June 2005 Pro to Pro

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

Client Clutter Issue

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"

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"

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.
-- "Veronika"

I have to agree: Run! People don´t change unless something very dramatic impacts their lives. I find that the more storage one creates, the more room folks have to store "stuff." Case in point, the garage. What´s up with $40,000 vehicles sitting in the elements while the three-car garage is packed with so many other things? Then if a designer was to ask them what the essential items were, often times people have no clue what they even own. By the way, the storage unit business seems a great investment opportunity.
-- "pischi"

I, too, just finished a job for a "pack rat" family who built a new house. When I first met with them, the house was being framed, so everything they owned was in storage. Despite our thorough planning for maximizing the storage space available, I was almost in tears when I saw the mess of stuff on every available counter space and floor. They are literally packed in with "stuff." It was heartbreaking for me as well as their contractor because it was really a phenomenal space before they moved in.

My suggestion to you: if they clearly stated they have a problem with storage and need your expertise on designing with [a focus on] organizing the space to hold all their stuff, suggest to them that you want to call in a professional organizer for a consultation. This way, you can have an outside opinion in supporting your need to have this family realize they need to declutter their home. If you are near Los Angeles, you can call in one of the HGTV Organization Shows.
-- "Laurie1216"

White Kitchen

Somewhere along the line I ordered a client´s kitchen in eggshell (ever so lightly off-white) although the client wanted bright white. We do a lot of eggshell so it was probably something that slipped in during order taking, but the client refuses to accept it. I think if they hadn´t read "Eggshell" on one of the boxes they´d have never noticed. I offered to replace all doors but that doesn´t help with sides and face frames. Do you think I should I be ordering a new kitchen?
-- "Veronika"

Would they buy the explanation that "eggshell" is the name for the sheen (like in paint) or have they already compared the cabinet color to a bright white sample? If that won´t fly, can you add decorative end panels to the boxes that would match the new doors? Actually the honest thing to do would be to order the new kitchen, although, keep in mind, sometimes when the homeowner is confronted with the lead time of an entire reorder, they will work with you and compromise. Let us know how you make out. -- "Design Diva"

This same thing happened to me once about 10 years ago. It was a simple transfer of code numbers that my assistant did and she did not pick it up in the acknowledgement.

Here´s what I did: I told the client it was an unfortunate mistake and that I felt badly about any inconvenience. Tell the client that the color would look great as well, no question, and they could have 20% off of the price if they wanted to go with that color. In my case, the client did decide to keep the cabinets and I only lost 20%! I even surprised myself!

If that does not work, you will have to reorder, of course. But, it is going to take time for the clients to get over their anger. You have to be a little patient while the clients decide if that style of white could work for them. Be on their side, tell them that you would like them to just consider this, and think about it, and you will reorder it on Monday if that is what they would like to do. Don´t be defensive about anything or offer explanations of how it happened. Just try to solve the problem and be casual and friendly and open about it. It could actually turn out to go your way. Of course, you could ultimately offer it to them at cost, too, if you have to – it depends on how things go. Let us know how things work out.
-- "Susanckd"

Showroom Design

I am moving from a 1,000-square-foot office and showroom with three displays to a 3,000-square-foot showroom. Other than cabinetry, we offer interior design services including space planning and different home furnishings lines.

I would like to make the new showroom more progressive and "loft-like" and have been considering a heavy emphasis on door styles and finish samples and focusing less on kitchen vignettes. My thought was to provide lots of pictures and PowerPoint throughout the showroom and a number of seating options, such as tables and chairs or sofas. I thought this would let clients select products in a more relaxed atmosphere.

Has anyone tried this or seen this? I don´t think we have anything like it here in town and after two years of displays, I´m not sure that has really sealed the deal for us.
-- "Veronika"

Response 1
In a space of 1,500 square feet, showing doors on a wall takes up a lot of real estate. I recommend using a free-standing triangle kiosk that occupies less than two feet and displays 12 doors. The display rotates and then the door samples rotates, resulting in display area on both sides.

Ideally, if you have the wall space, it is very convenient to have your doors on display by simply using a small picture ledge. This is the easiest way to show and move doors around to the various displays. I dislike the slatted merchandise center with the flipping doors as it only shows a sample of the door. -- "laurie1216"

Response 2
The way I tend to use a display is as much for demonstration purposes as it is for looks. I have had displays seal many deals for me. Even though the client may have ultimately purchased cherry, the things they saw that sold them may have been implemented on an oak or hickory display. People will tend to buy what they can see. Displays also help eliminate the typical, "I didn´t know it was going to look like that" complaint.

