Design Firm Uses Education to Help Generate Profits

ST. LOUIS, MO Ask sales manager Megan Bittle about the key to her firm's success, and she'll tell you the answer is simple: RSI Kitchen & Bath teaches and learns its lessons well.

In fact, whether offering educational seminars, giving design instruction, or even sharing best practices with competitors, the company will gladly take on the role of either teacher or student for the benefit of improving its designs and bottom line.

"We've found that selling through education is the single best way to build a loyal customer base, particularly when competing against Home Centers," Bittle states.

She adds that this approach has enabled the firm to not only satisfy its clients, but also avoid market pitfalls.

She explains: "By evenly segmenting our market emphasis between home construction and remodeling, we are able to remain diverse in our clientele, and, hopefully weather the fluctuating highs and lows of each of these markets."

To ensure their ability to truly educate potential clients about what to expect during the design and construction process, RSI's design team dedicates itself to appointment-only consultations where clients receive designers' undivided attention.

"Many of our team members have been with us for more than 10 years, and some for more than 20 years. That level of experience makes our customers very confident in our abilities," she says.

She adds that each of the firm's three showrooms (which range from 1,000 to 16,000 sq. ft.) are vital in determining what a client needs.

For instance, Bittle points out that although each RSI showroom features an array of high-end product lines, customers are often surprised to learn that through options such as a "Close-Out Floor," many offerings are quite reasonably priced.

"[Despite having expensive-looking showrooms], many customers comment how surprised they are that our pricing is so reasonable," she adds.

She concludes: "RSI has been in business since 1947, and we believe that our talented and experienced team and a beautiful showroom make us successful."

Show Stopper

Much as the famous song describes, Bittle says that the principals of RSI (which include president Tony Piazza, Susan Piazza and v.p./operations Chris Piazza) want people to meet them in St. Louis.

In fact, the company has worked very hard to turn its three showrooms into true destination spots especially its new 16,000-sq.-ft. showroom.

"Our main showroom is located in St. Louis, with satellite showrooms in Columbia, MO and St. Peter's, MO. This allows us to service customers from central and eastern Missouri through southwestern Illinois," she offers.

She continues: "We are very lucky to have the showroom space that we do. With over 16,000 square feet, we are able to offer more than 60 displays, including a working kitchen and bath display."

Other notable elements of the main showroom include six displays that highlight different design styles (such as Arts & Crafts, English Country and Contemporary), a National Kitchen & Bath Association (NKBA) display emphasizing the "40 Rules" of kitchen planning, and a universal design display.

The company also carries a full array of products for the kitchen and bath, including cabinetry, countertops, decorative plumbing, appliances, accent lighting and flooring

Cabinet lines include Omega Cabinetry, Dynasty, Merit, Quality, Woodstar and Kitchen Kompact, among others.

"Accessorizing, cleaning and organizing the showroom is a full-time job, but it has paid off," she adds.

Competitive Edge

For Bittle, having a talented and experienced team has made all the difference for RSI.

"We have 20 designers on staff, with two Certified Kitchen Designers (CKDs). Since several of our designers have been with us for so many years, it makes them feel more like family than co-workers," she boasts.

She continues: "We all certainly understand how complex a kitchen or bath remodeling project can be [for people], let alone building a new home."

Therefore, she notes that RSI has departmentalized its sales and design staff to accommodate its diverse customer base. It offers a seasoned outside sales team that calls on local homebuilders and a design-oriented inside sales team that assists homeowners or contractors with remodeling projects.

The company also manufactures its own casework, including commercial casework, home entertainment centers and custom closets.

However, the most unique aspect of RSI's business philosophy is how readily the company will share ideas with colleagues and competitors, she adds.

"We are lucky to have friendly relationships with many local competitors, as well as participate in the BKBG Buying Group. This has given us the opportunity to network with kitchen and bath dealers from around the country," she offers.

In fact, she notes that several competitors have welcomed the RSI staff in as visitors and have been great resources for how to improve their business methods.

'This has taught us to share as much as we can," she remarks. "We always seem to get even more value in return. In fact, many of our showroom ideas, as well as our sales training program, came from great suggestions from friendly competitors," she notes.

Bittle quickly offers that this somewhat unorthodox technique has also enabled the firm to participate in some equally unique design projects.

"With all of the city restoration projects going on in St. Louis, we've had the opportunity to work on some exciting projects most notably, a development that involved the restoration of a 200-year-old Abbey into eight high-end condominiums," she points out.

Promo Piece

As Bittle describes, the company relies on traditional marketing mediums, such as the Yellow Pages and television ads, but also tries to be innovative with its marketing campaign.

"We try to be as creative as possible with low-cost advertising options," she says. "We've managed to get onto local news reports, and hosted local telethons from our showroom, for example."

She also points out that the company publishes a quarterly newsletter for local contractors, builders, designers and homeowners, and holds bi-weekly seminars for homeowners who are considering a remodeling project.

"All of these ideas came out

of the necessity for advertising on a shoestring budget, and they've worked well for us,"

she concludes.

RSI Kitchen & Bath

Location: St. Louis, MO
Principals: Tony Piazza, president; Susan Piazza; Chris Piazza, v.p./operations and Megan Bittle, sales manager.
Number of employees: 75
Showrooms: 3
Hour of Operation: Mon. & Thurs., 9 a.m. 8 p.m.; Tues. & Wed., 9 a.m. 6 p.m.; Fri., 9 a.m. 5 p.m.; Sat., 9 a.m. 3 p.m.
Major product lines carried:
Cabinetry: Omega, Dynasty, Quality, Woodstar, Kitchen Kompact, Merit.
Countertops: Granite, laminate, Corian, LG Hi-Macs, Craft-Art Wood Tops, Silestone, Zodiaq.
Appliances: Jenn-Air, Maytag, Magic Chef, Amana, KitchenAid, Whirlpool, Viking, Dacor, Fisher & Paykel, Scotsman and U-Line Corp.
Design Software: 20-20 Technologies
Business philosophy: "Selling through education is the single best way to build a loyal customer base."