Marketing Boosts Family Firm's Business Savvy

Marketing Boosts Family Firm's Business Savvy

By Denise D. Vermeulen

Employing his wife Brandy, stepson Perry Fleming and stepdaughter Brook Fleming, Phelps planned the business to be a family affair right down to having Phelps' father, Wally, consulting for the firm and designing some of the kitchens.

However, while Phelps loved the idea of owning a true "family business," he also had to address some of the challenges that "mom and pop" businesses face most notably that of updating the business' image and marketing to ensure that "family-run" didn't mean "unable to compete with the big guns."

To begin, Phelps needed to identify what the firm was doing right and what needed improvement.

Surveying Success
In June 2001, Phelps hired a marketing manager to improve the company's overall image and sharpen its marketing strategy. "Our ads were 'mom and pop' advertising," says Phelps. "We looked a lot like a little cottage company." Phelps also wanted help with managing the growing advertising budget that includes print, radio, Yellow Pages ads, coupons, home shows and a Web site.

Marketing manager Wayne Blankinship began by asking, "How many of our customers are satisfied?" Although Phelps and Perry Fleming personally inspect every completed job, their answers were vague, Blankinship thought. He quickly determined that more specifics were needed, and he wrote a detailed questionnaire that would prove to be an important marketing tool.

Eventually, the survey was mailed to over 1,300 former clients, and the information gathered from the respondents has helped shape the company's outlook on the future. Probably the most important outcome of the survey, however, has been to reinforce Phelps' instincts. The numbers gathered supported his gut feeling that New Face Kitchens was on the right track. In fact, according to the survey, 98% of respondents rated the quality of their completed projects as "satisfactory to outstanding."

However, the results of the survey also prompted some important changes at the company. "We have increased our training of all employees," states Blankinship. "Each week, our installers receive training updates on the latest installation techniques."

The survey also provided information that led the company to make some changes to its automated job tracking system. The system, according to Phelps, helps them stay ahead of problems on the job site and avoid the "punch list" at the end of the job.

Another area of change prompted by the study was in the company's showroom. The firm has never had commissioned sales personnel and maintains a policy of no-pressure sales. While this has its advantages, the survey showed that presentations in the showroom needed to be streamlined and better organized.

The changes have paid off, and today, the firm completes over 400 kitchen projects annually and boasts a growing bathroom remodeling business, as well. Blankinship adds that New Face Kitchens continues to survey its most recent customers quarterly to help get "a clearer picture of what consumers are looking for when updating their kitchen or bath."

He expects that the information gathered will continue to help the company strategize and compete in the marketplace.

Planning Ahead
When Phelps opened up for business, serving a 70-mile corridor along the Puget Sound, he was armed with more than a dream and extensive work experience. With the help of his wife, Brandy, Phelps wrote an ambitious 25-year plan. Phelps determined his business would target not the ultra high-end, but rather, consumers looking for an "average kitchen." The company promotes its business to "reface, replace or remodel" kitchens and baths, with the average kitchen project costing $15,000, and the average bathroom project coming in at around $8,000.

When New Face Kitchens was born, Phelps did it all sell, draw, install kitchens. Through it all, his primary goal was a "job well done. I figured the money would follow," he explains.

He was right. The company now has some 45 employees, and Phelps says his business grew annually by 50% between 1992 and 2000. Then it "got to a size where I didn't want it to grow anymore," he notes, adding, "I like the hands-on aspect of the business. I like talking to the customers. I like driving over to the shopmaybe help them run some boards through." And he didn't want to lose that aspect of the business. So, Phelps made a conscious choice to grow the business a bit more slowly, by only 10% in 2001.

"We don't have a spectacular showroom on purpose," explains Phelps. He believes mainstream customers often find dramatic showrooms to be intimidating. As he explains, "It's great to tour Hearst castle, but it's not what you would do in your home."

The showroom does, however, feature hundreds of door styles and colors that New Face Kitchens fabricates. One part of the showroom is designated just for tile samples, and the firm maintains a "huge selection of knobs and pulls," according to Phelps.

While the showroom may not be fancy, it meets the customers' needs and for Phelps, that makes his family business a true success story.

New Face Kitchens 

LOCATION: Kirkland, WA
PRINCIPALS: Tom Phelps, owner/president; Brandy Phelps, v.p.; Perry Fleming, v.p.; Brook Fleming, order manager.
SHOWROOMS: One, 3,000 square feet
HOURS OF OPERATION: Mon.-Fri. 9 a.m. -6 p.m., Sat. 10 a.m. -4 p.m., and by appointment.
MAJOR PRODUCT LINES: DuPont Corian, Caesar Stone, Avonite, Formica
SPECIALTIES: Reface, replace and redesign mid-range kitchens and baths.
BUSINESS PHILOSOPHY: "To carry throughgiving customers what they expect is what I've been after all of this time."