New NKBA President Works Toward Future

New NKBA President Works Toward Future

Witt, in office several months now, has established a clear agenda for her one-year term. It's a vision that has been forged through years of active involvement in both the kitchen and bath industry, and the NKBA.

Witt, who has been in the kitchen and bath industry for more than 20 years, is a Certified Kitchen Designer, a Certified Bathroom Designer and a State Licensed Contractor. A graduate of Western Michigan University, she entered the industry as a sales professional in 1978 and joined the NKBA in 1982 the same year she established the dealership she heads, Kitchens by Stephanie, Ltd., in Petosky, MI. She subsequently opened a Grand Rapids branch, and consolidated her operations in that city in 1990.

Witt has been active in the NKBA at both the chapter and national levels, serving in various capacities in the Michigan State Chapter and on the NKBA's executive committee as a secretary, vice president, president-elect and now president.

She has also remained highly active as a designer, In fact, aside from many kitchen and bath projects in private residences, she designed and installed a new kitchen for the Michigan Governor's Mansion in the summer of 1996.
Witt recently shared her views with Kitchen & Bath Design News about the direction and goals the NKBA has defined for itself, and the role she plans to play as president in 2000. 

Q What are your primary objectives as the president of NKBA? What do you hope you can accomplish?

A I was fortunate that, as president-elect, past president Jeff Burton permitted me to become very involved in helping to implement the new long-term strategic plan adopted by the NKBA. My primary goal is to see that the objectives of that plan are met.

The thing I feel best about is that now we have a comprehensive, workable, viable, forward-looking strategic plan that enables us to work together toward a very promising future. I feel very good that we were able, as a group, to sit down and discuss where we are coming from, where we are, and where we want to go, in a way that was more open and sharing than at anytime I can remember in the past and that's a real reflection of what the people who make up the association want for their future. What we have done is to express their collective vision.

My primary goal for my year as president is to see our new strategic plan through, and to assure its continuity. I want to be certain that what we've done to date just doesn't stop here.

Q What is the mood, and the mindset, at NKBA these days?

A There's a feeling right now of excitement and communication and connectedness that, in my view, hasn't been there in past years. That's a very important element of what's taking place. I've been involved in NKBA since 1982, and I believe that this is the first time we've created an opportunity for all governing bodies, at all levels, to exchange ideas so openly, without the pressure of time, without operating in a vacuum. What we have done 
started from the grassroots assessment of needs.

To this point in time, there has been some friction and discontent within the association. But I think people realize now that the evolution of the kitchen and bath industry has demonstrated that this is a broad-based industry with room for everyone. The NKBA, it's clear to me, must comfortably encompass all aspects of the industry. We have to continue to come together and share ideas. As a matter of fact, the association has started an endowment fund that was established by using a surplus revenue of $50,000.

Q What specific areas do you see the NKBA focusing particular attention on in the next several years  and why?

A We've outlined some other very real goals in our new strategic plan. What members told us, first and foremost, is that they want the association to become the leading information resource for developing and maintaining an educated work force, resulting in a higher level of professionalism. We are also going to staff a full-time position at national headquarters while establishing an endorsement for colleges to facilitate growth of the chapters. We plan to follow that mandate. For example, in education, we aim to increase enrollment in entry-level educational programs to 12,000 participants, increase the number of endorsed colleges and universities in the U.S. and Canada to one per state or province, increase the enrollment in management training programs by 100 participants annually through current and new programming, and train and test a minimum of 500 new applicants for certification per year. The hope is to have all of this done by 2005.

We've established very specific goals in the areas of technology, membership growth and brand awareness. We're also going to take a far more proactive stance about monitoring and impacting public policy and legislation, not just trying to put out fires all around the country on the legislative front (see related stories, Pages 12 and 56).

Q How can the NKBA help independent dealers to survive the growth and spread of the "big box" stores?

