The Selection Process

For many kitchen design professionals, the task of specifying appliances can be daunting. After all, there are so many issues to consider: clients with tighter budgets (and not always equally spare tastes); who should be responsible for selecting the appliances; how to best profit from the experience and, of course, finding a product that is not only dynamic, but one that supports the overall look and function of the space.

In order to meet all of these needs, designers and dealers need to stay abreast of the newest appliance products and understand what is involved in specifying those products so that they can complete projects with minimal errors and down time.

Kitchen & Bath Design News recently interviewed a number of industry experts regarding appliance specification, the pitfalls involved and how to avoid them, how to stay educated about available products, and profit issues. Those responding included: Barbara Barton, CMKBD of Barbara Barton & Associates in Highlands Ranch, CO; Mary Jo Camp, CKD, CBD, CID, owner of DesignCamp in Denver, NC; Kim Donahue, director of marketing, Carl Schaedel & Co. in Fairfield, NJ; Brandon Hochhalter, CKD, manager, showroom and design marketing, GE Appliances in Louisville, KY; Juliet Johnson, premium brand experience manager, KitchenAid & Jenn-Air in Benton Harbor, MI; Beth Korwek, dream kitchen consultant, The Fretz Corp. in Columbia, MD, and Jim Raftus, corporate marketing manager for Clarke Luxury Appliance Showrooms in Milford, CT.

Below, KBDN shares their insights into appliance specification.

Specific Roles

When specifying appliances, influence is often shared between the designer, dealer and appliance distributor, those interviewed agree.

Barton: “Specifying the right appliances for a customer’s overall needs is the responsibility of the designer – with the assumption that the designer is the ‘conductor’ of the orchestra in the kitchen, the final coordinator of the client’s wishes working with the builder, remodeler and other professionals. Appliance sales reps either need to appreciate the designer’s point of view or convince appliance manufacturers to have a design/engineer on their customer service team.”

Camp: “The designer who actually develops the space according to the client’s needs has the most influence on the client in his or her choice of appliance. Some appliance dealers don’t have access to all brands, and salespeople often push for what they sell in lieu of what is the best for the client. Kitchen designers aren’t just looking at the appliance package, but at the kitchen as a whole and how those appliances work within the space.”

Raftus: “A qualified kitchen designer has professional credibility, is involved very early in the process and has time to form a rapport with clients. Having said this, a forward-thinking distributorship that provides an outstanding showroom experience with knowledgeable consultants can greatly enhance the selection process for clients.”

Barton: “Design professionals can carry the most influence if they choose to keep up with the technology and have reliable relationships with appliance store personnel and manufacturing reps. I look at it as a collaboration, with all parties learning from one another for the sake of the end user.”

Product Selection

Form, function and performance are undoubtedly the main criteria when specifying appliances. However, to find the perfect item in a sea of available products, communication is paramount.

Donahue: “Effective communication can certainly be a challenge when assessing the performance and function a client really needs, and balancing those needs within the parameters of the project. It is a huge challenge for specifiers to always know what products are available that will answer those performance and functional requirements. We believe it starts with having products consumers need, but we like to have a few products that consumers don’t know they need, too.”

Korwek: “If the designer is not aware of the styling, performance and new advancements of the appliances then, unfortunately, the client will not know the possibilities available to them. Designers should have a relationship with an appliance distributor and an appliance dealer or retailer to help them.”

Donahue: “We work hard to provide displays in dealer, designer, distributor and trade showrooms so that the consumer can experience everything. We want them to turn the knobs, lift the grates and open the doors.”

Hochhalter: “It is important that customers understand all of the options and even test them before making final selections. It takes time, but this can be the difference between a client who is satisfied – or not.”

Donahue: “Designers should also proactively seek out manufacturer, distributor and industry events to better stay abreast of new designs, technology and trends. Likewise, relationships with product representatives can provide a key source of product education and information that can help clients.”

Johnson: “It is very challenging to keep track of the latest materials, supplies and appliances available. While there are many advantages to having such a wide range of choices and possibilities, the flip side is making sure selections are current and available. Maintain contacts at the appliance showroom, and with the manufacturer through the Web site, trade shows and other educational opportunities. I also recommend that designers check with manufacturers to find out if they offer any training or education courses pertaining to their latest products. And, now that Web sites have become a priority for most manufacturers, it’s worth visiting them on a regular basis to help keep current on the newest products or check about changes to specification guides.”

Camp: “The right appliances can make or break the design. Integrating the appliances with the other materials in the kitchen is a major part of the design challenge. This makes the relationship between the designer and the appliance specialist pivotal in the success of the project. Having knowledge of the appliances and encouraging clients to have the expertise and choice of an expert at the appliance dealership is a business practice that speaks to the concern of delivering the best possible design for [our clients].”

Profit Sharing

While appliance specifying can cause its share of headaches, it can also be an area of significant profit.

Donahue: “The ideal solution is that profit is shared by all parties participating in the sale of the products being specified. The dealer specifier and the product wholesaler are the most likely to directly profit from the appliance sale.”

Camp: “If the designer has a relationship with the appliance expert, the expert works with the designer’s client within the parameters set by the designer. Some designers have their clients select the appliances before even starting the design. The appliance expert informs the customer and the designer about the appliances and makes sure the designer has the necessary information for a successful design. They then work together with the client to make any modifications. The appliance expert then sells the appliances, delivers them and takes care of any issues. If the appliance expert wants more referrals, he will keep the designer apprised of new products in the marketplace and treat the designer’s clients like VIPs.”

Barton: “When choosing to gain a profit from specifying, professionals need to be responsible for ordering, delivery and installation, and whoever assumes that responsibility should get most of the profits. Sometimes that’s the designer, sometimes not. But the buck stops at whoever ordered, delivered and installed it. As an independent designer who charges an hourly design fee, the key to my success is specifying the right appliances. Guiding clients through the function, aesthetics, service records of local servicers, budgets, comparables and the design impact is justifying my design expertise.”

Raftus: “Everyone, including the end user, benefits from a system that enhances and ‘codifies’ appliance selection.”

Camp: “Ultimately, if the specifying is done properly, the client wins.”

Donahue: “The best-case scenario is that the clients will have a space that fulfills all of the functional requirements in harmony with the design form that fits their lifestyle.”