Family Kitchen and Bath Firm Builds on Tradition
By Daina Darzin Manning
Lindquist always knew she wanted to be a kitchen designer the instant she was introduced to the idea, back when she was still in college. "I was so enticed by this whole concept of kitchen design," she remembers. "All my life, I've liked to put things together I started designing sewing projects when I was quite young. So. I found it fascinating how kitchens came together all of these possibilities. [I love to work with] all of these little pieces and parts that once assembled would result in this room that truly is the heart of a home, and that has such a dynamic effect on how a family functions and interacts in their space [together]."
There was no formal training in kitchen design during those pre-NKBA program times, so Lindquist designed her own curriculum to get the education she needed, and promptly found a summer intern position at a local kitchen shop. That company later hired her, launching Lindquist's now 20+-year career.
A few years and jobs later, Lindquist was hired by her mentor in a well-known, top quality shop in her area. "This business has been here since the early sixties," Lindquist explains. "It's one of the older kitchen centers in the country, and it's been in the same location for almost 38 years."
Ten years ago, Lindquist and her husband took over the business when the original owner decided to pursue other interests. "It was a wonderful opportunity and a win-win situation," she recalls. "Their family business could go on and prosper under new ownership, and that made it easier for [the former owner] to move on."
The advantage of taking over a successful and well-known business, coupled with Lindquist's own following of clients and a strong referral base, led to a smooth transition. "The business has continued to grow each year," she notes.
Her unique situation including the fact that her name was part of the company monicker for several years prior to her taking over the business enabled Lindquist to avoid large start-up marketing costs; most of her work still comes by referral. "It was part of a long-range plan," she explains.
That plan included her husband joining the business. "He left his career a year after we took over the business to support me," she says "We have a family and we needed better balance in our lives. For both of us to work in the same business gave us more flexibility."
The Lindquists have well-defined roles which enable the business to function as efficiently as possible. "I'm the idea person, the primary designer and salesperson for our business," she elaborates. "I oversee all our projects from start to finish, do all the consultation with our clients. I also oversee [all of] the marketing aspects of our business. He has a better background in finance, and took over the day-to-day operations as well as everyday project management. He oversees the bookkeeping and insurance as well, and oversees and manages our construction projects, [including] purchasing."
Though the Lindquists use subcontractors for construction projects, "we offer our clients project management," she says. "So the tradespeople are brought in to do the work, and we manage the tradespeople on behalf of our clients."
Currently, her company handles as many as 30 projects in various stages of completion, from budgeting to final installation, with no more than six remodeling projects actually under construction at any given time. In addition, the company will simultaneously take on a few new construction projects: "They're less demanding than a major renovation project," she says.
Lindquist adds that she's deliberately kept the company small about a million dollars in business a year. "We find we have better control over our projects that way," she notes. The company currently has a waiting list of clients and could expand if the desire was there. But Lindquist emphasizes, "We approach each project on a one-to-one basis with our clients, and try to deliver service that makes them feel like they're the only ones we're working with, and give them exceptional attention to detail," aspects of the business that she believes might get lost in a larger operation.
While Lindquist doesn't want to grow the firm too fast, she is a member of SEN (Signature Executive Network), a national buying and industry networking group that gives her "big-firm buying power," without losing the advantages of a small, personalized firm. "The hardest thing about smaller businesses in our industry, is that we're isolated in our marketplaces," she notes. "We don't have the opportunity to talk to our competition, because we all want to keep our trade secrets." The national organization enables her to share marketing and system ideas with other independent kitchen and bath dealers, which Lindquist says has contributed to her company's continued success over the years.
Unlike many in the industry, Lindquist insists she has no problem in finding qualified workers. "Our tradespeople are one of the most valuable assets that we have in our business," she declares. In fact, she points out, "We find that good tradespeople seek us out. We run a very well-organized, detailed business, and our projects have a reputation for being well-designed and thorough. This has evolved over the years I was fortunate to connect with some good tradespeople 20 years ago, when this industry was much simpler. As the industry has grown, and I've grown professionally, my tradespeople have grown right beside me we've evolved together."
In recent years, Lindquist reveals that, "I've become much more rigid about what I will and won't do." For instance, previously, if a homeowner had an electrician or plumber he or she wanted to work with on a project, Lindquist would acquiesce. "Now," she notes, "I'm more apt to say, 'if you want to take complete responsibility for the plumber coordinating, scheduling you're welcome to do that, but, if you want us to handle
that aspect of your project, we [absolutely] require that you work with our tradespeople.' For us to deliver the type of professional service that people expect from us, we need to have tradespeople who are willing to work with us and follow through on things and that only comes from long-term, [established] relationships."
Partnerships and sharing of
talents and skills are also key to the firm's success. For example, Lindquist admits that she is less enamored of the increasingly high-tech orientation of the kitchen design business "I'm technologically illiterate," she laughs but luckily, her design assistant is "a wiz" on AUTOCAD and handles all computer graphics for the company.
Similarly, Lindquist's young showroom manager/assistant project manager grew up with technology and handles other high-tech chores for the company, allowing Lindquist to focus on what she does best. "I trust her in those areas. I know what I do well, and I've learned to delegate the other things. You have to pick what you can and can't do. One of my greatest successes is surrounding myself with good people."
This approach allows Lindquist to focus on her lifelong passion: design. "I'm working for my client," she explains. "Somewhere early on in the project relationship, we need to establish the language of design an interpretation of their tastes, their lifestyle, what they want to accomplish. As the designer, I'm then beholden to help them achieve their design goals. They rely on me [as a professional] to ensure that their project will meet the criteria for good design but the project [should] also reflect their taste not mine. The most important aspect of any project is truthful communication you have to be on the same page with your client."
Lindquist makes a point of explaining her philosophy when meeting with clients, stating, "I emphasize to my clients that a simple project, installed extremely well, will give them much more return on their investment than extravagant products that are installed poorly." She adds, "It's a better investment to invest in good craftsmanship. Embellishment can always be added later."
Lindquist concludes, "I think we're held to a higher standard than other companies in our market place," because of the company's long-term standing in the community and its reputation. For Lindquist, the standards that her clients hold her to are her own, however, and as she adds, "We need to make sure we always deliver on them."
Lindquist and Co.
LOCATION: Duluth, MN
PRINCIPALS: Rebecca Gullion Lindquist, CKD, CBD, and Robert Lindquist, co-owners
SHOWROOMS: 1, 1,200 sq. ft. plus 600 sq. ft. office space
HOURS OF OPERATION: Mon. - Fri., 8:30 a.m. -5 p.m., evenings and Saturdays by appointment
MAJOR PRODUCT LINES: WoodMode and Brookhaven cabinetry, Jay Rambo cabinetry.
DESIGN SOFTWARE: AUTOCAD
SPECIALTY: Fully designed and completed turnkey renovation projects, offering full service from the onset of budget development to turnkey completion.
BUSINESS PHILOSOPHY: "One of my greatest successes is surrounding myself with good people. I think we're held to a higher standard than other companies in our market place, so we need to make sure we deliver."