Redesign Firm Uses Close-Knit Approach to Build Success

SACRAMENTO, CA — For Darius Baker, CR, CKBR, design and business success has meant staying close to home. While this may be an unusual approach, it is the precise formula that has enabled Baker, CEO for D&J Kitchens and Baths, Inc., and company CFO and secretary John Scofield, to focus their design/build firm on kitchen and bath remodeling projects while catering to their preferred demographic.

Baker explains: “We discovered a long time ago that we did not like working in the ‘monied’ arena. When clients had more money to spend, [they also seemed] to have more issues. So, we have limited our geographical area to a 15-mile radius from our office. After all, why go further than we have to?”

Even more unusual is that the firm has maintained this approach since its inception in 1990 without a “traditional” showroom. In fact, it was not until 2003 that the firm moved into an established commercial location, Baker notes.

“Since we moved, we have remodeled the interior offices and put together a conference/selection room with one wall filled with door samples and another with base cabinets that have standard interior configurations [for clients to choose from],” he says.

According to Baker, this decision has worked seamlessly with the company’s business model – since the area has a large number of ranch-style tract homes – and the demographics the firm typically reaches.

“Our primary clientele [is] the family with late adolescents who are living in a home that has a space that needs to be better utilized,” Baker offers. “We recognize what type of project makes us money, and we make these projects a priority from a sales point of view.”

However, he quickly adds: “This does not mean that we limit ourselves to these types of projects or to any one budget range. In fact, competitors and clients have told us that we ‘own’ this neighborhood. While I would like to believe it, I am happy with that perception.”

For Baker, the firm also stands out because he and Scofield decided to use their previous experience at a custom cabinet shop as another key selling point.

“Our experience as cabinet ‘makers’ gives us a much clearer perspective [about] cabinet installation for kitchen and bath remodels. Therefore, our clients will pretty much use whatever we want them to. Still, we are very careful not to abuse this power, and recognize that our experience is why they have hired us,” he says.

He observes: “When you really understand how a kitchen and bath is supposed to work, you don’t have problems explaining to the client why things have to be a certain way.”

Location, Location
Although the firm relies heavily on its geographic area, local clients are not treated to the “traditional” showroom.

“By building a solid team and taking the time to know the salespeople, we didn’t need to have a showroom,” Baker explains.

But, while noting that the firm’s location is not conducive to walk-in business, Baker adds that the design – and selling – process are not hindered in the slightest.

“We have found that clients are perfectly happy to make cabinet selections from a door sample and a sample base cabinet. In addition, color samples are used to confirm stain selection. All other selections are made by the clients at the showrooms of the suppliers that we [recommend],” he says.

He continues: “This is a much different approach than what we read about, but it really shows how different the design/build arena is from the traditional kitchen and bath showroom approach.”

He concludes: “In fact, in the 25 years that we have been in Sacramento, I cannot think of one kitchen and bath showroom that is still here that was here then.”

Visual Concepts
According to Baker, one of the company’s keys to success has been the development of a “scope of work” concept that has improved the company’s “close ratio and made us more profitable with our sales and design time.”

In this regard, he explains that, for a portion of what a design fee might be on any particular project, the firm offers a conceptual floorplan that enables the client to see what is being proposed.

“The client is actually invited into the office and can see this concept on the computer in 3-D. This enables us to compile a line item proposal so the client knows what he is going to get and for what price,” he notes.

Baker adds: “We are now being compensated for the time it takes to prepare a presentation, and the client can see what he is getting – which makes him more excited to start the project.”

The firm also creates a very specific budget for the client, with the itemization of products required.

“This has eliminated uncomfortable discussions about blown budgets,” he says. “The client is told that this process will get him halfway through a full-on design, although it is not going to give him complete drawings and specifications. It will get him enough so that, if he chooses, he can get competitive bids and know they are all based on the same information.

Baker estimates that after some 50 “scope of work” sales agreements conducted by the firm, only three have elected to not move forward with the project.

First-Hand Approach
Baker, who handles the sales and design aspects of the business, notes that a first-hand design approach is what works best for the firm.

“I have learned an awful lot about kitchen and bath design through the school of hard knocks,” he explains. “The rest has come from reading trade and shelter magazines, correspondence courses, trade show seminars and association-sponsored events.

