Dealer Works Harder and Smarter for Distinction

Dealer Works Harder and Smarter for Distinction

By Denise Vermeulen

"You'd better believe that Home Depot or Lowe's has a budget, and they know their gross profit!" she says.

"Working hard is not enough. We have to work smart!"

Working "smart" and motivating others have always been high priorities for Weaver, whose business primarily serves successful, two-income households within a 50-mile radius around Springfield. However, she initially learned these skills in a whole different field. A former biology teacher and cheerleading coach in the public school system, Weaver did not have a strong resume to present when she arrived on the doorstep of a local kitchen and bath dealer looking for a job. 

"My husband and I were building a new house, and I was having the time of my life," Weaver says. "I thought it would be wonderful to spend all day playing with house plans."

Of course, the dealer initially said no to Weaver's pleas for a job. She was, however, relentless in her pursuit of the job, offering to work only for commission. Her persistence paid off, and Weaver was ultimately hired. She promptly enrolled herself in an NKBA course and, today, the former schoolteacher continues to believe in education. Weaver enthusiastically attends seminars, and devours books and articles primarily about topics that will enhance the bottom line of her business. Strategic planning, managing money, employee relations and marketing are some of her favorite topics.

Two years ago, Weaver and co-owner of Distinctive Designs, Curt Mavis, sat down and wrote a plan that would take the business, which has been operating since 1990, through the year 2003. The team decided how the company would look when it is essentially "done."

They concluded that they wanted to maintain one showroom and stay relatively small; the company did $1.35 million in sales last year and handles approximately 180 jobs annually. The pair also wanted to create a corporate culture that would recruit and retain employees. The details were hashed out, including the projected numbers. 

Once the initial planning was done, Weaver says they realized that they were not that far away from their goals. Filling in the gaps was the next task at hand.

'Raising' designers
According to Weaver, one of the greatest challenges in the kitchen and bath industry is finding new designers. "Colleges are not pumping them out," explains Weaver, "so, we raise them!"

Several years ago, the company hired two women one with a graphic arts degree and one with an interior design degree and immersed them in the business. The apprentices were paid a salary for two years as they learned everything from design to pricing. The co-owners supervised all aspects of their experience. 

Although the apprenticeship did not require an agreement to work for the firm after the two years, both of the new designers stayed on. With a generous commission, the new designers now have the opportunity to make "serious money" and have developed into "good, conscientious designers," says Weaver. The program continues today with another apprentice on board whose background is in architecture.

The staff at Distinctive Designs looks forward to a reward system designed to build the team. Weaver, who says she detests sales contests that pit employees against each other, devised a plan that would reward the group as a whole. The goal was to earn a trip to Cancun one employee at a time, based on seniority. The design team made its numbers and celebrated under the Mexican sun last February.

Weaver believes that investing in the design/sales team is the best way to market the firm, and she is currently offering a $5,000 bonus to any of her designers who become certified. The bonus will be paid out in $1,000 increments over a five-year period as long as the designer is employed by Distinctive Designs. The company shares in the cost of the certification process, as well.
Earning a salary and a percentage of the gross profits further motivates Distinctive Designs employees. They can also take advantage of a retirement plan, and health and disability insurance which is offered.

Bottom line
Weaver and her partner have also gotten serious about their bottom line. Budgeting, projecting figures and communicating their fiscal goals to staff have helped increase profits for the company. Weaver is proud that her staff understands the business side of things each is able to quote company statistics such as gross profit and monthly sales figures. 

The company also began taking two percent of the total revenues every week and putting it aside in an account. They use the money which is now a five percent account for taxes, staff retirement, matching funds and other needs. Weaver also prides herself that Distinctive Designs always takes advantage of vendor discounts for prepayment of bills, and makes deals with the vendors they work with most.

Not surprisingly, gross profits at Distinctive Designs have increased nine percentage points since implementing this plan, with Weaver and her staff attributing it to two basic things working harder and smarter.

Distinctive Designs

LOCATION: Springfield, IL
PRINCIPALS: Darlene Weaver, CKD, CBD, ASID, president/co-owner; Curt Mavis, CKD, CBD, ASID, co-owner; Dave Robinson, designer; Kelli Shamhart, designer; Katie Hahn, designer; Brandy Lantis, designer; William Skeens, CKD, designer.
SHOWROOMS: One, 3,200 sq. ft.
HOURS OF OPERATION: Mon., 10-6; Tues.-Thurs., 9-6; Fri., 9-4; Sat., 9-1
EMPLOYEES: 8 full-time, 1 part-time
MAJOR PRODUCT LINES: Wood-Mode, Kitchen Craft, KraftMaid, DuPont Corian, Avonite, Wilsonart, Formica, Granite, Nevamar.
SPECIALTIES: Personalizing the job by getting to know the customer and creating solutions that fit individual lifestyles. 
BUSINESS PHILOSOPHY: "We want to create win-win situationswhere the customer and the company wins. We want to create an environment and culture in our company so that everyone who works here will give a lot and get a lot."