Sleek, Contemporary Designs Power Hawaii Firm
by Daina Darzin
Troy Adams, CKD, has been in the kitchen and bath industry for almost his entire life literally. At age 15, Adams had a part-time job in his family's business, making Formica end splashes for bathroom vanities for a big 50 cents apiece.
His first job at Studio Becker in Hawaii was a tad more profitable. "It was a million dollar contract, 300 kitchens in a high-rise development," Adams recalls. "That launched my whole business. I paid back my [start-up] loan the first year."
These days, Adams' enterprise enjoys yearly sales in the $3 million to $4 million range, and has won multiple design awards. Adams partially credits his rapid rise to the depth of his experience early on: as a teenager, "I also worked with my dad doing installations," he recalls. "By the time I was 18, I had my own kitchen installation business." After some sales experience, a move from Alaska to Hawaii and an entrepreneurship course, Adams decided to go into business for himself and, presto, his business plan was accepted by the national organization, Studio Becker USA, which promptly gave him $100K as start-up money.
Adams' independently owned and operated Studio Becker specializes in high-end residential work, geared for the design needs of the Hawaiian market "more sleek and modern than on the mainland," Adams believes. Many of his clients are of Chinese or Korean background; Asian and European design influence dominates, though "there's a little bit of plantation style in older homes painted white, louvered doors, a little bit of koa, which is a unique Hawaiian wood, like a Brazilian cherry with different darker tones in it."
Studio Becker focuses on high-end custom cabinets, as well as such major appliance lines as Abbaka, Miele, Sub-Zero, Vent-a-Hood, Thermador, Blanco, Amana, DACOR and Gaggenau.
When it comes to hot trends, concrete countertops are an up-and-comer in the Hawaiian market, according to Adams, while stainless steel appliances and granite countertops are as hot as ever. Marble, limestone and other natural stones are also popular. "We have a product called lava stone, where we actually slice [large, granite-like slabs] of lava out of the ground, enamel the surface and fire it in an oven. It looks like a big, glazed ceramic without the grout lines. You can do any color that you want."
The management approach at Studio Becker combines both old and new values. There's a family business style control of all elements of a job, Adams explains. His wife is director of operations, overseeing ordering, accounting and office operations. Adams and two other designers take a teamwork approach; although there's a lead designer on every project, "We get together on every project and brainstorm together to come up with creative design solutions."
Unlike many other kitchen and bath designers, Studio Becker doesn't subcontract anything. "We do all of our own installation work," explains Adams, including plumbing, electrical, flooring, lighting and appliances. He explains that observing the "nightmarish problems" experienced by his father's large company, which did use subcontractors, motivated this move.
Structurally, there are actually two companies, Studio Becker and Studio Becker Installations, Adams elaborates. A different owner operates the latter. "What I do is design and sell, and then turn the job over to the licensed general contracting entity. I supervise from the outside, and make sure our clients are getting what we sold them, but we have no involvement financially in the general contracting entity. It worked out so we could design and sell more projects, and have a competent person [install them]. In the consumer's eye, they see it all as one firm anyway."
Similarly, Studio Becker mandates that its design clients also buy appliances from the company, another departure from the norm. Though Adams complains about appliance manufacturers who don't meet production dates "It slows down our jobs and the consumer sees it as our firm screwing up" he believes the benefits of dealing with appliances outweigh the headaches. "[To do] a job in a timely fashion, we need to control the [delivery] schedules, [so we don't have] granite guys blaming the appliance guys for cracking something," he explains.
But while the operations of Studio Becker take an old-fashioned approach, in terms of communication, "we're very sophisticated," says Adams. "In our office, we have a server that delivers e-mail to five computers every 15 minutes. We do pricing, everything on computer, [the office is] almost paperless. Most of our communication is done by e-mail."
Studio Becker (Hawaii) is marketed through multiple avenues, Adams continues. In the beginning, the company took its cues from the competition. "They were running ads in Honolulu magazine and Hawaii Remodeling. We also did things like kitchen tours, where we displayed our products to the public. I've also been heavily involved in the NKBA."
Recently, Studio Becker hired a public relations firm and is about to expand its operation stateside.
"Because of the international people based in Honolulu, a lot of them had second homes on the mainland and would actually fly our crews out for installation of their projects," Adams reports. Faced with more and more stateside projects, the company decided to add a showroom in Los Angeles' prestigious Pacific Design Center. The project is going well, though Adams admits L.A.'s more competitive atmosphere will take some getting used to. "Here in Hawaii, competition is really friendly, we don't have pricing wars and cutthroating," he concludes. "Here, all our competitors might get together and go out to dinner."