Growing up as a kid in Minnesota, I remember Mr. Peterson across the alley. He always happily paid a neighborhood kid $10 or $20 (or whatever the going rate may have been in those days) to cut his lawn.
Why not save the money and cut it himself? As an attorney, he always said that he could go into the office and work two hours on a Saturday morning – the same amount of time it took to cut the lawn – and bill out a few hundred dollars in legal work instead.
If you think about it, he was a pretty smart guy. In his case, paying someone to do the job was more cost effective than saving $10 or $20 and doing it himself.
That lesson has always stuck with me. When I want to be frugal or get frustrated that I have to pay someone, like my accountant (sorry, Steve!), I think of Mr. Peterson.
The story of Mr. Peterson came to mind recently when I was chatting with Rob Feinberg, CKD, of Allied Kitchen & Bath in Ft. Lauderdale, FL and Pete Stone of Stone Kitchens in Louisville, KY. Both of them have recently hired IT people to work with their kitchen and bath firms. Feinberg has multiple workstations and has hired a guy full time to work on his staff, in-house. Stone has four work stations and just signed a contract for an on-call IT person.
I was particularly impressed that Feinberg has found a way to also use his IT guy for marketing purposes, and that Stone’s IT guy basically paid for himself within the first two weeks of the contract. So, if you’re thinking about hiring an IT person, or if you haven’t thought about it yet, read on for some interesting information.
Having an IT person on staff can be a huge time saver for your business. As Stone points out, prior to having an IT person to go to, when he had a computer problem, “We’d look around at the others in the office and say, ‘Hey, does anybody understand this?’ We’d pull out [the instruction] booklets and blow three hours trying to figure it out. We were just wasting so much time – time we could be using to make money. It was terrible.
“We’re designer/salespeople, not IT people. We’d sit there, then crawl around on the floor, undoing cables. It was a bunch of kitchen designers trying to be IT people, and it just didn’t work.
“When we went from two workstations to four and we wanted to network the computers, we found a person to buy the equipment from and do the networking. I don’t know why we’d never thought about it before then.”
Stone pays a retainer of $200 per month to his IT guy. “They come out once a month and do all that stuff I have no clue about, but that I needed if I wanted to stay up and running – like checking for viruses. They can even work with us remotely,” he says.
The first month easily paid for itself within the first two weeks of the contract, according to Stone.
“We bought a very nice HP printer, one of these monster-sized things. Our IT guy hooked it up. He had to come out twice but, even then, it just didn’t seem to work right. Three days later, my warehouse guy is unloading a new [replacement] printer. I didn’t have to do a thing. I figured that’s worth the first month right there. There’s no telling what we would've done on our own, probably ended up out in the parking lot with a sledgehammer.”
Feinberg notes, “Before we hired Dave, our full-time, in-house IT guy, I was the guru. So people used to come to me. With 20 work stations, a lot of my time was spent solving computer-related problems [instead of doing what I’m supposed to be doing]. Now, I’m freed up to do my job. He saves me a lot of time. If there’s a problem, I don’t have to stop everything and explain how to fix it. I can say, ‘Go ask Dave.’ More importantly, I can focus on selling and producing jobs that make money.”
Feinberg and his brothers are in the process of building a whole new building, a two-story showroom with everything under one roof. Currently, they have two buildings with a design/build business in one and a decorative hardware showroom in the other. The two companies work hand-in-hand and are networked together. Dave, their in-house IT guy, will be soley responsible for overseeing the networking and wiring of the new space.
But if dealing with computer problems isn’t reason enough to hire some IT help, Feinberg also points out that he gets added benefits by having his IT guy serve double duty helping out with marketing in his down time.
The IT person handles the firm’s blast e-mails – a very savvy, yet very inexpensive marketing tool that goes to past, current and prospective clients.
The e-mail blasts basically act as another form of advertising for the firm, whether it’s announcing a discount, a special of the week or a holiday promotion.
I was extremely impressed with how this firm was making double use of the IT help to enhance marketing efforts. This firm’s ingenuity is an example of the types of things that kitchen and bath design firms should be doing on a regular basis.
Feinberg explains it in more detail: “We have a database of everyone – from the clients we’ve worked with to the people who have called in for more information.
“Let’s say someone calls in and I get a lead. I fill it out in the database and send that person an e-mail. If we’ve set up an appointment together, I also send a confirmation e-mail saying, ‘I’m looking forward to meeting with you on Tuesday at 2 p.m.’
“I’m always building my e-mail blast list. I’ve had people who haven’t used me, ended up unhappy with the firm they did use, and through the blast e-mails, I’ve kept them informed so they came back to use me for the next project. The e-mails can also be forwarded to a friend who wants to build or remodel. It’s a great marketing tool for our firm.”
One last thing to point out about the above: Feinberg always makes sure the e-mail blast is sent as a “blind list.” That means the person receiving the e-mail realizes the missive is probably being sent out to others, but the receiver cannot see the other e-mail addresses. Sending a promotional e-mail and making all of the addresses viewable by everyone receiving the e-mail is a huge faux pas – one that certainly could cost you lost business, especially since it means giving away a valuable asset – which is your client and prospect list.
Read past columns on Internet Connections by Karla Krengel, and send us your comments about this story and others by logging onto Kitchen & Bath Design News’ Website at www.kitchenbathdesign.com.