Firm Succeeds with Made-to-Order Business Plan

CHEVY CHASE, MD — At Jennifer Gilmer Kitchen & Bath, Ltd., success stems not so much from the belief that the customer is always right, but rather that the customer deserves what is right.

Gilmer, CKD and owner of the firm, based here, explains: “Listening to the clients and collaborating with them or any associated professionals is key, as is acknowledging their ideas while showing them other ideas. The more you pay attention to the details, the better the design and the process will work. Therefore, our design philosophy is simply to focus on great design. Do that, and the sales will follow.”

It is Gilmer’s ability to turn these beliefs into stunning designs that led her to be named the “Pinnacle of Design” award winner for 2009 National Kitchen & Bath Association’s Design Competition.

It has also led to her newest venture, KitchenDesignOnLine, an online service created to bring great design to the masses.

In business for 12 years, Gilmer caters to homeowners with upper-bracket incomes while specializing in kitchen and bath remodeling projects.

She is aided by a staff of 13, which includes three CKDs and two CBDs, two of whom are also ASIDs.

Service by Design

Perhaps the most exciting addition to Gilmer’s core services, KitchenDesignOnLine is an online design studio specializing in kitchen planning and drawings.

She explains: “This service allows clients to get great design and to be able to buy cabinets through discount places or places like DirectBuy. It’s a great tool for builders who have direct accounts with cabinet manufacturers or millwork shops. Now they don’t have to hire a designer to fulfill this role.

“We started this in an effort to bring great design to the masses. Finding capable designers at discount cabinet stores or ‘Big Box’ stores can be a challenge.”

Gilmer continues: “For the last couple of years, I have had numerous clients come into my showroom who wanted a professional kitchen design so that they could get quotes from different cabinet suppliers. They found it is difficult to get prices without a design and found that kitchen design is often too detailed for a do-it-yourself project. With plans from KitchenDesignOnLine, people can get a custom kitchen design for less than $1,000 and then have the choice to buy products locally.”

Gilmer adds that KitchenDesignOnLine helps the homeowner, builder or architect achieve the best design by providing a full range of services, from floor plans and detailed elevations to 3D perspective images, electrical plans and interior design recommendations.

“[Design professionals] can keep control of the project by using our service, since we can do the design and put their name and logo on the drawings,” she adds. “Initially, I was worried that this would conflict with my business, however, it doesn’t because it’s national and reaches out to many more people who are not in my area. An important distinction is that people who are local and could get our service wouldn’t consider working on their design online.”

Draw the Line

According to Gilmer, the firm prides itself on being a full-service design entity, capable of wearing many hats and tackling just about any job.

To that end, she notes that her staff uses AutoCAD to draft plans with many details.

“We take the entire space into consideration, making sure that the kitchen blends with the home, even if it’s a contemporary kitchen in a traditional home. Our signature is not having a signature,” she adds.

She points out that the firm also embraces the opportunity to collaborate with other design professionals, such as architects, interior designers and contractors.

The firm’s staff will also go with clients to the tile store, granite fabricator and lighting store to select all of the materials for a project, at no extra cost.

“We draw electrical plans, and follow through with service long after the job is completed,” she says.

Gilmer notes: “We’re known for excellent service and great communication, and our high-end designs [can be purchased through KitchenDesignOnLine] no matter what the budget is. Our clients discover that we can bring great design and an outstanding finished product to anyone.”

Showing off

Of course, no full-service design firm would be complete without a proper showroom, and Gilmer’s 3,200-square-foot showroom (which boasts 1,600 square feet of office space) certainly fits the bill.

She explains: “We show a variety of designs – from traditional to transitional to contemporary, so our showroom sends the message that we can produce the projects successfully. The layout is very welcoming and easy to browse, and we offer displays from the mid-range to the high-end.”

The firm carries a variety of high-end product lines, including Premier Custom Built cabinetry, Sterling Custom Cabinetry, Décor from Canada, Greenfield by the Corsi Group, granite, marble, soapstone and CaesarStone countertops, and plumbing lines from Grohe, Hansgrohe. Dornbracht, Lacava and Kohler. The firm also has direct accounts with the distributors of Sub-Zero, Wolf, Franke, Best, Miele, Gaggenau, Bosch and Thermador.

To secure additional interest in the showroom, Gilmer has incorporated another unique aspect to her business.

“We have a display in the front window that has three televisions behind a mirror. These televisions show our entire portfolio, including a show that I was featured on, on TLC, as well as various appliances. These TVs face the window so people in their cars or walking down the street are usually intrigued,” she states.

Market Savvy

Indeed, Gilmer notes that marketing plays an important role in the firm’s success.

“We spend money on photographing most of our work, and we then put that work out there to get recognized, whether through advertising, submitting it to design contests and winning awards or getting editorial coverage from trade magazines,” she explains.

Gilmer also has a part-time marketing person on staff responsible for coordinating the firm’s photo shoots, sending out scouting shots to magazines, handling the firm’s advertising contracts with local design magazines and submitting work as entries to design competitions.

“Our marketing person also works with our public relations company to promote our new online business,” she notes.

She concludes: “Our success really comes from finding the right group of people to work for my company who take ownership of their jobs and care about their work. The result is great teamwork, great service, follow through and responsiveness.”