Rebuilding With A Little Help From His Friends

by Clay Patrick

CAROL STREAM, IL
You hear on the news that your local weatherman's house is hit by lightning. At the doctor's office, your physician enters the rooms sneezing and sniffling from a raging head cold. Or perhaps your accountant calls to say he won't be available for a week while the IRS audits him. While you sympathize with their plights, it's only human to think it's a little bit, well, ironic.

Jeff Cannata is no big fan of irony. Not since last May, when the CKD, general contractor and owner of Designer's Showcase Kitchen & Bath Inc. stood in his driveway at 3 a.m. watching his home and everything in it burn to the ground.'

"I was trying to fight the fire with my garden hose," says Cannata, "and my neighbor pulled me off and told me to get our vehicles out of the way." But it was too late even the cars parked in the driveway were completely melted down.'

But Cannata was far from down. There was simply no time he, more than most in his unfortunate position, knew the kind of massive work load which lay ahead.
"I had to stay strong for my kids and my wife," Cannata says. "I knew if I didn't keep it together, it would be twice as hard as it was."

Hard, no doubt. But as Cannata would come to find out, even the most horrific circumstance can be handled more easily with a little help from your friends.

A little help
Entrusting his 1,600-sq.-ft. showroom to two of his salesman who comprise fully half of his staff for the first two weeks after the fire, Cannata, his wife and two children moved into the backyard trailer they would call home for the next eight months. After tearing down the smoldering remnants and clearing away the ashes, Cannata himself began the Herculean task of rebuilding his home, which, along with running the showroom, would take up every hour of every day for months.

But then the phone started ringing. . .and didn't stop. "We got calls from everyone," Cannata recalls, still marveling at the memory. "Almost immediately, other kitchen and bath designers called, and as word got out, more and more of the vendors and suppliers I work with offered their services. Even my competitors offered to help me out in any way we needed. It was amazing."

In fact, Cannata found that people were willing to lend a hand or a discounted price everywhere he turned. This, he attributes to the long-standing friendships and working relationships he developed in the 10 years he has owned Designer's Showcase, as well as his time as a member of the Board of Governors for the NKBA for which he now serves as chairman and his membership in a buying group.'

"Being in the BKBG helped a great deal, because I had a resource for anything I needed. Jay Rambo help us with cabinets. North Star Surfaces gave us an assist with Avonite. Even if I only needed an answer regarding products or a little moral support, the BKBG vendors were there for me, and I owe them a huge debt of thanks. All those relationships you cultivate over the years, if you take care of them, pay off in a time of need."

Ultimately, rebuilding his own home gave Cannata something even more valuable than moral support or a price break, though, something many showroom owners are never privy to real world insight into what their clients go through during a remodel. This, he says, has rendered him infinitely more patient when he and a crew essentially move into a client's home for a job, as crews moved into his along the way.'

"You learn to take extra care," he says, "because it's very touchy working in someone's home while they're there. I've really learned that when we enter someone else's world, we need to treat it like it's our own, and act accordingly."

The support from friends and family has enabled Cannata to find silver linings scattered throughout the clouds of gray ash. Most conspicuously, he's been able to expand his own showroom by treating his new house as a living vignette, occasionally walking clients through to see the results.

"After all," he says, "I only installed products I actually sell, so people might as well see how they look and work in the house."

Back to normal
As life for the Cannata clan, and by extension, for Designer's Showcase, settles back to normal, Cannata offer a cautionary tale. County fire inspectors determined that the fire started near the trash in the garage, but never determined the igniter. A few months later, Cannata remembered that one of his kid's toy cars had been left plugged in there to recharge the battery. It came to mind is because the toy had been recalled . . . due to its tendency to start fires.'

Still, Cannata considers himself a fortunate man. His family, and even their dog, Sheena, made it out of house without injury; he has learned to appreciate the value of friendships and relationships, both personal and professional, and he knows that everything else lost in the fire can eventually be replaced.

Well, almost everything.'

"As they were fighting the blaze that night," says Cannata, "the firefighters asked us what they could try and save. I mean, you're standing there at three in the morning, watching everything you have burn, so how do you make that kind of decision? If you can only save one or two things out of everything you own, what do you choose?"

Staring at the house with a sense of futility, Cannata and his wife asked the firemen if they could rescue their wedding rings off the night stand by the bed, and some personally priceless videos of the kids. Somehow, though the bedroom was already engulfed in flames, they did.'

Jeff Cannata would like to thank them, too.

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