine with that, but dinner was still to be served, and I had to save room.

Actual Kitchen

Our entrée choice was either a juicy steak or a trout dish made with bacon crumbs and served in a Riesling butter sauce – and that was after a few rolls and a fresh salad. Some of the women at my table were stuck on which to order, so one of the company executives seated with us suggested they do half and half. If the chefs were dismayed by this idea, you couldn’t tell at all. I ordered the trout, and because I ate ALL of it, I had to forgo the mini desserts of our last course. I could barely move, and I was pretty uncomfortable. As soon as we got back to our hotel, I washed my face and crashed.

Figuring I would never be hungry again, I arrived to the breakfast planning to have coffee (a rare treat for me because I can become very animated) and some cereal. But after viewing the array of delicacies laid out for us, I added potatoes and fruit next to my steaming (big) bowl of oatmeal.

I prayed the next few hours would go by exceptionally slow to give my stomach some time to rest before lunch, where we were told we would be served in not just one, but both of the demo kitchens we had seen the night before. Surprisingly – or not, seeing as how the rest of the day had gone – I was hungry again at noon when we took our break.

Chef demo

Our first chef, who was in charge of the more traditional kitchen, taught us how to make mozzarella, spinach and prosciutto flatbreads – and then served us three of those – not bothering to tell us to save some room for the bison sliders that came next. Dessert was something I can’t even pronounce, but because I had skipped out the night before, I was all in this time.

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I was almost uncomfortably full after the first lunch, so you can just imagine how I felt after being served a salad and pork tenderloin with a vegetable hash at the next lunch in the contemporary kitchen. I believe our chef was a bit disappointed in how quiet we were, but I could hear faint whispers of “food coma” being uttered in our group. Again, I had to forgo the dessert, which was a beautiful apple cider donut. I was seriously sweating.


At the end of a great day, I could still barely move, and although I felt badly that I could not accept a dinner invitation with the remainder of the group that evening, I still ended up having to order a small meal later on after regular dinner hours were over.

Thanks to all of the great chefs at Wolf/Sub-Zero – you are doing an amazing job.

– Chelsie Butler, K+BB Executive Editor

Sep 26 2013

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Are you really saving money? The case for investing in professional services

Coin Dropping Into Piggy Bank

The recent global recession has dramatically changed the world and people’s perception of value and service. In fact, I’d say we have ushered in a new epoch, one that is indeed value conscious. It would be overly simplistic to suggest that the recession alone has caused this way of thinking. Access to information on the Internet has also contributed to this mindset largely because people equate access to doing and implementation, when the twain do not necessarily meet.

The result of this is that consumers feel compelled to negotiate and bargain down products and services, often times to their detriment. In short, just because a vendor is willing to work with a low offer doesn’t mean that it is in the customer’s long-term best interest.

We know for a fact that there was a great erosion of wealth when the capital markets tanked. In the U.S., the subprime residential lending market appears to have led the way, causing rapid loss in equity that led to unprecedented foreclosures and more market uncertainty, etc. People lost financial wealth and confidence in one fell swoop.

Nonetheless, they still need to do certain things, like remodel their homes or move into new office spaces or forge ahead with life by opening new businesses or moving to different states. These changes require the professional services of interior designers, architects and landscape architects, and the many contractors and subcontractors who actually implement the designs.

Here’s the rub: In almost all instances, the costs of running the professional offices have not gone down, nor have the cost of goods or labor for the contractors. What has decreased is income, and what has increased is client expectation.

It’s kind of a perfect storm for things to go wrong, unhappy clients and their design partners, wrought with clients demanding more and vendors trying to appease the requests in order to get the work. Professionals and artists need to practice their craft and stay in business and the clients need the services and products provided; it’s supposed to be a win/win.

The result of this “perfect storm” is the probability that firms are forced against a wall to cut their margins so significantly, that they are just in business to “keep the lights on.”

In the short-term, this can be all right since it forces a firm to look internally for cost savings. However, in the long term, after the cuts have been passed through, senior staff laid off and everyone working longer hours, it leads to loss of job satisfaction and design creativity, mistakes made from excessive hours and less oversight and the need to find other ways to make up the profitability.

