Thomas continues, “One of our suppliers, HomeCrest Cabinets, was a company with products that gave us a lot of options. We took this popularly priced product and did a lot of special design – designs with lots of detail. The result was a cabinet line that might have started as a commodity, but was transformed into whatever customers wanted it to be.”
As Copper River Cabinet Co. has added customers in and around Ft. Wayne, Thomas and Pontius have become known for colorful, even zany promotions. Several years ago, the shop staged an “Ugly Kitchen Contest,” in which contestants were invited to enter photos of their less-than-beautiful kitchens in the hopes of winning the grand prize of a free kitchen makeover. The event was such a success that the company repeated it last Halloween, renaming it the “Nightmare Kitchen Contest.”
Each time they’ve staged the event, the response has been approximately 40 times what was expected, Thomas says. “We invite people to come in and vote for their favorite ugly kitchens, and it drives traffic like crazy,” he reports. “It drives sales, too. If they don’t win, they are still excited about getting a new kitchen. They have ‘mentally won.’ And when they don’t win in reality, they buy anyway.”
Having learned the value of attention-getting giveaways, Thomas and Pontius last February placed bright yellow kayaks on top of all of the company trucks, then affixed on those trucks signs reading, “KAYAK SALE.” This move was accompanied by advertising that informed customers, “Buy Your New Kitchen, Get a Free Kayak.”
“There was no correlation between the products, but I can’t tell you how much traffic it drove,” Thomas laughs. “We had people call and ask, ‘Why are you driving around with kayaks on the roof?’ It created a lot of curiosity, and a lot of buzz.”
Several years ago, Copper River Cabinet Co. opened a second location in Warsaw, IN, 30 miles west of Ft. Wayne. The store’s location was chosen for its proximity to recreational lakes where many new vacation homes were being built.
For six months prior to the store’s opening, Warsaw residents continually noticed signs reading, “Copper River: It’s Not a Sporting Goods Store,” “Copper River: It’s Not a Restaurant,” and “Copper River: It’s Not a Golf Course.” By the time the store finally opened, it was an immediate hit, and has remained so, Thomas says.
“[The signs] created so much anticipation, curiosity and water cooler discussion,” he adds. “That was five years ago, and people are still talking about it.”
Distinctive living Spaces
An entirely different marketing approach is favored at Cranbury Design Center, a Hightstown, NJ-based design-build firm. Third-generation builder Charlie Rini and his partner, second-generation builder Frank O’Leary, joined forces in 1995, quickly cementing a reputation as innovative designers and builders of home additions featuring kitchens and baths for folks who appreciate distinctive living spaces.
“Our clients say, ‘We’re staying in our house, and we want to make it different than the typical cookie-cutter home. We want to make it our space, and unique to our family’s lifestyle,” Rini relates.
“When we sit down with them and identify what their needs are, they understand the value of our design-build capabilities.”
About 10 years ago, Rini and O’Leary undertook an ambitious whole-house renovation project in an upscale home, building a state-of-the-art kitchen and new circular-ceiling family room in space that had formerly housed the home’s family room, dining room and kitchen.
The owner of the house, Kim Evans, was an executive with a New York City financial services firm. During the course of the work, she approached Rini and O’Leary and presented a remarkable proposal.
“She said, ‘Would you entertain the notion of another partner?’” Rini recalls. “By coming aboard as a partner in our company – which we then renamed Cranbury Design Center in January 2000 – she allowed me to do what I do best as a designer, and allowed Frank to do what he does best as the hands-on builder. She relieved both of us from having to worry about the day-to-day business management.”