Design Partners Find Symmetry in Business Union

Design Partners Find Symmetry in Business Union 

By Denise D. Vermeulen

Scott and Westeroth decided to join hands and the result was the creation of XTC Design, a firm which, despite having been in business for less than a decade, has neverthless made a name for itself industry-wide, with a host of contest winning design projects that have been prominently featured in magazines, in newspapers and at the annual K/BIS. 
The design duo's main focus is on designing kitchens and baths, although they also do space planning. They design cabinetry, home offices and entertainment centers, as well. 

Part of the firm's diversity grew out of necessity. "We started our business at a bad time economically," explains Westeroth, "so we had to make our own jobs. We did drawings and design work for other companies, for their clients or showrooms." In fact, during the first two years of operation, 75% of their business was for other companies and manufacturers. 

The other 25% of clients, however, were primarily people who heard about XTC at home shows, as well as some who had been referred to them by NKBA.

A Good Blend
The duo soon realized that their union was working. However, neither wanted the partnership to damage their ability to make decisions quickly and effectively, so Scott and Westeroth agreed that only one of them would head up any given project.

However, Westeroth does note that their best designs have always been "a 50-50 effort," and that this creative partnership continues to inspire their work, with each of their strengths complementing the other's. "He's symmetrical, balanced and orderly," she says of Scott's approach to design. "I'm asymmetrical and likely to throw in something off the wall." The combination seems to work for them, and Westeroth notes that they enjoy mixing elements "to create variety and texture." This is particularly effective in the types of contemporary designs the duo is so fond of.

Although she claims they are "terrible business people with no formal business plan," Westeroth and her partner have clearly recognized the power of marketing. The proof is in the numbers: XTC Design has grown by at least 50% for each of the last three years. 

The team has recently purchased a house together and the two are moving their business from their former apartment to a more spacious office in their new home. They hope to eventually redesign their kitchen and bathroom to showcase their work for potential clients.

A Competitive Edge
Westeroth credits long hours and six-day work weeks for the success XTC is enjoying, as well as the creative synergy between her and Scott's talents. But, as with any business, talent and hard work are only part of the equation; to move to the next level, XTC had to find a way to get the word out. 

Early on, Scott and Westeroth began entering their work in various Canadian design competitions. Initially, their designs did not win, but they realized that by entering the contests and attending the shows anyway, they would get business leads. And, seeing other designers' winning entries also provided creative inspiration.

In 1997, XTC won first place in both the kitchen and bath categories in the NKBA Design Competition in Ontario. Their winning designs were built and displayed at an affiliated home show. 

The wins were key for XTC, as referrals and leads came flowing in. The team has not missed a beat since, chalking up an impressive array of contest-winning designs. Their lengthy list of accomplishments includes several first place awards in regional and national Sub-Zero Kitchen Design Contests and NKBA competitions.

The design firm has also developed important relationships with various editors of regional and national design magazines, Westeroth reports. Magazines such as Toronto Life and Canadian House & Home have often featured the design projects developed by XTC. 

Westeroth says they have never sent out formal news releases. "We just keep submitting our finished projects to all the magazines," she explains. XTC sends a note and before and after photos to the editors, who then send out their own photographers if the project is to be featured.

After eight years in business, XTC is enjoying a strong word-of-mouth referral base. The company's philosophy includes a follow-up phone call to all clients once a project is finished to ensure customer satisfaction and help to build referrals. 
The duo also sends a newsletter once or twice annually to all clients served during the last few years. The newsletter includes color photos of completed projects, articles about the business and upcoming magazine and book features about XTC.

The XTC Web site also gives potential customers a strong sense of what the firm is all about, Westeroth believes. It's a slick, stylish site that provides an overview of the company. While the Web site has not generated much new business yet, Westeroth notes that the team always refers potential clients to it, as it's a powerful tool for allowing customers to get to know them. And, as an independent design team that operates without a showroom, XTC can still offer their customers a peek at some of their best designs through the Web site.

Looking Ahead
XTC completes approximately 12 jobs annually, with the average client spending about $60,000 (Canadian) per project, Westeroth reports, noting that most of the firm's clients are upscale professionals and most of the jobs are renovation projects. 

Although XTC is anticipating a dip in business because of recent economic stalls that have led some consumers to postpone work, she is optimistic about the firm's long-term future.

To that end, she notes that the company may add one or two designers sometime in the next five years in order to grow the business. In the meanwhile, she notes that she and her partner are focused on "getting organized" in their new space, and delighting in some recent design trends particularly those dealing with the use of color, which is one of her strengths.
Westeroth says that her Canadian client base seems to be showing a growing interest in projects that are more colorful, as well as a more contemporary look with daring colors such as yellows, purples, lime greens and multi-colored back splashes These are, she says, "very happy colors," and well reflective of how she feels about her business.


LOCATION: Toronto, Canada
PRINCIPALS: Erica Westeroth, CKD, ARIDO; Tim Scott
HOURS OF OPERATION: By appointment only
EMPLOYEES: Two full-time, one part-time
MAJOR PRODUCT LINES: Neff Kitchens, Artcraft, Luxor, Falcon Kitchens
SPECIALTIES: Upscale kitchens and bathrooms; they also design cabinetry, entertainment centers and home offices, and do some space planning.
BUSINESS PHILOSOPHY: "We have a unique ability to incorporate form and function."