In the end, the client pays for these mistakes in cost overruns and change orders or perhaps in design that is not what it could be because the firm simply does not have the extra time needed to find the perfect solution. There is a difference between good design and great design, the latter of which needs to be nurtured and supported.

As a quick reality check, I think it is fair to say that there are some amazing firms that are exceedingly busy right now and still manage to command the fees they need to produce top design and quality implementation.

I would suggest that those clients choose to pay what is required and recognize that a high level of customization and creativity needs to be supported in a proactive and enthusiastic way. However, the majority of firms are suffering and many have gone out of business. Yes, we can all sharpen our pencils. But, at the end of the day, creative talent needs to feel appreciated and one of the ways this is done is by paying what the talent asks for and becoming a preferred client, not just a “keeping the lights on” client.

Lloyd Princeton is a business consultant and motivational speaker devoted to interior design and architecture. Princeton frequently speaks in North America and has lectured internationally. For more, visit www.dmcnyc.com and www.imatchdesigners.com.

Sep 19 2013

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Referral marketing: six steps to building a referral network


Ask kitchen and bath designers what they believe to be their best source of new business and most will probably give you the same answer: referrals.

The only problem with referrals is you never get enough of them, so most designers cannot rely on customer referrals alone to keep their businesses going. What you can do, however, is maximize the number of referrals you get. But that takes a process like the six-step process outlined in this article.

Step 1 – Build a list.

You may already have a list in your head, but you need to write it down. Take some time to identify those people who know you, like you, trust you and would be willing to refer you to potential customers. This would include friends and family, past customers and your professional network. Your professional network would be people you do business with – remodelers, plumbers, electricians, appliance dealers and cabinetmakers. It would also include professionals like your accountant and lawyer.

This is not a list you would buy or rent. Keep it simple. Jot down names, addresses and emails for the people you know, then expand on this list over time.

Step 2 – Plan your outreach.

You need to reach out actively to these people to ask for referrals. You can’t just do it once – you need to reach out on a regular basis. The two best methods for this are email and direct mail. Email is fast, simple, cheap and you can do it frequently without being a pest. Direct mail can be by postcard or short letter. It is more personal than email, but it’s also more time consuming, and you will incur printing and postage costs.

Step 3 – Educate your contacts.

You may be surprised to learn how little people know about your work. Past customers only know what they bought from you. Your professional partners may only know about their interaction with you. But there may be other parts of your business they don’t know. When you ask people for referrals, try to educate them about everything you do, and help them understand the kind of customers you can best serve.

Step 4 – Offer incentives.

When you offer incentives to people in exchange for referrals, you are more likely to get their attention – and more referrals. It’s also true, however, that incentives can bring in some low-quality prospects. To avoid too much dilution of your lead quality, use a two-step incentive. Offer something small (a $5 coffee card) for each referral you receive and a larger gift, such as a gift basket or gift certificate, when the referral becomes a customer.

Step 5- Say thank you. 

Whether or not you use incentives, be sure to say “thank you” for the referral. A handwritten thank you note is ideal. A phone call is good, but make sure you speak directly to the person. Don’t leave a message, and don’t leave this to email. Even if you do not offer incentives before a referral, you might want to send along a small gift as part of your thank you.

Step 6 – Return the favor. 

Your business partners are more likely to refer you if you do it first. Look at your professional network list, and think about what they do and who they serve. Make an effort to think about them when you meet prospective customers. Encourage your customer to use your name when they call your contact.  Plus, there’s nothing wrong with telling your business partner that you sent someone their way.

Bob McCarthy is a direct response marketing consultant and president of McCarthy & King Marketing.  He can be reached at 508-473-8643.  If you visit his website (www.mccarthyandking.com/kitchen-and-bath-marketing), you can download a FREE copy of The Kitchen & Bath Marketing Handbook.

Sep 16 2013

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Showrooming: How to do your best to avoid it

You don’t need to be in the kitchen and bath business very long before this happens. Someone comes to your store, and the business relationship seems to be progressing nicely. You have invested a great deal of time, effort and expertise in the project, and then the sale goes somewhere else.

