K+BB Collective | The Designers' Corner

Nick Ritota

Nick Ritota

Nick Ritota, CKD, CBD is director of sales and marketing for CompanionCabinet Software, LLC. and has been in the industry as a remodeler, designer, manufacturer’s rep, trainer and product manager for over 30 years. Ritota has brought several products to life, including two processes with patents pending, in his work for a tier-one cabinet manufacturer and has also written for industry publications. The Dealers Voice blog at www.thinkcompanion.com continues to be an industry resource for the dealers and designers nationwide.

Jun 12 2012

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What Is Your Brand?

We are an industry of brands in the K+B business. We represent cabinet brands, countertop brands, appliance brands, hardware and plumbing brands…oh well, you get it. But the most important brand in this conversation is your brand.

The pure definition of “brand” comes from the burning of a mark onto a product. Think cattle for a visual. So, the question remains, how do you burn your brand into the minds of your target consumers?

Hot Irons Not So Practical Today
We have to be a bit more subtle today than in the days of the Ponderosa. And we don’t have a budget for yesterday’s flurry of traditional media which required hundreds of impressions to move the needle.

Today’s shopper is savvier and educates themselves early in the shopping process in what is called the Greenhouse shopping phase. It’s here that you establish yourself as the brand in the consumers mind. What you stand for must be represented in the personality that identifies your brand when a consumer is defining their project.

Brand Management
The first step in brand management is definition. Your special and unique characteristics that relate to your target buyer give your brand a personality. If executed properly, your brand personality helps you justify a price difference in the market. Think Starbucks for a great example: You can get coffee cheaper almost anywhere, yet people line up to pay a premium.

Once defined, your brand must be reflected in your whole organization in the form of a brand promise. Each and every individual who represents the brand needs to be dialed into the personality. This is often intermingled with your workplace culture; if someone doesn’t fit your culture, they sure as heck won’t be able to represent your brand, right?

Remove the Brand Mess
Your product brands should be the least of your focus. Let the manufacturers spend silly money on awareness of their products while you focus on building a brand that assembles those products into a kitchen. After all, the risk of the sale is all yours.

Define your brand and cultivate it in the Greenhouse. Nurture it and soon it will grow to represent your value add to the sale. Who knows, you could be the Starbucks of the K+B industry!

—Nick Ritota

Apr 16 2012

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Why we buy kitchens

Paco Underhill wrote an excellent book titled Why We Buy. It deals with motivations for purchases for a range of products. It is touted as the science of purchasing, since Mr. Underhill uses many methods to collect data, including filming consumers during the buying process.

Related studies have shown an emergence of neuro-marketing where researches are able to measure a neurological response to a product or brand. Here, there is no interpretation, since actual brain waves are measured in response to stimuli.

While we can’t place our clients into CAT scans (yet), the fact remains that unlocking the motivation for the purchase is the key to the sale. Here again, the design is a means to the end: certainly not unimportant, but mostly meaningless if we haven’t yet uncovered why they are buying.

If someone is shopping for a car and mentions safety as being important, the salesperson should show their safest model or emphasize the safety traits of the model of interest. The same remains for a kitchen purchase.

I once had a client who I was interviewing for a kitchen remodel (notice, I said interviewing). During the discussion, he asked if he could make a quick call. He ended up calling his brother and asked him how big his kitchen was (can you say kitchen envy?). The keys to the kingdom were in front of me.

Now, most clients are not quite so obvious. We know that many who shop for a kitchen may do little actual cooking. We can cut to that answer by asking what sort of cooking do they like to do: baking, family meals, entertainment, etc. And the key follow-up question: How many cooks will use this space?

If we find that they really don’t like to cook, we need to probe deeper. They could swing on the pendulum from “I really don’t care since I’m just trying to unload this house” to “I want to keep up with the Joneses.”  Of course, we would prefer the latter.

And when all was said and done, we would provide them with a design that gives them health, safety and welfare that they deserve in their final product. All the while without having to put them into a CAT scan.

—Nick Ritota

Mar 30 2012

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Why sales has a bad rap in the k & b business

Editor’s note: We’ve added a new blogger, Nick Ritota, CKD, CBD, who is director of sales & marketing for CompanionCabinet Software, LLC. Ritota will be sharing his insight on cabinet sales and other issues related to the business of kitchens and baths. Here’s his first post:

Ask most kitchen designers to describe salespeople and you’re likely to get responses such as overbearing, used car salesman or even pond scum. We tend to think that the science of selling is far separated from the art of design; I beg to differ.
We all need to sell to have successful careers in this industry. While there was a time when design was king (let’s call that pre-2008 when they were beating the door down to get in), it was a mistake then to view the world that way. Think about it, if we were effective salespeople back then, we would have closed even more when times were good. We simply lost the ones we couldn’t manage due to the volume of qualified buyers.

Some shops solve the problem by having experienced salespeople up front and relegating design to the back room. While the salesperson may not know everything about design, they do know enough to package a sale for the consumer. And if you have a qualified drafter in the back (think visor, elastic around the cuffs and quill pen), you can correct the design before any error gets sold.

Now, I don’t know about you, but that pretty much reduces a designer to a commodity. And in this world, commodities are easily found and relatively low in value in the overall scheme of things.

So what do we have to change to succeed in the new world order? You guessed it, we need to learn how to qualify and close: two foundations of selling. Had we been thinking about the sales process back when the market was good, we would not have experienced the fall-off we have today. We would be taking share from those who didn’t know how to sell.

What we have to do differently:

Qualify prospects. Knowing when the customer intends to pull the trigger, what their budget may be and how many places they have already shopped for the remodel flushes out most tire kickers.
Actively listen and sell to the why. If a customer is trying to upgrade just to sell their home, it is a much different sale from someone who is staying put and wants a chef’s kitchen.
• Get into the home. The first one that gets into the home usually has the best opportunity to close.
Avoid version hell. Your presentation should include a good, better, best approach based on your active listening; less versions means more opportunity to sell
Quantify the project. Present your three plans and ask where you missed
Qualify the desire to buy. Ask, “If I understood your needs correctly and brought back this plan with your changes, do you feel as though you would buy from me?”
Close the deal. Ask for the sale…too often we think that any pressure to close makes us bad people; it is absolutely what you need to do to sell your project!

Finally, consumers aren’t interested in the minutia of the sale. Showing features, functions and benefits and racks of door styles confuses the buyer; and a confused buyer never buys. If you are listening to the consumer, you should be able to put recommendations together and advise them on what would work. Here is where your design expertise should be front and center.
Selling involves a pre-calculated, repeatable, systematic approach that leads to a predictable percentage of closing rates for you and your business.