Design Firm Turns Branding Into an Art Form

Design Firm Turns Branding Into an Art FormĀ 

By John Filippelli

According to DesCombes, CKD, and president of Architectural Artworks, Inc., her business started out as an architectural design firm in the late '80s, but soon became focused on kitchens and cabinetry.

Unlike many designers who focus only on the artistic side of the business, DesCombes was very aware of the practical concerns that go into making a business successful. "When we began, I employed my business and marketing skills to develop a detailed plan, leveraging the artistic and architectural abilities of the creative director [who is also her husband] with my business expertise," she explains.

"We added the kitchens/cabinetry business as a separate design opportunity and profit center, so we decided to represent a mix of product lines [including SieMatic, Rutt and DBS, among others] to ensure that we would meet the profit objectives of our business plan."

As part of that plan, DesCombes opened a showroom at the Winter Park, FL location to show clients that the firm was designing total spaces not just selling cabinetry.

The showroom became a strong marketing tool, and DesCombes notes, "Now, clients will refer to displays, saying 'I want that room,' as opposed to [just asking for a] certain cabinet or door style."

This, in turn, creates a looping, symbiotic relationship between her design business and her kitchen/ cabinetry business. "The kitchen and architectural design businesses remain separate profit centers, although they often feed off of each other providing architectural design for cabinetry clients, and vice versa," she says.

Another key component to the business, DesCombes notes, is the close working relationship the firm forges with its client base. To that end, she says, "It's important to qualify clients to make certain there can be a good marriage, and that we will enjoy working together.

"We research the clients' project thoroughly by asking questions in an interview and using a survey that I've developed."

To ensure the finest quality finished projects, DesCombes insists that the firm's contractual documents be followed and that the staff retains creative freedom. As she points out, "We approach each project as if it were a marketing plan, including those elements of the marketing mix such as product, pricing, positioning, distribution and promotion. "I think our structured approach to business and the application of basic marketing principles to our organization is a key differentiation point between us and the industry in general," she adds.

Word-of-mouth and referrals produce a a substantial portion the firm's work, and she notes, "We spend the lion's share of our promotional budget on public relations, and have a Web site that is continually upgraded."

But, in the end, DesCombes believes one factor will make or break any marketing plan. "You must know yourself. Only then can you put together a plan that focuses on what you do best."

Architectural Artworks, Inc.

LOCATION: Winter Park, FL
PRINCIPALS: Joan DesCombes, CKD and Roland DesCombes, architectural designer/fine artist
SHOWROOMS: One, 2200 sq. ft.
HOURS OF OPERATION: Mon. - Fri., 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (showroom hours); other times by appointment
MAJOR PRODUCT LINES: SieMatic Corp., Rutt Handcrafted Cabinetry, DBS, Signature and a variety of countertops, plumbing fixtures, flooring, hardware and lighting.
SPECIALTIES: Specializing in architectural detailing, custom cabinetry and furniture design for projects throughout the United States.
BUSINESS PHILOSOPHY: "The spaces we create truly are 'functional works of art.' "