Well-Trained Staff, Solid Values Drive Success

Well-Trained Staff, Solid Values Drive Success

By Denise D. Vermeulen

Enter a well-trained sales staff. The sales team quickly landed 107 new builders as clients. As a result, last year, KSI had sales in excess of $30 million and it continues to look confidently to the future.

While KSI's systematic and assertive marketing techniques have been a key to its success, the company's approach to training, and its commitment to a philosophy that preaches the "golden rule," positions the company as a service-oriented business.

The company, which has its roots in the cabinet business, was founded in 1971 by Don Fisher and Don Ziegler. Though the two are still involved in the company today, both are semi-retired.

According to president and CEO Pete Casteel, who joined the company in 1999, the founders created a corporate culture that has survived to this day. "Our culture is founded on real, solid business ethics," says Casteel. "We have great relationships with suppliers."

KSI University
The foundation of those supplier relationships can be attributed to the firm's employees. According to Casteel, the staff known as team members benefits from a unique and rigorous training program.

In fact, education has become an integral part of the corporate culture at KSI. Just over two years ago, the company decided to formalize its training program and appointed Carol Cammet as director of "KSI University," a training regimen that is now required for all new hires.

At KSI University, a new recruit is indoctrinated into the corporate culture and introduced to the various systems in place. The courses offered are geared to the individual's needs, and may include computer-aided design, design techniques and sales techniques. Manufacturer representatives provide product training, and employees visit suppliers to experience first-hand how the products are made. Finally, employees spend time in each department at KSI and visit all of the showrooms.

At the end of training, KSI University "students" are required to take exams. The tests cover quotes, orders, various programs, pricing and closing techniques.

KSI University also offers an abbreviated program for warehouse employees and office support staff. The overall program includes a meeting with Casteel, who emphasizes the company's core values.

In keeping with its devotion to education, KSI requires that every one of its 52 designers, as well as its entire sales staff, be licensed by the state. KSI provides additional training as needed, and tests its employees regularly.

The salespeople at the design firm are divided into two teams. The showroom team sells to retail customers, some remodeling contractors and small builders. The other unit is the builder division, which consists of 10 employees who work out of their homes, generating 47% of sales dollars. An additional support team of 10 works out of headquarters.

Though Casteel maintains that KSI's competition is "very robust," it has maintained 40% of the builder market share. Although competition in the retail market is stiffer, KSI hopes to grow this end of the business, noting a recent increase of 7% on its part.

Smart Marketing
Backing up the highly trained KSI staff are eight showrooms that total 29,000 sq. ft., situated in locations all over metropolitan Detroit and Flint, MI. According to Casteel, each showroom was designed with its local demographics in mind. KSI defines its target customer, gathers information including average income and the age of the population and displays various products according to location and the type of customers anticipated.

KSI also reviews the percentage of old homes versus the projections of new homes in the area when filling its showrooms. The older homes will open doors for KSI's retail sales, and new construction will provide opportunities to expand the builders' program.
Occasionally, KSI holds events at its showrooms, most of which have playrooms for clients' children. Some of these happenings are geared to showcase products, such as a Corian event and a granite promotion. One successful event was an open house that featured a cookbook signing by a local celebrity a contestant straight off the popular television show "Survivor."

KSI also implements a customer information management system, which was developed to better measure "how well we're doing," says Casteel. The design firm tracks measurables such as showroom traffic and how serious the customer is about a purchase. Information about how the customer heard about the firm is also gathered.

According to Casteel, this information has helped the company better spend its advertising dollars. "Our local TV buys used to be broad-based," he comments. With more information now available to the firm about its customers, KSI uses its television advertising dollars more wisely. Added success has come by way of advertising on home and garden as well as food shows.

"Our goal is to clearly be the best supplier," says Casteel. "We are not a price-based house, we are a value-based house." It's not likely KSI will miss its mark.

KSI Kitchens & Baths 

LOCATION: Brighton, MI
PRINCIPALS: Don Fisher, owner; Don Ziegler, owner; Pete Casteel, president and chief executive officer; Dan Romback, v.p. and chief financial officer
SHOWROOMS: Eight, totaling 29,000 square feet
HOURS OF OPERATION: Mon., Wed. and Sat., 9 a.m.-5 p.m.; Tues. and Thurs., 9 a.m.-8 p.m.; appointments by request.
MAJOR PRODUCT LINES: Merillat, Dura Supreme, Kitchen Craft, Delta Faucet Co., Kohler Co., Elkay, Jacuzzi, Moen, Aqua Glass, American Standard, DuPont Corian, Wilsonart International, Formica Corp., Hera Lighting, Broan.
20-20 Technologies
SPECIALTIES: "Service is our
specialty. Our real goal is to be the premiere service supplier. We want our products to become
secondary to our service."
BUSINESS PHILOSOPHY: "Our philosophy is the 'golden rule.' We treat clients as we would want to be treated."