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Lattice Wine Racks

QUESTION
I have a customer who’s requesting a lattice-type wine rack. Personally, I think they scream the 1970s and ’80s. Let me know what you think. There will be a wine captain beneath. Thanks!
—Kompy

RESPONSE 1
I agree. They seem dated. Of course, I’m in Pennsylvania and we are definitely behind.
—KarH

RESPONSE 2
I just looked at a house that a kitchen designer I work with did. He had the second kitchen in the house and the wine room. He used knotty cherry in both rooms. The wine room has a door (because it’s refrigerated) that closes off from the kitchen. He used a lattice wine rack and it looked perfectly at home. However, I don’t think it would have looked as good with a more modern design.
—homeren

RESPONSE 3
I like the big “X” for the wine cubbies. The lattice always strikes me as fastidious and difficult to clean.
—Biko

RESPONSE 4
I think the big “X” is a lovely alternative. It calls to mind a fine bistro. It looks updated in traditional or contemporary kitchens.

I really dislike the lattice effect. It’s right up there on my list with macramé plant holders and blue-and-white gingham patterns with ducks and chickens.
—KB Design1

RESPONSE 5
What you’re basically saying is: “It doesn’t matter what my client wants!” I feel that we should always direct our clients. But, if the clients want duck-and-chicken wallpaper with their lattice wine rack, that is what they are going to get. Perhaps a nice avocado green refrigerator converted for wine storage would go well with that!
—LeoDSK

RESPONSE 6
We have to remember that clients may have had an idea in their heads for 10 to 15 years before coming in. They should be educated about alternatives, without discrimination, and then be able to decide.


RESPONSE 7
I’m from Pennsylvania also, and I just sold the wine rack above the refrigerator. I also had a customer in today who’s insisting on using tile countertops – talk about the ’80s.
—kitchenphysician

Alder vs. Maple

QUESTION
I’d like to get some thoughts on the use of alder vs. maple. May I hear everyone’s thoughts about the pros and cons, please?
—Randy

RESPONSE 1
Pro: Alder is available in a knotty version, which can add to a distressed look. It’s darker than maple, and stains well. Solid wood should also be less expensive than maple. Con: Alder is really soft, like pine or fir. Sometimes it’s hard to find posts and carved corbels and other accessories in alder.


RESPONSE 2
Personally, I like the look of alder. Beware of knotty alder, however. Two years ago, I did a kitchen in knotty alder, and there were knots that actually went entirely through the door. There were knots in the face frame, and all over. It was pretty upsetting because the showroom display was fairly clear and beautiful. It was a nightmare situation resolving that knot problem. The manufacturer thought holes in the door were acceptable!

I like maple a lot, but depending how the stain took, alder wood could sway me. The cost is usually less than maple.
—KarH

RESPONSE 3
I have seen some very big, nasty knots in knotty woods, especially in alder. Some are so bad that you can clearly see right through the wood. It’s also frustrating when there’s a big knot right where you’re supposed to put the hardware. Most manufacturers are pretty good about replacing doors if the knot is in a bad spot.

If you’re going to sell this, be very clear with the customer that alder is soft and will ding and dent. In fact, some manufacturers will only sell alder with some sort of a distressed finish.

But, I love the look of alder and how it stains up so nice; it looks much better than maple.
—Tinkerbell

Source for Outdoor Cabinetry

QUESTION
I am looking for sources for outdoor cabana cabinets for an outdoor kitchen in a covered patio area. Other than DCS or Viking built patio appliance BBQ built-ins, I haven’t been able to find a source for marine grade cabinetry. Everything seems to be resin made and ugly looking, in colors of sand, taupe, white or gray. I am surprised the patio stores in my area have no sources. Has anybody ventured into outdoor kitchen design?
—KB Design1

RESPONSE 1
Custom Wood Products markets a product called Atlantis. It’s a man-made material available in a few colors plus they offer teak doors and drawer fronts. It’s also available from its sister company, Rich Maid.

It’s not marine-grade plywood but it’s probably just as tough.
—cabrep

RESPONSE 2
Another source would be In & Out Cabinetry (www.inout cabinetry.com). Hope this helps!
—Gary

Hearth Hood

QUESTION
What are some of the issues you run into designing with hearth hood clearance? I try to follow the range or cooktop clearance specs, but they’re not always easily understood.

For instance, I’m designing a hearth hood with a Viking range. The specs show 6" clearance from the sides, but that seems to be for a 13"-deep cabinet. My hearth hood is 24" deep. Am I going to be in trouble?

