Design Firm Aims to Please from S.T.A.R.T. to Finish

Design Firm Aims to Please from S.T.A.R.T. to Finish

By John Filippelli

Therefore, it should be no surprise that the nearly 50-year-old design/build firm relies on what it calls the S.T.A.R.T. (Systems to Assure Resources and Timing) method, which is devised to ensure that a home addition, kitchen or renovation project runs smoothly, Klein says.

He explains: "[The system] takes a highly customized, difficult process and makes it palatable, easy and consistent."

Included in the system are a variety of services, such as initial consultation, construction warranty, the "TLC" (Total Living Care) method and the "Peace of Mind" warranty.

With this in mind, Klein proudly notes that the firm which specializes in home additions as well as custom kitchens and baths in the greater Illinois area not only is working on some 400 projects on any given day (by his calculations), but is actually in the midst of expanding the company.

The most notable example of this is the company's showroom, which, at 30,000 sq. ft., would appear not to need tinkering. But for a self-described perfectionist such as Klein, things can always be improved especially when trying to create an environment that will provide inspiration and "awaken clients' senses."

"The concept of the showroom is to be an experience. Whether you love it or don't find anything exactly for you, you should at least walk out and say it was a nice experience," he says.

To make the type of splash that Klein envisions, the revamped showroom will include a waterfall, climbing wall and putting green, among other things, to complement the numerous product offerings, interactive modules and resource center found there.

To that end, he points out that plans are also underway for a new 15,000-square-foot showroom and a design/ build showroom set to open by mid-2006 in another city.

But, Klein is also quick to note that he could not accomplish these goals alone, citing the firm's 160 employees including seven CKD/CBDs as key to the overall success of the firm.

He stresses: "Our goal is to become regional and national and do something the industry has never seen. The industry has been unsuccessful at trying to scale a full design/build remodeling company and we are managing to do it and we will definitely achieve our goals."

Start me up
A key element of the Airoom business plan is the unique S.T.A.R.T. process a proprietary 10-step process that assures customer satisfaction at every stage of the design and construction process, Klein notes.

"Our S.T.A.R.T. process is something that has been developed over time. It allows us to become a production house of custom work things that typically do not go together."

He continues: "It also enables our people to wear their best hats rather than multiple hats and incorporates best practices from all different industries and methodologies into a streamlined, efficient method."

Specifically, the process includes: Initial consultation; planning and design; specifications and cost approval; finalizing blueprints and materials selection; permit processing; scheduling of materials, labor and equipment; supervising construction; financial options; clean-up and walk-through; and construction warranty.

Although the process has certainly created consistent and comprehensive results, Klein offers an interesting view on its core.

"No one piece of the process is revolutionary, but when you stream them all together and get them to work as a group, it becomes a very powerful tool."

For Klein, however, the way customers are treated during the construction process is equally as important as the finished project they receive.

Therefore, the firm also implements the "TLC" (Total Living Care) method, which reaffirms its value- and detail-oriented philosophy by offering such unique services as daily clean up or even building temporary kitchens and exterior stairways so that clients can live in their homes during construction.

"This is a customer, user friendly, feel-good approach to building," he says. "We use it to concentrate on the consumer and make their lives as easy as possible through a remodeling project."

Klein estimates that more than 90 percent of Airoom's clients live at home during the construction process as a result.

He adds: "When you're doing as many projects as we do, you're flexing your design creativity to its fullest extent. That's why we have several different price points and design philosophies, depending on the consumer. We need to be more flexible based on the volume that we do here."

Room to breathe
The Airoom showroom is key to the firm's success, as well.

"When someone walks in, we leave them alone aside from [a friendly greeting]. That lets people take their time and look around.

We can do anything, so we are just trying to awaken the customer's senses and then eventually dialogue about their specific needs," says Klein.

What customers will see is offerings from Crystal Cabinets, Décor, Dal-Tile and most major appliance and fixture manufacturers, among others, he notes.

Also part of the showroom is a resource center, which acts as a "living catalogue of available products," says Klein. There, customers will see stones, hinges, cabinet doors and windows, all meant to further spur their imaginations.

"It gives them a lot of vertical movement and horizontal movement in the product line," he says.

And, it is precisely this latitude that enables the firm to fully cater to client's needs, he adds. "The way everything is laid out leads to our S.T.A.R.T. process and helps people understand how the system works. When they leave, they understand the breadth of what we do and can decide if it's the process for them," he says.

If they decide on Airoom, Klein suggests that the results will amaze clients each time.

"[One of my greatest pleasures] is seeing projects going up and completed seamlessly so that they can't really recognize what has been done," he concludes.

Promotion machine
According to Klein, the company also has a very active marketing campaign, which currently includes direct mailings, job signs, advertisements in the Yellow Pages, auto signs and a company Web site.

In fact, the company hosts roughly six showroom events per year, including wine tastings for clients as well as visits from radio personalities and cooking demonstrations from local chefs.

Airoom Architects & Builders

Location: Lincolnwood, IL
Michael B. Klein, president/CEO; Tom Graham, COO; Seymour Turner, senior v.p./financial services.
Number of employees:
One, 30,000 square feet
Hours of Operation:
Mon.-Thurs. 9 a.m.-9 p.m.; Sun. 11 a.m.- 5 p.m.
Major product lines carried:
Crystal Cabinets, Décor, Dal-Tile, Anderson, James Hardie and all major appliance and fixtures manufacturers
Design Specialties:
Home additions, custom kitchens and baths
Business philosophy:
"To combine architecture, engineering, construction, interior design, purchasing and finance into a coherent whole. We design what we build, build what we design and deliver unsurpassed value."