“Our design philosophy is to give the customer what he wants for his budget and make sure it is safe while keeping an eye on quality and service,” he explains.

Baker also cites the firm’s staff of nine – which consists of six field employees, two full-time and one part-time employee – as adding a critical element to the design process.

“I believe that our staff’s people skills improve our overall capabilities and direction in a much greater way than anything else,” he says. “We have been able to learn design [properly] since we were actually involved with building projects. That has had a major impact on our design approach.”

He continues: “For instance, we have always made it a point to get our clients to make all of the selections for products and major materials for their projects. We feel it is very important from the emotional and psychological side of remodeling to have them as involved as much as makes sense.”

Baker explains that, as clients “shop” for and select products, they are invited into the D&J offices to review and adjust the layout as dictated by their selections. Although the firm concentrates on kitchen and bath remodeling, it also offers a variety of other services, such as moving bearing walls, replacing flooring, and door and window replacements.

Remove and Improve
The firm also specializes in “remove and replace” kitchens, where they are called in to gut the existing space, create a better layout and use of the space and replace everything in it.

But, he is also quick to note that the firm does not “engage in changing house ‘footprints’ in any way.” In fact, when a call comes in for an addition of space for a kitchen or bath, D&J is quick to refer it to other National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI) contractors in the area.

“Most of these homes have adequate space; it just needs to be used more efficiently, which sometimes requires removing a partition. But, the majority of our projects have very little framing work done in their scope,” he says.

To offer a clearer indication, Baker cites two projects that the firm recently completed.

“One was a galley-style kitchen in a 1928 home that had been remodeled previously – with disastrous results. We updated the kitchen and nook area by using painted shaker cabinets, granite tops, stainless appliances and a wood floor to match the rest of the house. The kitchen looks like it has been there since day one even though it is brand new!” he says.

“The other project was budget-driven and the clients were very specific about the look they wanted – it was to be very contemporary with vivid color. While this theme was absolutely not what you might put in this particular house, it still turned out spectacular,” he notes, adding that both projects won local and regional CotY (Contractor of the Year) awards.

Word Association
According to Baker, the market he is in – as well as word-of-mouth business – reduces the need for an intense marketing campaign.

However, he quickly adds: “But we do recognize the importance of an ongoing marketing effort.” Therefore, Baker and Scofield have been running consistent ads in neighborhood newspapers for years, and they also have a full-page, four-color ad in the local NARI directory.

In fact, Baker cites participation with NARI as a key to increasing the firm’s visibility. “I have seen many companies join and then fade away in the 15 years I’ve been involved with NARI. But, you only get what you put in,” says Baker, who also currently sits on the Certification Board for the association.

The company also participates in the same “Home Show” every year and, according to Baker, this has added tremendously to the company’s “longevity and recognition factor.”

“I’ve had people come up to me at the show and remember that we’ve been attending for 15 years. Because of that, they decide to do business with us!” he notes.

Likewise, the company gains added recognition from its Web site, as well as a new venture: postcards.

“Quantum mail has a program that allows you to develop your own card and message online,” he explains. We mail a ‘We’re Coming,’ a ‘Progress Report’ and a ‘Project Complete’ card throughout the course of the project and put our contact info on them. We also do before, during and after pictures of the project on the cards,” he explains. “It’s just another great way to create brand recognition for our firm and enhance the perception that we own the neighborhood.”

D&J Kitchens & Baths, Inc. At a Glance
Location: Sacramento, CA
PrincipalS: Darius Baker, CR, CKBR, CEO and John Scofield, CR, CKBR, CFO, secretary
Showrooms: Two: Milwaukee, 4,200 square feet; and Lincolnshire, 1,800 square feet.
Hours of Operation: 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m., Mon.-Fri.
Number of Employees: 9
product lines carried: Authorized dealer for DeWils Cabinetry, Kahrs flooring, Anderson flooring, Wilsonart Flooring.
Design Specialties: Sell cabinets only to other contractors with installation, if required.
Design Software: Chief Architect, Easy Est and Quickbooks Pro for Contractors
Business Philosophy: “Committed to Customer Satisfaction”