It sounds like the scope of your business is to create a relaxed browsing environment. Just be sure that you don´t give up totally on cabinetry vignettes, because some customers don´t react as well to samples as others. These types of buyers need to interact more with the displays in order to make an educated purchasing decision.
-- "BoxesEtc"

New to Selling

I´m relatively new to kitchen design and I was recently hired by a hardware store that sells upper-end cabinetry. I´ve only had a year of experience and this new job is based on commission-sales only. They pay you out-of-drawer for three months, but I want to show results now. I love this career move and want it to work out, but I´m afraid that if I don´t show results soon I will be fired. I am showing an interest by reading the catalogs and asking questions. What else can I do? How do I attract customers when they don´t come in?
-- "staib18"

Response 1
If it´s very slow, I´d say, come up with a plan, something organized, of which markets you could look at to get more business for your company.

Start thinking along those lines and prepare an e-mail to design professionals, or make some calls (have a script in front of you of how you can help them). Or, if you are an NKBA member, follow up on NKBA leads. Don´t wait for people to walk in the door – there is more prospecting that you could be doing. Come up with a good script, short, but expandable, especially when you are on the phone, and be a good listener. If nothing else, you will begin to get more comfortable with your message when prospects do walk in the door.
– "susanckd"

Response 2
Does your place do any advertising to get customers to see what services your company offers? If not, the chances of them spending money on getting customers to you will be very unlikely unless they already have that in their plans. Otherwise, I hope you have good phone skills because that will be your best tool – unless you can grab people as they walk in the door.
-- "jkelkitchen"

Response 3
Some of the best advice I could give you is to educate yourself by reading through catalogs and spec books. Also, consider taking classes online. NKBA offers this service. Also, try to surf the forums to hear what people are talking about.

Next – and this is very important – be yourself. I personally was very afraid of sales when I first started. I thought I had to be high pressure and crafty. My mom told me to just be myself and know my product and I would do well. She was right.

If you´re nervous when clients come in, grab a pen. Someone gave me that advice 12 years ago and now it´s a habit for me. Somehow, it acts as a security blanket for me. I know it sounds weird, but it works, because it gives you something to do with your hands. Also, I would suggest that you ask your boss for old quotes and start calling people.

A good excuse to call is a promotion your company is offering. Call people, introduce yourself and tell them that your company is now offering an extra 5% off all orders until [a certain date]. Of course, discuss this with your boss.

Also, don´t tell customers that you are new; that could scare them away. In fact, act as if you´ve been doing kitchen design for years. The worst thing that can happen is something comes up that you don´t know. If that occurs, tell them you will find out and get back to them.
-- "Kompy"

Bath Vanities

I have two questions: What percentage of end users are coming into showrooms looking for furniture-style vanities? Also, how do the designers and showroom sales staff feel about the furniture style vanities that are currently being sold in the market?
-- "FD Rob"

In my market, Los Angeles, the demand is low – I would say less than 2%. When it is requested, the most common request is for a mission-style Arts and Crafts freestanding style. We also see more people looking for "Zen quality" types of free-standing vanities with glass tops.
– "Remodeling Gal"

The last five vanities I´ve done have been more of a furniture style, and I´m designing a furniture style [heavy-legged, arched and tapered end gables] double stainless steel vessel sink with concrete counter, as well as a separate "armoire" style linen cabinet, for the next one.
-- "rdon"

I think most consumers aren´t yet aware of how many different style possibilities are available with this style of product. We started our own line of free-standing units for a few reasons, one of which is ease-of-installation, but mostly to set us apart from the competition, to have something special.

We started displaying the units in front of our store and you wouldn´t believe how much traffic it drew, between people in the store and even rubberneckers! So, yes, I think as more people become aware of the possibilities, you´ll see a continuing growing market.
-- "Douglas"

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. KitchenBathPros.com is an online networking community for kitchen and bath professionals whose goal is to create a central forum for industry professionals, open 24/7, through which they can collectively share knowledge and information. This sharing of resources enhances the industry´s value to the public, builds more successful businesses and raises the bar of excellence in the industry. To participate in this free discussion forum, sign up at www.KitchenBathPros.com, or contact Susan Serra at info@kitcheninteriors.com.