August 2005 Pro to Pro

Have a question and looking for feedback from industry peers? This month, Kitchen & Bath Design News listens in on dialogue between industry professionals, as excerpted from the KitchenBathPros.com online Designer Discussion Forum.

Color Dilemma

QUESTION
I have a client who called to say that she just noticed a "typo" in her contract specifications, stating that her Dynasty cabinets should be Amber colored, not Aster. I looked through all of the paperwork and everything said Aster – except for one note at the beginning of our conversation.

Amber is a discontinued color, and my assistant assumed we meant Aster. The client held onto the sample throughout the process, and never brought it for our contract signing, either. I had the client come to check out the Aster finish, and she got teary-eyed, because she didn't like it.

It's maple wood and the finish is medium-toned, but she wants a light-toned wood. We have a brown glaze on the cabinets. Any suggestions or fixes for this problem? - Ronni

RESPONSE 1
I think anyone in the business who reads this is going to cringe. I'm afraid there is going to be no easy solution. Try to stick to your contract (which hopefully has teeth), but at the same time try to be reasonable and fair with the client.

We have had this happen before, and basically it cost us money. Hopefully, you can negotiate a deal with the client and make the best of a bad situation. - boxesonawall

RESPONSE 2
Was it a verbal or written note? What exactly is on the contract? Also, I assume that although Amber was discontinued, the factory was going to make it anyway? There are definitely areas that can be negotiated. You have options; don't panic. - susanckd

RESPONSE 3
The same thing happened to me a few weeks ago. I tried everything from offering money to repainting all the trim in the house. The clients wanted the kitchen cabinets to match the trim. This, however, was a big problem since we had already demolished the old kitchen. So, I wound up buying a temporary refrigerator for them (the new one is built-in and I didn't want to let it stand freely and fall on someone). I also gave them a few temporary cabinets from the wrong color as well as a makeshift top with sink. We then re-ordered the kitchen in the correct color, and I've since sold the wrong one with only two pieces not usable.

The clients were not happy about the kitchen, but they loved the way it was handled, and they came to the showroom yesterday to sign contracts for the remaining house cabinetry, outdoor kitchen and furniture package. The moral of the story is, when given the chance, turn a big mistake into a big opportunity that shows you don't buckle when things get rough. - Veronika

RESPONSE 4
Did your client sign the contract with the color listed as Aster? You mentioned she had a sample color she borrowed but didn't bring to the contract signing. What color did she have? If she had amber listed, you may have a problem. If she had aster listed, you have more back up in your favor.

Legally, you have performed under the terms of your contract by ordering aster. But, no one wants to tell a client, "too bad, but this is what you get." The challenge here is figuring an appropriate way of working this out. It's going to mean a compromise of sorts and probably will mean your company will have to offer her a discount depending on how the stain color was initially presented to her. This is a difficult one. Keep cool and remember everything is manageable. - laurie1216

Showroom Update

QUESTION
I am about to do a complete update on my showroom. I want to know how everyone is pricing old displays. Most of our displays are 6'x8' L shapes with no appliances. I estimate that they are all about three or four years old and in great shape. - boxesonawall

RESPONSE 1
Whenever we do a new display, we start a file and save copies of all the invoices related to that display. So, even years down the road, we can look up our total costs. We try to at least get what we paid for the display, but we usually add about 25% to our cost. Then, if the display sits for a long time, we'll start slashing the price.

If you don't have the old records, price it out with today's [standards]. Make a sign with what that display would cost "today," if brand new, and then at what price you are selling the display. Make it clear what the cabinets are, and what is and isn't included.

On our signs, we also include the cabinet manufacturer, as well as the door style, wood species and color. We include information about items such as the sink, faucet and hardware. Also, note what is included, in terms of accessories, delivery and installation, and point out that the display is being sold "As Is." And make sure there is a non-refundable deposit required. - Kompy

RESPONSE 2
We try to sell them to employees or good contractor clients. I've had a tough time getting half of what they cost me.