The building inspector goes by the manufacturer’s specs. I would like to give it more room, but my design works best with this measurement. The client is okay with the 6" clearance as far as counter space. I designed a hood where the legs sit back, but she likes the full depth look. Any input would be appreciated.
—LizR

RESPONSE 1
Just stay within the manufacturer’s specifications and if you are unsure about something, then draw up what you’re going to order and install and take it to the building inspector with the appliance and hood specs. Ask him if he’s in agreement with what you’re doing.

You also have to be aware of the height issue above the cooktop as well as the side clearance.
—SusanMcQ

RESPONSE 2
A designer at another firm in our town had to tear out an entire finished hood because the inspector wouldn’t accept it. Since then, we draw a separate hood showing our clearance dimensions and attaching or importing the hood specs.

It’s also important to watch the light rail on adjoining cabinets. If it intrudes into the clearance areas, you could be in trouble. On small, tight spaces, we’ve increased our backsplash dimension to go to the light rail, not to the bottom of the cabinet as we used to.

Remember, even if you don’t have to be inspected, you might well be liable if you violated the specs and there is a fire.
—KHAT

Online Bill Paying

QUESTION
I’m running a small company, so I wear many hats. I pay all of my bills online. It is very efficient because you schedule your payment as per the terms with vendors and the payments arrive on time for discount.

With my bank, however, I’ve had this problem happen many times – a vendor will call to tell me that I’m past due, I go online and see that I did, indeed, pay (and on time), and the funds were taken from my account.

After spending much time on the phone with the bank’s account service, I find out that my vendor did not receive the money. It puzzles me why they would take funds out of my account when the check was never cashed by my vendor. Since then I switched my account to another bank, and I haven’t had that problem since then. Has anyone out there had this problem?
—kitchenphysician

RESPONSE 1
I pay my personal bills online. With the two banks I use, they each take the funds out immediately upon making an online payment. I presume this is done so that the funds are guaranteed to the payee. It also tells me about when the payee will receive the funds.

will receive the payments in five days. I think that’s normal, that they take the funds out right away. Why your vendor did not receive the money is a mystery, though. I don’t think that has ever happened to me.
—susanckd

RESPONSE 2
I do a lot of online bill paying too, and just the other day I signed up for one [such service] and decided to read the fine print. It guarantees payment within a specified number of days, and it stated that if the payee does not receive payment within that specified number of days that a service fee is incurred. It also noted that it will reimburse any late fees, up to $50.

You may want to check out your bank’s policy, as you might be able to get some funds back if you were charged a late fee.
—Tinkerbell

RESPONSE 3
When this would happen, we always got it straightened out (eventually). It was the time it took to do so that was really the problem. I got to a point where I was so busy, I didn’t have the time to check the mess out. Since I started using different banks, I never have that problem. I should note that I pay my personal bills online as well – and I have done this for about five years now. I’ve never had this problem.
—kitchenphysician

Scratches in Stainless Steel

QUESTION
We have a client who is claiming scratches in stainless appliances. They have been installed for about a week. I haven’t seen them yet and assume they are small. What do I do?

I should also note that the client took protective liners off prior to countertop installation and completion of carpentry detail (along with filling cabinets with stuff, taking down working drawings from wall, etc.) We have been there for only four weeks so it’s not like the job is dragging on or anything.

It has always seemed obvious to me that these liners were there to protect the appliances from damage. Is this something that needs to be stated implicitly in others’ experience?
—Susan27

RESPONSE 1
I imagine that you need disclaimers explicitly spelled out, such as: “If you remove the protective covering from your refrigerator, we are not responsible for any scratches that occur.”

I am finding a breed of client that is looking for any little thing that’s wrong and trying to capitalize on that.

We can certainly all understand unacceptable situations that have to be taken care of, but sometimes people try to take advantage of the situation.

In the last year, for instance, I had a situation with clients complaining about a countertop. The countertop had light scratches you could only see at a certain time of day – and you had to look at the top at a certain angle to see them.

I had a similar situation with flooring – and there are many more situations like this I’m seeing and hearing about on a regular basis.

My question is: Why is there so much complaining over minor issues? Having had three children, I have come to live with things getting damaged, and I’m sure many of these people can relate. Anyway, with the daily use of items they will break them in, and scratches are inevitably going to occur.

I’m beginning to wonder if there is a new breed of client out there that’s just perpetually dissatisfied no matter what the designer does?
—KarH

RESPONSE 2
My clients are like that, too. I can’t say I blame them, really, but I do have something in my contract that says, “In the course of installation, touch ups will be inevitable as many trades will be working in and around your new products.” It’s kind of letting them know in advance that it is difficult to have perfection after many people with many tools are working within one room. Maybe we need to do a better job in advance.