A I see the "big boxes" as a positive influence. NKBA will help market dealers find their market niche and have enlightened client awareness of the kitchen and bath remodeling project. Independent dealers can capitalize on this new awareness. I am a firm believer that competition is healthy, and that, in reality, this will actually drive independent dealers to become better at what they already do well.

Q What else is particularly "new" at the NKBA and what factors do you see as having motivated NKBA to make the recent changes they have?

A One thing that's new that I feel very good about is that we've found an ad-hoc committee to look at a "career plan" for people in our industry. This has been requested by various industry segments. Right now, of course, we offer major certification programs, but what we want to do is to establish an educational pathway for career development to that point, and beyond it. It's a quantum leap, for example, to go from a beginner to a CKD or CBD. Our goal is to create a better educated work force and to establish some level of professionalism certification prior to achieving a CKD or CBD, and some level beyond it sort of like a Ph.D.

We are making major strides toward boosting our endorsed college program, which has been quiescent in recent years, and are in the process of establishing an endowment fund to provide scholarships for education and research and development that would benefit the industry.

The biggest challenge with this is staffing the business, whether a big box store or independent dealer, and to meet the demands of our clients. There seems to be a dwindling labor pool of qualified installers and there is a definite need for an incentive to make this a viable career for young men and women. 
Q What do you see as the biggest challenge facing the association and its members right now, and to what factors (within the kitchen/bath industry, or outside it) do you attribute those challenges?

A In my view, the single greatest challenge the industry faces is the emergence of new technology or, more specifically, the lightning pace at which change is taking place in computerization, the Internet and related areas of technology. That's, of course, being driven by factors throughout our society, not just from within the kitchen and bath industry.

Kitchen and bath consumers are getting more and more sophisticated, and have access to more thorough information, more rapidly, than ever before. We have to get our membership to totally embrace the new technology and use that technology to its fullest capacity. A big part of our strategic plan calls for NKBA to identify, evaluate and promote emerging technologies for the benefit of our members. We also want to bring 75% of our members on line by the end of 2002, so that our goods, services and information can be accessed via the Internet.

In addition our objective is to create, by next year, a means to find, evaluate and disseminate information to our members on new and innovative technologies, and to establish a forum to begin a dialogue for interacting or standardizing industry products.
Q How do you see e-commerce affecting the industry?

A E-commerce is a big unknown right now. What we do is akin to creating an end product that the average do-it-yourselfer would like. Our services will be mandated somewhere along the process. There may be growth of designers who do design-only work, or a demand for a firm or individual who will orchestrate a complete job.

Q Where do you hope to be and where do you hope NKBA will be at the end of your term in office ?

A If I can walk away with the satisfaction that I have brought to the leadership pool a very positive, forward-looking attitude toward growth in the future, I will be quite happy. I want to see this association be such an important element so recognizable to the end consumer, that membership is mandatory.

Q How will the association attempt to grow, and retain, its membership base?

A I see this association as having many years of dynamic growth ahead of it. I draw parallels to the National Association of Home Builders, and the growth which that association has experienced. The last decade has brought kitchen and bath design to the fore, and so many positive economic and demographic factors are in place in the new construction and remodeling markets, that I don't think we've tapped even the beginning of what's out there in terms of potential new NKBA members.

Our plans for growth are very specific. We plan to create a regional network for the development of chapter growth, and to increase the number of chapters to 75. We also want to increase membership participation at the chapter level, and to raise membership retention rates to 95% annually through 2005. It's also very important, I believe, to make our chapters and subchapters physically reachable by all our members. Now, it can be prohibitive for members to travel to chapter meetings based on where they're located. We need to grow our chapter and subchapter involvement because this is where our leadership comes from.

I've had the opportunity to travel to 25 chapters in the past year, and I can tell you the potential for growth and additional participation is enormous. The challenge we have is to tap into what's out there. My vision of the NKBA is one of an association that's so valuable, that any person in the kitchen and bath industry can't afford not to belong to it.

That's the road we're on, and that's where I'm convinced we'll continue to head.