Category 1 Overall Excellence in Operating a Kitchen & Bath Dealership

Category 1 Overall Excellence in Operating a Kitchen & Bath Dealership

First place: Morris Black & Sons, Lehigh Valley, PA

Firm Serves Multiple Markets With One Level of Excellence

The company is divided into three separate divisions which operate as individual profit centers within the corporate structure: Commercial Doors and Hardware, Fiberglass Insulation Contracting and Kitchens and Baths Division. The firm serves as a distributor for stock cabinets, offering a one-stop builder purchase point for stock cabinets; a commercial/contract business, serving light industrial casework needs with its own in house manufacturing facility, and a high-end custom kitchen remodeling business, with a focused "design studio" image.

In fact, the firm's ability to succeed as a multi-faceted business  without sacrificing quality earned it top honors in Category One of K&BDN's 2001 Industry Leadership Awards competition.

The 93-year-old Lehigh Valley, PA-based firm is a family affair, currently managed by the third and fourth generation of the Black family. Serving the residential and commercial construction trades, while simultaneously building its reputation as one of the most respected high-end kitchen and bath remodeling companies in the area, the company operates out of three locations its headquarters in Lehigh Valley, and two satellite showrooms in Bartonsville, PA (the Poconos) and Bryn Mawr, PA (Main Line Philadelphia). 

While some firms have struggled with secondary showrooms, becoming overextended in their attempts to grow, Morris Black was able to successfully expand into the two satellite operations largely because it was able to build on its strengths without relying on cookie cutter showrooms. Instead, each showroom is carefully tailored to fit the unique style demands of its respective clientele.

Recognizing and respecting differences while maintaining the firm's overall success strategy has worked well internally, as well. Within the company, each division has distinctive and separate responsibilities, yet each benefits from the other's experience. For instance, within the builder market, the two sales organizations, although separated in their business focus, are supervised by one kitchen department manager. This allows the retail group to interact with the builder customer service staff and designers, with each learning from the others.

At the heart of Morris Black is the high-end kitchen design studio, which utilizes a showroom within a showroom concept, keeping it completely separate from the stock/builder spaces. Entering this area, everything from the carpet to the floor to the design approach to the clientele changes in fact, the firm even developed a separate image and logo for the high-end business. 

Collaborative design carry out the service mission, with teams made up of a senior designer and a design associate. The idea that "two designers are better than one" works well here, with each designer bouncing ideas off the other giving customers an added sense of personalized attention that high-end customers expect. The design team is backed up by a strong support staff to ensure "turnkey" full service attention.

This team approach allows the large, multi-faceted business to maintain the kind of small, personalized and focused "studio" approach to residential kitchen design that high-end consumers desire.

The Morris Black Design Studios eschews traditional advertising in favor of a "community development" marketing campaign that focuses on strong partnerships with interior designers, architects and key specifiers within the upscale community. Not only have interior designers partnered on accessorizing the displays, but ASID and designer events are regularly held in the showroom, the firm notes.

2nd place: Kitchen Distributors of America, Itasca, IL

Design Firm Practices 'Growing Sales by Growing People'

In fact, the firm cares so much about investing in its people a number that currently includes some 235 employees in 21 locations it recently instituted a personal coaching program which pairs associates with a district manager to help each associate reach his or her potential. Notes general manager Rob Best, "[The coaching program] is like getting ready for an athletic event. To get to the next level, [associates] strategize with their coach." Best believes that the coaching program is unique to the kitchen and bath industry, giving associates a "go-to" person, someone to learn from through personal contact. 

Additionally, KDA has two other support programs to promote quality and excellence in its sales associates: KDA University, which offers sales associates 40 hours of individually based curriculum, for which they are allowed to choose courses that suit their professional needs and schedules; and NKBA industry certification opportunities, which allow associates to earn their Certified Kitchen Designer certification.

The firm's willingness to invest in its own people has resulted in a level of excellence that has won the firm accolades from peers, customers and the community as well as second-place honors in Category One of K&BDN's third annual Industry Leadership Awards.

There's no one formula for success, but quality that permeates a firm from the top down can go a long way toward building a company that people want to work for and buy from. And KDA has built a long history of success in its 50 years in the industry. KDA began as an offshoot of Builders Plumbing Co, when a salesman interested in selling vanities joined with Orville Merillat, founder of Merillat Industries, resulting in the firm being the first distributor of Merillat cabinetry.

While much has changed in the past 50 years, the company's commitment to quality and service has not. KDA works with a customer-driven model based on a firm, three-point core ideology. First, the customer always comes first. Second, employees are rewarded for hard work and honest effort toward achieving unsurpassed service. Finally, everyone is treated with respect and dignity.

Personalized service is key to realizing these aims, and Best notes, "We try to sit down with each customer to determine what will work for that person's for family's lifestyle, and then design a kitchen around that." 

Because KDA sales associates handle their sales from beginning to end, the associates are encouraged to "own" their customer base, and this gives them the chance to make a personal connection and build trust which results both in job satisfaction for the customer, and long-time employment for the associate.

Technology has also been a big part of the firm's continued success strategy, with the company taking advantage of communication technology that links multiple locations. In fact, in the last six months, the company completely converted to a new, efficient warehouse management system that utilizes barcodes. The company is also developing a design program that will use computer technology to connect KDA directly with its product manufacturers, Best notes.
Even in an uncertain economy, this strategy seems to have been successful for the firm. With the market falling off for many, Best decided it made sense to move away from selling stock cabinetry and focus more on selling higher-priced, custom and semi-custom merchandise.

It was clearly a wise decision for the company, and Best notes that KDA has continued to grow its semi-custom cabinet sales at "an extremely fast rate," with sales in this sector increasing a whopping 300%. 

The firm's mission statement sums it up nicely: "The purpose of KDA is to provide products and services through its dedicated employees to meet the highest level of customer satisfaction." While it might seem a tall order for some, KDA doesn't find this a challenge: Rather, it's just a logical and profitable way of doing business.