Obviously, the pie has shrunk in the post-2008 world. There has always been competition – that is nothing new. The problem is a growing number of people who visit our showrooms have no intention of purchasing from us. And if someone has no intention of purchasing from us, there is very little chance – for even the most experienced salesperson or designer – to make a sale.

This growing group of people is part of the phenomenon called “showrooming.” According to dictionary.com, the act of showrooming is to enter a store and view (merchandise) before purchasing it from a competitor, usually online. I know many designers will say, “Not me, I don’t see that as a problem,” but if dictionary writers can see this as a problem, we as an industry need to open our eyes to this situation.

Breaking it down

There are two things I don’t want to do in this article. The first is to trash the Internet and say it is ruining business and the entire world. There is a vast amount of information and design ideas available on the Internet you can use to help in the sales process. Design technology, communication and order accuracy can also be greatly improved by it.

While showrooming cannot be blamed totally on the Internet, none of us can argue that our customers can go online and purchase the same products we sell – fairly easily. Also, our customers can shop at big boxes, discount warehouses and overseas distribution centers. The variety of places in which your customers can shop increases the chances they will showroom a reputable kitchen dealer.

The other thing I don’t want to do is say the only way to not be taken advantage of is by charging a fee for your time or expertise. That is a topic for an entirely different article, but whether or not you choose to charge a design fee, we need to look at our business practices to ensure showrooming does not take away the time our paying customers deserve.

At some point in the sales process, we need to make a proposal that outlines the details of what we are doing and what amount the customer will need to invest with us. For some reason in this industry, customers (perhaps many dealers as well) feel we (designers) need to give away our time and expertise prior to receiving a commitment from the potential customer.

Since we all can agree that the world has changed, perhaps we also should agree there may be some way to improve our sales technique. It would seem logical to assume that since showrooming is increasing, we need to protect the investment of our time and expertise. In addition to showrooming, potential customers are shopping at an increasing number of dealerships before making a purchasing decision. In light of that, we as kitchen and bath remodelers need to find ways to spend our time with paying customers – not the showroomers or professional shoppers.

Potential Solution

I have created a sales system to try to minimize the amount of time I spend with someone before money changes hands. Keep in mind, I do not make this statement to seem aloof or snooty. It is a simple fact: There is a finite amount of time available each day, and I would rather devote that time to my paying customers. With that said, here is a summary of my sales approach:

  • Set an appointment (in the showroom) to meet with the customer to discuss the renovation.
  • Set the appointment length for one hour.
  • While we do suggest the customer bring a photo or drawing of the room, the focus of this meeting is not about the specific room. We talk about their vision of the renovated room, how my company can meet their needs best (perhaps discuss a job they know we did for their friends or neighbors), what sets us apart from the competition (not product) and then start to hone in on a budget comfortable for them.
  • Generate a report showing the scope of the project and the approximate budget.
  • Show designs of previous jobs and explain our design agreement.

At the conclusion of the hour-long meeting, the potential customer knows he/she will need to sign a design agreement and pay our design fee to go any further. This is simply a sound business practice.

Obviously there are many details that go between these bullet points that make each dealer special, and only each dealer knows what those are. Hints I suggest include:

  • Have an accurate system for estimating the job quickly.
  • Have all salespeople/designers do the same thing. It is important for each customer to receive the same service.
  • Commit to a plan (write it down). Don’t waiver because you “need a sale” this week.
  • Focus on what you do differently. Every dealer can show the customer a nice-looking cabinet. Every dealer can say they offer great service. You know your business; talk about what makes you special.
  • Don’t go it alone. I have improved my sales techniques many times based on ideas I learned from others. Check out industry organizations, buying groups, local business organizations, etc. You will find many others with the same questions you have.

Regardless of economic conditions, showrooming is something all brick-and-mortar stores will continue to see more often. We are all in business today, not pre-2008. Change is always happening, and I feel the businesses that handle this change the best will be the ones that not only survive but thrive.

Steven Strauss, AKBD, is president of Direct Kitchen Distributors in Whitehall, Pa. He is also the creator of Spread Sheet Services, a company that designs and maintains spreadsheets for use by kitchen and bath dealers.