TUCSON, AZ — How does a small design firm – one that didn’t start out focused on the kitchen and bath segment – manage to not only survive during an historic economic downturn, but become a fixture in national kitchen and bath design competitions?
Lori Carroll, professional ASID/IIDA, NKBA member and principal of Lori Carroll & Associates based here, has the answer.
With a creative marketing approach and unique design portfolio, Carroll has carved out a unique niche for herself.
Carroll’s firm focuses on high-end residential projects, with most of her projects centered on custom homes ranging from 5,000 to 15,000 square feet.
“When working, I like to create a strong alliance between designer, architect, contractor and the homeowner,” she offers. “I believe that’s been the key to my success.”
She notes that almost all of her business comes from referrals – either from architects, contractors or past clients. “Working closely and being loyal to the same gifted architects and builders has definitely given me an advantage,” she stresses.
While she acknowledges that kitchens and bathrooms were not necessarily her intended specialty, “my goal has always been to build a reputation around innovation, unique product selection and customer service. Those objectives hold true today,” she stresses.
The result of her dedication is that Carroll’s company has become a regular in the annual NKBA Design Competition, having earned the Best Overall Bath/Powder Room award in 2009; first place in the Powder Rooms category in 2008, and the Best Overall Design in the 2006 contest.
One of the keys to Carroll’s success sprouted from one of the most challenging times in the industry.
“During the recent economic downturn, I continued to market and advertise,” she stresses.
Making sure her name stayed out there became extremely important to Carroll. “I insisted on maintaining an advertising and marketing budget even during the worst part of the recession,” she states. “It was also a way to support my local economy which, in turn opened doors for me elsewhere.”
With a much smaller advertising budget, however, her staff had to get creative and search for ways to be seen. Specifically, the staff assumed much of the marketing responsibilities in-house, providing professional-level photography as well as creating ad copy and graphic design.
“Through nurturing business relationships with different trade magazines, we were able to offer our own materials,” she reports. Now, Carroll’s firm is being featured in local, national and international publications – including periodicals from Mexico, The Netherlands and Egypt – at little or no cost.
She believes that design competitions are a great marketing tool. “I’ve been involved with many fantastic projects, photographing and submitting them for design awards,” she comments. “Winning has been a bonus!”
The firm also recently hosted an event that was sponsored by Phoenix Home and Garden and featured several of her vendors sharing their expertise during an exclusive after-hours event.
Carroll is known for creating very distinctive kitchen and bath designs, which she does mainly through a personalized design process.
“After an initial consultation with a potential client, I schedule a tour of local showrooms where everyone can get a hands-on preview of what is available in the market,” she explains. “Through this process, I can spend quality one-on-one time with the clients and learn more about them, and then come up with a design proposal created especially for their life.”
Also crucial to the process, Carroll says, is conducting regular meetings with the architect, builder and homeowner to ensure that nothing is left to chance.
“One area of expertise for us is assisting busy clients, many of whom are part-time residents or don’t have the time to oversee their own projects,” she says. “These clients want an established designer who has a proven relationship with other industry professionals and who can work independently.”
She adds: “It can be very challenging, because Tucson is a small community where many of my clients live in close proximity to one other. So, I need to come up with distinct ideas, assuring that each project is unique.
Occasionally I will specify a product or material more than once – as long as I can come up with a concept that is totally different from the neighbors.”
She notes that luminous natural agate, backlit, is one of the things she’s used more than once. “In a powder room project, the floating vanity – which was handcrafted from agate slab – became a stunning focal point,” she notes. “In a larger bathroom I recently designed, a deeper colored agate became the perfect edge detail for rich, leather wrapped cabinetry.”
She states: “Kitchens and bathrooms are such personal spaces, so highlighting the home’s architecture, providing quality products and taking into account the client’s individual character are the most important factors.”
Carroll prefers using high-end product brands as long as they align with the client’s sensibilities.
“In high-end custom home design, I sometimes have to look outside my comfort zone to find items that will be perfect,” she explains.
“I often choose fixtures from Kohler, Grohe, Sonoma Forge, Elkay, Toto, Ginger and Franke,” she comments. “I also use locally handcrafted custom cabinetry, and a lot of natural stone for countertops, flooring, walls and accents.” For appliances, she gravitates toward Viking, Wolf, Thermador and Bosch.
Carroll has several different suppliers, which helps her choose just the right product for each client.
“In my kitchen and bath portfolio, you’ll see everything from wooden wall tiles, leather wrapped cabinets and riveted sheet metal in bathrooms to hand-made glass tiles, polished concrete and zebra wood veneer in kitchens,” she says.
Carroll’s studio also offers custom architectural details, specially made furnishings, commissioned artwork and other made-to-order details that personalize any kitchen or bath.