We have gotten lots of lookers, but not a lot of buyers. I don't have capacity to hold them forever, and if they move to storage, it will be waste. Thanks for the reply. I'll try the signage. - boxesonawall

RESPONSE 3
Most likely the display should have been depreciated by the time you sell it. Get rid of it; it's taking up valuable display space that could be making you money! Bite the bullet, and give it away if you have to. - LeoDSK

Designer Burden

QUESTION
I am opening a larger showroom that allows for more display area, a conference room and more work stations, with the idea of taking on one or two additional designers. In my planning I keep running into the same question: How [much] design/ordering/job supervision can I expect one person to handle per year? Typically we're in the $25,000 to $50,000 per order area, custom cabinetry only.

I have been handling most jobs myself, and using my support staff to back me up. I tend to work quickly, so I don't know what I should expect and how much performance to push for without frustrating that designer. I understand that this is not a "one-answer" question, but I would like to hear people's thoughts. - Veronika

RESPONSE 1
Our store designs and installs, so our kitchen projects are installed in three days, with about a two-week maximum. At any given time, I am working on four to 10 quotes. Some of them are big remodeling jobs, while others are just replacement countertops, and some are new construction bids. I keep all my current jobs in folders in a tray on my desk. Today, I have about eight folders. I guess a lot depends on the complexity of design that you do, such as paint selections, fabric or flooring, for instance. If we did all that, I doubt I could handle the number of jobs listed above.

Have you considered having one design assistant and a project manager? I have been working toward that format for about a year now, but we are all so used to ordering and scheduling our own jobs, that the transition still hasn't happened yet. - Kompy

RESPONSE 2
Another way to think about this would be to ask yourself these questions: How much do you need a designer to bring in? What are you hoping sales will be? Will you be happy with a $50,000 sale a month? How much support staff are you willing to offer?

I can work on double the amount of projects with a design assistant. So, what is the cost of the design assistant versus bumping the figure to $100,000 per month? And what are the percentages of sales against leads – that may help with future projections of what the showroom will produce for you.

An experienced designer will always be able to let you know how much work they can take on at a time. - KellyM

Client Clutter Issue

QUESTION
I recently picked up a retainer from a couple who have a bad case of "pack rat" disorder. They have created paths to get around the house, but there is tons of clutter everywhere! My question is: What is the best approach to handle this situation? Should I admit to myself that they will fill up every horizontal surface as soon as I'm out of their home and try and give them plenty of extra room; sell them a ton of cabinets so they can store things away neatly (the inside of their cabinets are actually rather tidy, but I suspect that they prefer to keep things out on counters so they can see important things), or should I simply sell them a basic kitchen, take the money and run? - "Ronni"

RESPONSE 1
I would suggest the third option to you. In my opinion, there are more underlying psychological issues going on than not having enough cabinet space. - "Design Diva"

RESPONSE 2
I just finished a remodel for the same exact type clients. Not only are they pack rats and clutter bugs, they really had to have every gadget ever made, many of which made no sense at all in the type of home they had. For instance, they wanted a river bath tub and a built-in coffee maker, among other things. Needless to say the tab was huge and now that we're finished, it's like they're back to reality. The project turned out beautiful, but we couldn't fix their psychological issues, and yes, everything is back to being cluttered. Now they are disappointed about having spent a fortune and the overall feel is the same. I actually pushed very hard during the project to get them to purge or sell a lot of items, but they just didn't listen.

We did, by the way, dramatically increase storage. We added a huge storage room in the garage and enlarged the existing garage, but these clients really couldn't be helped.

It's painful to see something like that happen. My answer is yes, in the future, choose basic cabinets, lots of storage and run, because you won't like what happens to your design.


Material for Pro to Pro has been excerpted from the online Designer Discussion Forum at the KitchenBathPros.com Web site under an exclusive agreement with Kitchen & Bath Design News.

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