Smart Investments Yield Big Return for Design Firm

Smart Investments Yield Big Return for Design Firm

By Denise Vermeulen

In fact, Neil Kelly's winning strategy is the end product of a number of well-placed investments, all of which enhance the company's reputation, credibility, outreach efforts, and, ultimately, referral business. Extensive planning, diversification of services and products, a signature cabinet line manufactured by Neil Kelly that adds to the firm's appeal, an effective marketing strategy and a commitment to its people are all among the tools that have built and ensured the continuing success of the 54-year-old firm. 

Anticipated sales for this year are music to v.p./sales and marketing Martha Kerr's ears: $16 million in remodeling, $2 million in cabinet manufacturing, $2 million in the Home Repair Team division, and $1 million in the Renewal by Anderson division.

Kerr maintains that Neil Kelly is unique in the kitchen and bath world because it offers a "single-search responsibility for an entire project." She explains that many firms offer some of the same services, but rarely do they offer the same range of possibilities. 

Investing in people

The company places a high value on having its employees certified. Without the knowledge gained through certification, Kerr says, "there is a lack of understanding of how to put rooms together to work well for the people using them."

But the firm doesn't stop at nurturing its employees; it works at nurturing the entire community, which Kerr believes offers multiple benefits. Employees are strongly encouraged to be active in the community, and each member of the management team is involved with community housing on a volunteer basis. 

All staff members are expected to be a part of at least one church or civic group of their choice, and the company, in turn, supports the group's work in the community through fundraising and other activities. According to Kerr, the idea is not only to be a good corporate citizen but to also "increase each team member's circle of influence," which pays dividends to the firm in terms of increased visibility, an enhanced reputation and, of course, more jobs through word-of-mouth referrals.

Marketing efforts
With an advertising budget of about 3% of annual sales, Neil Kelly employs a local advertising firm to assist with getting the word out. Radio ads that feature client testimonials, and a weekly ad in the region's newspaper, are among the placements made. 

The firm participates in the annual Tour of Remodeled Homes and, last spring, held a celebration to mark the opening of the firm's new showroom, just west of Portland. 

The new showroom, located in upscale and trendy Lake Oswego, boasts environmentally friendly products, four kitchens (including one working one) and four bathrooms. The building itself has won awards honoring Neil Kelly's commitment to energy-efficiency and earth-friendly products, keeping in line with the concerns of its environmentally aware consumer base. 

Neil Kelly also maintains a Web site that offers an overview of its services, including a questionnaire that allows potential clients to earn a $50 credit toward a Neil Kelly project. The web site generates about two leads per week, Kerr notes.

Employees are also strongly encouraged to publish their work and to enter contests, she notes. 

Keeping track
Committed to keeping detailed and up-to-date sales statistics, Kerr relies on a weekly lead report to keep her abreast of potential projects. "We get about 60 leads per week," she explains. "Of those leads, about 15% convert to design retainers, and 95% of those convert to jobs." Weekly and monthly lead reports are compared carefully to those of the previous year and tracked, in order to identify growth trends, lead sources and/or any weak areas. 

Such meticulous record keeping is how Kerr can say with confidence that 75% of the firm's referrals are still a result of word-of-mouth advertising. So, without disregarding all of the firm's other important promotional efforts, Kerr has learned that nothing proves more powerful than good, old-fashioned, word-of-mouth referrals. 

Neil Kelly Designers/Remodelers

LOCATION: Portland, and Lake Oswego, OR
PRINCIPALS: Tom Kelly, president; Martha Kerr, executive v.p./sales and marketing; Julia Spence, v.p./human resources; Doug Richmond, v.p./finance; Keith Andrade, v.p./production; Rick Fields, v.p. and general manager of the Cabinet Division; Walt Harwood, v.p. and general manager of Home Repair Team and Renewal by Andersen. 
SHOWROOMS: Two, each 5,000 sq. ft.
HOURS OF OPERATION: Mon.- Fri., 8:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m.; Saturdays 10 a.m.-3 p.m.
MAJOR PRODUCT LINES: Neil Kelly Signature Line, Heritage and KraftMaid cabinets; Ann Sacks Tile, Pratt and Larson Tile; Thermador, DACOR, ASKO, Fisher Paykel, Sub-Zero appliances; Rainier Richlite and Slatescape glass countertops.
SPECIALTIES: Complete design and remodeling services are offered.
BUSINESS PHILOSOPHY: The firm's goal is to improve the lives of its clients by remodeling their homes to suit their lifestyles, and to provide a place for Neil Kelly employees to grow.