GREENFIELD, MA — For some people, design software is just a tool to help them do their jobs better. For Eric Schimelpfenig, AKBD, of Greenfield, MA-based Classic Kitchens, the right 3D design software provided a vision of the future that shaped his entire professional life.
Schimelpfenig began doing kitchen design in high school, getting a job at a woodworking firm that produced high-end kitchens, millwork and furniture. When the firm purchased AutoCAD, he immediately saw the possibilities, and soon the firm upgraded to AutoCAD 3D. He notes that there were “magical revelations” that came from that first project done in 3D.
He explains: “First, the customer ‘got it’ right away. She saw her project, just like it would exist in real life. The meeting was shorter, her confidence was high and we didn’t have to spend hours trying to explain what an elevation would look like in real life.”
Schimelpfenig quickly realized that making the shop drawings in 3D had other advantages, as well. “Because I was able to ‘build’ the project in 3D, I was able to solve many real life problems before they happened. Not only did the drawing come out quicker, the guys building it were much happier.”
From that point on, he was hooked on 3D.
Several years later, Schimelpfenig was employed at Classic Kitchens as a kitchen designer. Going from a full custom woodworking shop to a firm that sold lines of cabinets was a challenge for him, which was even more difficult because he believed that existing 3D software simply didn’t give him the tools he needed to do what he wanted to do.
A self-proclaimed innovation junkie, Schimelpfenig wanted a program that would give him greater creative freedom – ideally without a super high price tag.
Then he discovered a 3D design program created by the Boulder, CO-based @Last and acquired by Google. The program, called SketchUp, was not only free, it allowed for the creation of “live” 3D kitchens where “you can literally walk someone around their kitchen in 3D,” Schimelpfenig says. “This practice sells kitchens so much more easily. It not only helps the designer solve many problems – from the mechanical to the aesthetic – but the client gets it as well.”
With features that allowed for the building of “smart” components and many major companies creating component libraries for SketchUp, Schimelpfenig found himself gaining greater sales and design success by using the program.
And then his excitement about Google SketchUp took him in another direction.
When you love something, you want to tell the world about it. Well, Schimelpfenig loved kitchen design and he loved SketchUp, so it’s no surprise that he was soon sharing his passions via Facebook, Twitter, Blogger, LinkedIn and other social media sites.
As a direct result of this, he began getting jobs around the country training people on SketchUp, and was also hired by KraftMaid to do seminars on social media and classes on using SketchUp in kitchen design. His blog, SketchThis.NET, soon took on a life of its own, and from this, he’s gotten tremendous exposure for his firm, as well as a host of 3D modeling jobs.
He maintains: “Using social media has been the single greatest thing I’ve done for my business.”
As each set of new features came out, he became increasingly excited, as he felt this tool tied perfectly into his business philosophy. “I’m always looking for the next big leap in technology to make our work better and easier. I’m the type of person who isn’t afraid of the words ‘beta’ or ‘in testing’ when it comes to technology. I always want to be ahead of the curve so I can have a strategic advantage over my competitors, and I think this is reflected in our firm’s kitchens and baths as well. We’re always on the search for new products and services that can make our work even better,” he says.
Schimelpfenig’s 3D talents add an extra edge to a firm already known for its diversity. He explains: “We offer a wide range of products so we can capture a wide audience. We sometimes say, ‘We have a designer for every taste and a cabinet for every budget.’ I think this is one of the things that has kept us profitable throughout these tough economic times.”
He continues: “Being a designer here means one day you could be specifying products for a low-grade apartment and the next day you could be working on a multi-million-dollar project. It certainly keeps things exciting!”
To meet the broad mix of projects and budgets, the firm carries a diverse array of products that include Candlelight Cabinetry, Plato, Dynasty, KraftMaid, DeWils, Corian, Silestone, Cambria, Zodiaq, Staron, Hi-Macs, Brizo, Kohler, Delta, Amerock and Schaub, among others.
Schimelpfenig also has an interesting mix of clientele for the 3D modeling that he does, with clients ranging from woodworkers to residential designers, and projects that run the gamut from a simple piece of furniture to visualizing an entire house renovation in 3D.
Offering such a diverse array of services makes creating a cohesive showroom a challenge. And while 3D modeling has its advantages, Schimelpfenig is quick to admit that “having things physically on display is important.” He notes that Classic Kitchens owner Erica Smith has carefully structured the showroom to offer a wide selection of designs and options in order to involve the clients more fully in the design process.
“We rarely have moments when we have to say, ‘use your imagination’ because we don’t have a particular feature on display,” he says.
The firm also markets itself by placing regular news and radio ads, and is now increasing its marketing presence through social networking as well, he adds.
Finally, he concludes, “We developed and host special design seminars where we invite the public in, along with relevant vendors, to educate people on how to begin their kitchen remodel. So far, these have also been wildly successful.”