Extending Innovation to Customer Satisfaction

Extending Innovation to Customer Satisfaction

by Susan Harper

STERLING, MA "No job is too small!" "Customer satisfaction is our business!"

"The customer is always right!"

The benefits of this attitude to the customer are obvious, but it can reap large rewards for the company, as well. A woman walked into the showroom one day and asked Sponenberg to help her with a redesign so that she could use cabinets she had already purchased from a mass merchandiser. "While this is not exactly why I unlock my doors each morning," Sponenberg wryly notes, he agreed to take the job. A few days later the customer called to say she had changed her mind. She now wanted Sponenberg to design her kitchen with new cabinetry supplied by him. After his design was complete, she and her husband had only one question: Could he put in a 48" Sub-Zero refrigerator, instead of the 36" model originally expected? This job, which turned out to be the largest Kitchen Associates has done to date, eventually included a bathroom, plus bedroom cabinetry. And, yes, Sponenberg did install the original, mass produced cabinetry in the laundry room.

This willingness to put the client's interest foremost has seen the company through significant growth, according to Sponenberg. Kitchen Associates began in 1958as a small concern, operating out of Sponenberg's MA home and garage. In 1972, it moved to a gas station, which was converted into a small showroom. The company continued to grow until, in 1989, they built a 25,000 sq.-ft. building, approximately 10,000 sq. ft. of which is used for showroom. The size allows numerous design and layout features to be shown concurrently, with a variety of islands, peninsulas and snack bar options always on display. Unusual items found here include the Sico built-in bed system and a selection of Corian-topped tables. 

Focus on surfacing 
One area of interest which has become a significant focus for the company is solid surface fabrication, which now comprises about half of the company's business, according to Sponenberg.

The other 50 percent of the business remains focused on residential kitchens, divided equally between new homes and remodeling. The vastness of the showroom allows the company to carry a variety of quality product lines, specifically Wood-Mode, Brookhaven, Kitchen Craft, Homestead, LesCare, Medallion, Schrock, Omega, Doverwood and Merit.

Having 35 displays is another way Kitchen Associates stands out from other design firms, and Sponenberg notes that he is proud that customers can see more here at one time than at most home shows, though he laughingly adds that, with a showroom this size, "Every Saturday is like a home show." The number of employees has grown along with the space, totaling 50 today. The kitchen design staff consists of five people with a total of 106 years of kitchen experience. The design staff concentrates on layouts that are "interesting, but not so complex that they interfere with installation." The 7,000 sq.-ft. shop allows accessory items, such as unusually configured cabinets, to be produced in the company's wood shop and spray room. The 8,000 sq.-ft. warehouse prevents the necessity of "drop shipping" to clients; not only are installations scheduled more efficiently, clients are not unnecessarily inconvenienced.

Despite the size of the operation, and its willingness to expand when new growth opportunities arise, Kitchen Associates considers itself something of a local operation. Most business is done within an hour's drive of the showroom. Advertising is concentrated in small weekly edition newspapers and local Yellow Pages. Annual calendars are sent to previous clients, who are invaluable for word-of-mouth advertising. Additionally, Kitchen Associates is a member of the BKBG buying group, which, among other things, has been a way to move into new areas of interest, according to Sponenberg.