“Our core [philosophy] is to value people through our honesty, integrity and professionalism,” says Klassen, who is the company’s v.p. and general manager. “When employees feel valued, they stay and will develop that same attitude with our customers. And, when customers feel valued, they enjoy their experience with us and they come back to do business with us again,” he adds. In short, he believes, it’s about imparting values as much as value.
Open for 11 years, the company – which is part of the Calgary, Alberta, Canada-based Legacy Kitchen Design Group – specializes in remodeling projects for a diverse clientele (which ranges from newlyweds to billionaires, as well as builders and remodeling professionals, Klassen explains) with a common interest.
“Our projects are done for people who are looking for quality products and design. We are in an area where it seems that an endless number of large custom homes are being built. These large homes require not only large cabinetry packages, but also demand a higher quality of product and customer service.”
To that end, the company recently made a decision to strictly sell cabinetry, opting for lines such as Kitchen Craft. The firm also handles semi-custom and ultra high-end custom projects.
“We also have three other lines that are custom in their own way and allow us [design flexibility], such as custom colors and custom parts an-d pieces,” he adds.
In fact, creating custom pieces for clients has been so rewarding for the company that Affinity Kitchens also opened a custom shop a few years ago, he notes.
“This allows us to augment a lot of the other products that we carry by building custom hoods and custom furniture pieces,” he comments.
In many ways, this approach is a natural progression for Klassen, whose background in custom cabinet building and management works famously with Affinity Kitchen’s volume of 15 to 20 projects a month.
“While I grew up in the construction field building custom cabinets as a summer job, I fell into this position from the business side because I had also handled the largest builder in Calgary. We were doing about 300 kitchens a year there,” he offers.
But, Klassen quickly notes that, at his company, he needn’t do it alone. “It all begins with our employees – many of whom have been with us for over five years – and carries through to our customers,” he explains.
He also points out that the firm’s staff of 23 employees includes six lead designers and three assistant designers – two of whom are Certified Kitchen Designers and one who is a NCIDQ Certified Designer. But, above all, the years of experience, the dedicated staff and the desire to treat each client with friendly care and attention, are what make the company successful, Klassen points out. He adds that, no matter what the mission statement, there is one thing that all kitchen and bath firms should remember. “When the client’s expectations are exceeded, only then do you have success,” he concludes.
Service and a smile
For Klassen, treating clients with integrity not only establishes close relationships between staff and clients, but greatly increases the ability to create powerful designs.
“The most important thing in successful design is to listen to the customer,” he offers. “To be a good listener, you have to be knowledgeable and you must ask the right questions. You must also educate your clients and make sure that their decisions are being made knowing the ramifications.”
To that end, members of the design team will work with a client from initial planning and design, encouraging them to bring in anything that can help to better envision what is expected.
He adds: “We will also send out a survey to our clients after installation that rates every aspect of their experience. It asks them to rate the designer, the sales process, the installation, coordination, the delivery of the cabinetry, the after-installation service and job completion.
Whenever we don’t get a five out of five, we consider that a failure. Even if it is four out of five, we will call the homeowner to check and see [what we can improve upon].”
Taking the philosophy one step further, the staff also puts each survey in a binder and leaves them out for future customers to page through.
“It is something we are very proud of,” he says, “because any negative comments are so few and far between, that even then the clients are usually happy with what they’ve received.”
Asked why the staff goes to such great lengths, he replies quickly: “We just really enjoy taking care of people.”
According to Klassen, this approach has led to the creation of many unique designs. “We have created contemporary, Old World and transitional designs. However, working in the Southwest, we do a lot of rustic and traditional work,” he offers.
He also cites several recent projects that he believes are strong examples of the firm’s work.
“One project that stands out is a penthouse that had a spectacular view, but demanded a ‘wow’ factor. We selected our ultra-contemporary high gloss metallic cabinetry, which features radius drawers and a floating bar top,” he explains.
“Another was a historical restoration project of a home used by President John F. Kennedy. It was remodeled with dark cherry cabinetry and included a dumbwaiter that allowed the original homeowners to send food to the basement!”
Aiding the company’s design team throughout the design process as well is its 2,200-square-foot showroom, which features six full kitchen displays as well as a home office display.
“We have a live kitchen that we use for breakfasts with our clients and business partners from time to time,” he adds.
He adds: “Our showroom is a place where everyone feels comfortable regardless of the size and scope of their project.”
Wanting to continue to meet any client’s needs through its product and design offerings, Klassen notes that the company plans to update the showroom shortly, adding four brand new displays. “For example, we have a display outfitted with Viking, Sub-Zero and Wolf appliances to offer clients a full display of what their kitchen could look like.”
He concludes: “We have the products lines available that we can do just about anything that anyone could ever want. We almost never have to say no to anything.”
A variety of marketing techniques have also been used to promote the Affinity Kitchens’ message, Klassen notes.
“We’ve used all of the [standard means of promotion], such as the Yellow Pages and radio ads, [to market the firm],” he says.
But, he notes that the company also utilizes color print ads in local publications and has even partnered with local TV stations to help create sets for local morning shows.
“Another really fun promotion that we try to do each year is an open house. We invite builders, clients and business partners, and we all have a wonderful evening with incredible food and wine,” he relates. “During the evening we show some of the latest trends that we’re seeing, but most of all we get to know our clients and friends on a more casual basis – strengthening friendships and relationships – which is what our business is all about.”
He adds: “Obviously, the most successful means of marketing is word-of-mouth referrals, and we’ve been blessed with amazing customers over the years.”
To that end, he tells a story where he “rescued” a client whose cabinet drawer broke the day of a big party. Although not part of the firm’s normal services, Klassen fixed the drawer just in time and in lieu of payment, simply asking that she remember Affinity Kitchens the next time she was in the market for a kitchen.
The results, he notes, were considerably better than that: “She talked about this little thing we did to so many people at this party, that we probably pulled three kitchen clients from it!”
He concludes: “These are the things that happen when you treat people well, which is really the philosophy of our company.”