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LAKE GENEVA, WI—
Sometimes, markets are where you find them. And if you can find a niche in that new market, your opportunities may be boundless.
That’s been the driving force behind Geneva Cabinet Company, which has forged a new path catering to the growing second-home market in the popular resort area of Lake Geneva, located some 50 miles northwest of Chicago.
The company boasts a state-of-the-art showroom geared to a high-end clientele. And, because the location has increasingly become known for being a great community for a second home, Geneva has targeted these high-end homeowners who want to turn those homes into showplaces of modern kitchen and bath design.
“Whether it’s their first home or a second home, the goal is the same,” says Peggy Helgeson, the company’s general manager. “It is to make their space just right for them.”
Helgeson brings years of experience to her work. She holds a degree in computer drafting and is an AKBD. She is assisted by Sara Brautigam, AKBD, who has a degree in fine arts in interior design, and has been working in the industry since 2000. Both are currently testing for their CKD.
“We work with regular people who work 9-5 and have one home, and we also work with those who are renovating a vacation home,” Helgeson says. “But we can fit any budget – the $5,000 kitchen and the $105,000 kitchen.”
A local developer approached Helgeson a short while ago and suggested she open a high-end showroom to service the clients of Lake Geneva. “I’ve always been interested in architecture, computer drafting and design,” she says. “So, I thought this was a good opportunity.”
There were challenges at the beginning. “Mostly, it was getting people into our showroom,” Helgeson says. The showroom was located about five miles outside of town at the entrance to a gated community. The company had to figure out a way to market itself and gain awareness among local residents.
Helgeson realized the key to doing this would be to get local builders to use the firm as a resource. “We wanted our showroom to be their store,” she says, noting that Geneva offers free design services for established custom homebuilders, and deals with established area companies in flooring, countertops, knobs, appliances, sound systems and installation.
“To have the support of other industry professionals is incredibly important to us because it’s our bread and butter. We look at our work as a smaller part of a larger team and we’re here to help builders, remodelers and homeowners get projects done on time and within the promised budget,” she says.
Part of the firm’s success, Helgeson believes, is due to the showroom’s wide selection. Visitors to the 2,200-sq.-ft. showroom will find 16 display vignettes and three fully operating kitchens, as well as bath displays, hutch areas and entertainment centers.
Geneva also offers a wide assortment of product lines, including Medallion and Wood-Mode/Brookhaven cabinetry, Amerock, Avante and Notting Hill hardware, and counter products from Avonite, Cambria, Corian and Zodiaq, among many others.
To help get its message across, the firm has installed plasma TVs that show customers what is possible. These also double as visual aids for computer-generated designs and client presentations. As the company prides itself on its cutting edge designs, state-of-the-art drawings and high-end presentations, the plasma TVs really maximize the company’s strengths, Helgeson believes.
The showroom also boasts a unique focal point – a kitchen island imported from France equipped with a pewter countertop. It contains a hammered silver sink with an antique look, wooden countertops, grapevine knobs, a mosaic inlay in the foyer and other features that add visual interest and a layer of sophistication, Helgeson notes.
This unusual display is indicative of some of the creative designs clients can expect when hiring the firm, Helgeson notes. In fact, to help clients make a space their own, the company offers personalized decorative and ornamental detailing, specialty cabinetry, along with a wide array of built-in appliances. And, Helgeson notes, there is also a local market for custom furniture pieces with built-in wet bars and full-scale custom bars.
“There’s lots of money in this area and people are looking for quality renovations,” she says.
The firm is especially proud of one of its most recent projects, developing a space for the Geneva Cooking School, a rural “Emeril” in the Lake Geneva area.
It’s all part of the company’s business philosophy to constantly strive to “stretch the possibilities in design, challenge our creativity and constantly look at how design can complement function and form.”
Helgeson believes, “It’s important to educate the consumer and be as helpful as possible in achieving the goals of our clients.” The cooking school is just one more tool to serve this purpose.
Helgeson attributes her firm’s success in large part to the referrals of happy customers, and she believes the showroom’s exceptional design presentations are key to convincing clients of the quality of Geneva’s work.
Helgeson also maintains solid working relationships with the custom builders in the area. To that end, Geneva sponsors twice-monthly luncheons where local builders and contractors come into the showroom and discuss new trends, the latest appliances and the state of the industry at large. It’s those ongoing relationships that Helgeson says pay dividends with customers and contractors.
In the future, the company expects to continue networking in the community with small cooking demonstrations and special events, such as wine tastings.
Geneva Cabinets also promotes its work by running several Wood-Mode ads in the Chicago and Lake Geneva area magazines. The firm is a member of the National Association of Home Builders, Wisconsin Builders Association, National Kitchen & Bath Association and the Lakeland Builders Association.
As a result, Helgeson believes the business is growing its reputation through referrals and builders’ recommendations throughout the area.
“They trust us with their clients and know we’ll fulfill their clients’ wishes while still staying on time and within budget,” she concludes.