DEERFIELD, IL — “Speed” and “stealth” are two words not typically heard at meetings between designers and clients. When designing a kitchen, a carefully planned and detailed schedule is the norm. Clients understand that the dozens of details required to complete a kitchen project will take time – a lot of time. And, of course, open communication between all parties is essential.
But, now and then, you hit a curve on the road to success.
When approached by one client with an outrageous idea, the Sorensen Design Group decided to think outside the box.
Could the firm help Clyde Lowstuter give his wife, Carolyn, a brand new kitchen for their anniversary? Could they do it in the five-day period when she’d be away visiting her daughter? Could they keep it all a secret? Speed and stealth would be required, and everyone involved was absolutely unwilling to sacrifice quality.
While some might have balked at the idea of a five-day kitchen makeover, they decided they could pull it off.
The Sorensen Design Group was entering into new territory. Executive v.p. Steve Sorensen explains that he and his wife, Anna, president and chief designer of the company, had known Lowstuter for years. Their relationship with him boosted their confidence, believing he would be 110% committed to the schedule they would need to establish. They also were convinced that it would be acceptable for Lowstuter to make all of the design decisions himself – and that his wife would be happy with them.
Taking on the Challenge
The Sorensens, who do not have a showroom, were approached about doing the job about a month before work would begin. “The client was totally on board for the timeline,” says Steve Sorensen. “The key,” he adds, “was that the client was ready to be decisive and do what it takes. That was his top priority.” Lowstuter was given “homework” and he jumped on it, visiting showrooms, choosing products and making final design decisions. There was no wiggle room, no wavering and no time to change his mind.
According to Sorensen, this kind of commitment to helping the client achieve his dream is indicative of the commitment the firm strives to take into every job. He explains that the firm “rarely parts company with a client,” and this has helped to establish the firm’s “client for life” philosophy.
The firm, which Anna established in 1997, has annual sales of $1 million and handles 30 to 40 jobs each year, including both commercial and residential projects. While the company previously did its greatest share of business in the custom home building market, the recent downward trend in the industry led Sorensen to redirect its efforts. Remodeling projects, along with model home merchandising projects, have made up the bulk of the firm’s business during the past year, with about 25% of those projects being kitchens and baths.
Working with this client made good marketing sense for the firm, according to Sorensen. Lowstuter frequently entertains a demographic Sorensen wants to reach. Lowstuter’s kitchen would be a showcase for Sorensen, with Lowstuter the firm’s biggest cheerleader. With a five-year goal of growing the business two to three times its current size, creative marketing would be helpful.
The remodel of Lowstuter’s kitchen normally would have taken about three weeks. But the Sorensen Design Group was about to compress that time into five days.
The firm began by scheduling an HVAC contractor to begin moving ductwork required to fit the new refrigerator – while Carolyn was still in town. Out to a meeting for a few hours, Carolyn had no idea that the team was moving in. The ductwork was approached from a mechanical room next to the kitchen so Carolyn would not find any evidence. Anna stood by to clean up after the contractor and keep him on schedule. The next day, Carolyn flew out of town and the race was on.
Old countertops were removed and the cabinets, which would not be replaced, were reinforced in preparation for granite tops. Clyde did his part by stripping the old wallpaper and installing new cabinet hardware. Over the next few days, contractors had to enlarge the brick opening that had housed the old refrigerator, making way for the new 42" Sub-Zero appliance. They also had to move plumbing and electrical lines and install framing and drywall. A new sink and faucet, cooktop and double ovens were installed. The room also received fresh coats of paint.
The team had “lined up everything in preparation for the blitz,” says Sorensen.
On the first night of the project, the Sorensens brought dinner over to Clyde at the house. “We always bring dinner when our clients are without their refrigerator,” explains Sorensen. Sitting there, assessing the project, they all agreed something was wrong.
They realized that the opening for the new refrigerator needed to be moved three inches to the left. Leaving it as it was would technically work, but it just wouldn’t look right. The change would require moving electrical and plumbing work as well. Thanks to the flexibility and commitment of the contractors, though, they were able to do it.
Sorensen says that the key to this project was three-fold: knowing the client would keep his end of the bargain; working with dependable trades, and having access to reliable vendors. Sorensen gives a lot of credit for pulling off this project to the trades they hired, knowing that they would deliver on time and within budget.
The project was finished on time, with last-minute details being completed only hours before Carolyn’s return. Her reaction was pure delight.
And, as a result, the Sorensen Design Group gained another “client for life.”
While the Sorensen Design Group does not plan to actively market five-day makeovers given the enormous challenges involved, one thing is very clear: The firm’s owners believe that going that extra mile will keep them on the road to success. They will do what it takes to hang on to their clients for life – even if speed and stealth are the only means to an end.