Along those lines, it is always a good idea to ask whether there were other tradespeople working in the kitchen at the time the scratches occurred.
—susanckd

RESPONSE 3
After 25 years, I don’t think customers have changed. But, it is important to remember that from their point of view, they laid out $10,000 to $20,000 for appliances and now they’re damaged. Of course, the idea that they will become damaged with use is a realistic one, but it probably won’t win this battle.

A clause in your contract that everything must remain covered until work is completed – and directing the installers and subs to actually cover everything – will help guard against damage. But after the covers come off, there might still be damage and somebody still has to take care of the situation.

Unless, you want to continuously do battle, I’d recommend building service for this kind of thing into your pricing structure. Most people are realistic about expectations if properly prepared and nurtured; but some people will be harder to please than others. You could always try to weed them out at the beginning stages. I try not to get involved with self-proclaimed “perfectionists” as a rule of thumb. My subs and I are pretty good, but I know we aren’t perfect (no matter how much we try). But once we’ve agreed to take on the project, we have to please the clients, no matter what it takes. This means we have to charge enough to allow us to meet their expectations as best as we can.

When they ask why my price is higher than the other guy, I tell them it’s because I can guarantee that they will be happy. My work is now all by referral, so I guess this theory has worked.

As a practical point, can small scratches in stainless be removed, and if so, by whom? My only problem with this has been a damaged sink, and we ended up replacing it. I’m pretty sure the owner’s painter scratched it, but I had no proof of this. I have since gotten a $90,000 referral from these people, so the cost of replacing the sink rather than arguing about it certainly paid off – and that referral has even sent me a couple more referrals!
—KHAT

RESPONSE 4
Thanks for all of your input on this topic, everyone. We actually ended up replacing the upper panel of the dishwasher to fix the one major scratch that was there. Other scratches were minor, thank goodness, and the client seemed to understand the minor nature of them.


Opening Your Own Firm

QUESTION
As a kitchen designer, I think it would be of interest to everyone as to how all of you started your own businesses. I am thinking of going out on my own, and would appreciate hearing how everyone else has made it work.
—KarH

RESPONSE 1
First of all, you need a lot of contacts and large amounts of money to hold your head above water during your “ups and downs” in the first few years.

I started my business after the recession of 1980. Nobody came through the doors in the beginning, no phone calls, nothing. I had to go to the builders and join civic clubs to get contacts, and it still took a number of years before I was getting a steady flow of customers. You will also need working capital, since your cabinet bills will come in before your builders or customers will pay you. Good luck, and don’t forget to pick an area that can support your business.
—ootb

RESPONSE 2
I think what everyone should know is that, when you start your business, it’s not primarily about being a good kitchen designer anymore, but rather about being a good business owner and entrepreneur.

Since I started on my own, I have had to focus on running the company and have made a point of surrounding myself with the best support staff and talent my money can buy. (Again, this is one of the parts that requires good financial backing.)

Incidentally, a good book for anyone who opens their own business is The E-myth.
—Veronika

RESPONSE 2
It’s also important to remember that, once you jump, you are no longer just a designer, you are every job your company needs. You must be ready to do some jobs within your business that you may not like, i.e. accounting, taxes, bills, advertising, etc.

You have to consider yourself a business owner and learn the set of skills required to run a profitable company.

Another good book to read is Rich Dad, Poor Dad.
—powbath

RESPONSE 4
I am in the middle of starting my own business and was pretty prepared for the financial expenditure and the amount of work. Keep in mind, however, that your level of enthusiasm may wax and wane, and that it is a bit of a marathon.

What also came as a bit of a surprise was the amount of work we end up doing on jobs that don’t actually come to fruition, including selling, bidding, etc. This is frustrating, but not unexpected at the beginning, either. We’ve had no real surprises so far, just a ton of work to start up.
—Susan26

RESPONSE 5
Don’t let anyone talk you out of it. Be patient. Be honest, and your integrity will shine above all of your competitors. Keep on smiling – people love happy people. Another great read I would recommend is Selling the Invisible. Good luck.
—Joel

RESPONSE 6
I had three young kids, and opted to build my business from my home, which I did. I eventually ended up with a 1,000-sq.-ft. design studio with its own entrance – all in a separate part of my home.

I aligned myself with architects and builders and became legitimately competitive with showrooms in my area, and I am building a good reputation as a result of this. I had managed a showroom in the early years, but I have never had my own retail showroom. I’ve done it all from home.

I had a minimal investment and just expanded my design studio as I could. I do have showroom vignettes and over 100 door styles and more.

