Showroom Rides Wave of Success with Test-Drive Kitchen Concept

HONOLULU, HI —

How does a company that started out servicing automobiles end up selling automatic dishwashers?
Well, given Servco Home & Appliance Distribution’s multi-ethnic locale, it’s not surprising that the strengths of different businesses could be mixed and transformed into something unique – just as easily as the strengths of myriad cultures could be mixed to create one big melting pot.

This is perhaps the only way for mainlanders to appreciate fully the off-beat origins of a company like Servco, which was founded as a service garage in 1919 by a Japanese immigrant who had taught himself automobile mechanics.

It wasn’t until 1935 that Servco got into the wholesale appliance business, and it’s been distributing high-end kitchen products ever since.

‘POI’SED FOR SUCCESS

Tradition in this island state is as important as knowing where all of the prime surfing spots are located, and being part of an 87-year-old, Hawaii-based kitchen appliance dealer with strong ties to the community is something in which Craig Washofsky, group v.p. for Servco, clearly takes extreme pride.

“The Servco name is short for ‘service company,’ and that’s what our company’s philosophy is all about,” Washofsky explains. “Service to the client. Service to the community.”

But, as in any diverse culture, along with an appreciation for the old, there is almost always an equal appreciation for the new. To this end, Servco recently renovated its 7,000-sq.-foot showroom, replacing those often musty-dusty, manufacturer-supplied display cases with 22 exciting vignettes. Each one is different from the next, unique unto itself, the firm states. And all were created by 13 different Hawaii-based designers, who geared them toward not only the professional design community, but also toward consumers, who often frequent the showroom.

As a result of the revamp, the firm has created a customer-friendly space much like Hawaii itself: a place as welcoming and laid-back as it is unique.

“We first built three live kitchens,” Washofsky says, explaining how the concept was born. “We’ve got a GE Monogram [kitchen] that’s live, [plus] a Thermador and a Gaggenau kitchen.”

Then the company went to 13 local kitchen and bath designers and, in typical, easy-going Hawaiian fashion, let them cut loose with their designs. “We didn’t tell them what to do, so we didn’t know what to expect,” he says. “We ended up with all of these incredibly different, incredibly beautiful vignettes, but they flow together really well.”

Given Servco’s early affiliation with the automobile, and the fact that one of its current divisions is even now the Toyota and Lexus distributor for the entire state of Hawaii – yes, they still sell cars – it is fascinating to discover how they came up with the concept of what is, essentially, a “test-drive” kitchen.

“We were trying to figure out a way to show our products in a way that was compelling, and yet would still make customers feel at home when they walk in,” says Washofsky.

Because they live in a multi-ethnic culture accustomed to blending ideas, languages and traditions – and in looking to the firm’s car division for showroom inspiration – the folks at Servco might tell you they were only doing what comes naturally to every Hawaiian resident: thinking the island way.

“People can shop for cars online [or in a magazine],” explains Washofsky. “But until you have a positive experience walking into a showroom and sitting in that Lexus, feeling your fingers curve around the wheel, smelling the leather, it is less likely that you are going to be excited about that purchase.”

Even though Servco is a wholesale appliance distributor, the company recognized that to be successful in Hawaii, where real estate is a premium, it had to address the needs of the end consumer.

Due to the limited spaces on the island within which kitchen and bath dealers, builders and designers must work, coupled with the trend toward ever-more-upscale, technologically advanced and gourmet-geared appliances going into kitchens, Servco increasingly found that these firms were sending their own consumer clients into the showroom to see the appliances for themselves.

“Until you see the size and open the door, look at the cooktop and turn on the gas, it’s really difficult to make a decision,” elaborates Washofsky. “And I think, as folks are making the move to more upscale appliances, it’s becoming even more difficult for them to make a decision without first testing out the product.”

ISLAND SPIRIT

If making everyone feel at home is part of the Hawaiian way of life, then Servco has gone a long and welcoming way toward extending that philosophy into the wholesale appliance market. In addition to the new user-friendly showroom, the firm has focused on customer satisfaction by conducting an annual survey that includes a sizable and detailed questionnaire.

“There’s that feeling [you get] in some places,” explains Washofsky, “where maybe the customers feel they’re not good enough for that product.” Servco recognizes that this is not the right way to do business.

Thus, Servco has worked hard to avoid any elitist taint. Its showroom, managed by Randall Iwaishi with the help of three product specialists, has ultra-high-end through mid-range products on display. However, its philosophy centers around putting the customer on a pedestal, not the product.

“[The way it’s set up], when folks come in, they have the ability to wander through [the showroom] and find levels where they’re comfortable,” Washofsky points out.

In almost any other environment, what Servco has done to address the needs of its customers would certainly be enough. But that’s not the Hawaiian way. With that added island touch, the firm built a private conference room just off the showroom especially for the use of designers and their clients – and it is available completely free of charge to those who need to use it.

“Hawaii is a small island,” explains Washofsky. “Often, a designer may be working out of his/her home, or he/she may have to fly in from a neighboring island, and the designer and client might need to spend time discussing things besides just appliances.”

Truly a home away from home – or office away from office – the conference room at Servco has a computer with an Internet connection, a printer, a fax machine and, on the off-chance a client might want to stretch out after an exhausting morning spent riding those big Hawaiian waves, it even comes with a couch.

It’s enough to make a mainlander long for a luau.

In the end, no matter which way you look at Servco, it all gets back to the philosophy of making life easier for its customers.

When asked about the lengths Servco has gone to in order to cater to its island clientele, Washofsky, displaying a bit of that laid-back spirit himself, answers:“If no one else is going to do it, we might as well – because we all benefit from it.”

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