How you do this also depends on if you are the breadwinner in your family, or what the financial dynamics are for you – if you are only financially accountable to yourself or to others. In my case, my husband always made a reliable, straight salary, and my income goes way up and way down. Thus, I was able to weather those lower income times a little bit easier. For me, I did not want to be a work-outside-the-home mom.

If you don’t have the cash and don’t want a loan, you could have a goal of two to three years to save up cash to help finance the showroom plan.

There are some questions you should ask yourself: What are your goals? How much money do you want to make? Will you operate the business by yourself or employ others? Do you have any sort of plan or vision?

Answering these questions will help you begin to formulate your plan.
—susanckd

RESPONSE 7
Thanks, everyone, for all of the information. My plan is to buy a place where my husband and I can live in part of it, and run a showroom out of a section of the home. I’ve designed showrooms for other companies and have done quite a few startups for other companies, and I’m familiar with the ups and downs of the business.

Most of my clients have been builders, remodelers, homeowners and people who are looking to flip their homes. Not having been the owner of the companies I’ve worked for has left me with little voice in the business. They are never willing to give me the help I need when the volume builds.

At this point in my life, I’m no longer willing to make another company successful at my own expense.

I have been approached by a few companies lately to start up a showroom for them, which means usually no help, little voice in decisions, work my rear end off and have my health suffer. I’m not willing to go that route again, unless I’m part owner in the business. I sell 95 percent of what I quote, which I think is an excellent closing rate.

I am aware that being in my own business could change the dynamics. Closing rates could change, business will have its up and downs, and loyalty of builders and remodelers will sometimes remain with a company and not a designer. There is risk.

I’ve seen a builder-based design company go out of business because of builders who wouldn’t pay their bills, or builders who went bankrupt.

I am approaching this as living in the building that houses the showroom.

I already own my own 20/20 license, have an office setup with laptop and have all of the relationships with cabinet companies, countertop companies and other vendors. Having built relationships with builders and remodelers will help, but doesn’t guarantee success.
—KarH

Best Way to Visit The Competition

QUESTION
I am just curious how everyone handles visiting their competition. Quite often, I feel guilty when I walk into one of my competitor’s showrooms and pretend to be a prospect, when in reality, I am only there to see what’s going on.

I would much rather walk in and introduce myself. I hate it when my competitors come into my place and sneak around – I can spot them a mile away.

I guess I would just rather have more class than some. What does everyone think?
—sambailey

RESPONSE 1
I don’t know that I’d be so open-minded as to want my competitors to poke around my design studio. I have sought out special products that I don’t want to broadcast to my competitors. I have also put a lot of time into the decor. Honestly, I poked around more at the beginning of my career. I haven’t had the desire to go out of my way to see who's doing what. However, if I were to redesign my studio, the interest would reemerge.

I'm not sure you’d get a warm welcome from competitors if you asked if you could look around.
—susanckd

RESPONSE 2
I’ve always been up front when visiting my competitors, and I invite them to visit our showroom in return. However, very few business owners actually take the time to visit.

But, you can usually spot their sales staff when they come in pretending to be customers As a local NKBA chapter officer, I’m easily spotted, so sometimes I will make a personal visit to invite them to an upcoming chapter event (and look at that new display that my clients have been telling me about).

We can only get better by sharing information.
—LeoDSK

RESPONSE 3
We don’t get a lot of foot traffic, so when people come in to spy on us, we can sniff them out immediately – mainly because they don’t have an appointment.

We don’t care if other designers are looking around because everyone can carry the same products. It’s not like they will see a special knob that we have and put us out of business by carrying the same knob. Chances are, we don’t sell much of that special item anyway.

When I visit other places, I am very up front about who I am. Since I’m new to the industry, I feel that I can get away with asking questions because I really don’t know a lot yet.
—jkelkitchen

RESPONSE 4
When I decide that I want to see what other people are doing, I visit different states and cities, so no one knows me.
—ootb

RESPONSE 5
When I visit my competitors, I make a point of walking up to the receptionist or the designer on the floor and introducing myself right away. I grew up in a family business – it was rude not to introduce yourself.

When I am there, I try to be as unobtrusive as I can. Many competitors are also happy that I have introduced myself. If they are not happy, I will politely leave, but I can count on one hand how many times that has happened over the years.

An important thing to remember is that I’m not there to copy every detail. I’m there because I am curious to see what other people are doing in my neck of the woods – and to talk shop if they have the time.
—ootb

RESPONSE 6
I walk in and tell them who I am. I own a few unrelated businesses and I do the same thing with all of them. With the way our economy has been going, I find that we’re not so much competitors as we might think. I prefer the word “peers.”

I also find that other business owners like to share their ideas, innovations and sorrows with someone who can relate.
—Veronika

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