New alliances for success

Many of us are involved in trade organizations, which promise education, networking, advocacy and alliances among other benefits that support a very strained industry. The art of the alliance, however, is re-emerging as model for success, whether it’s offered thru a trade organization or initiated by you.


Recently, a kitchen remodel offered me the opportunity for a new kind of alliance. As the kitchen designer, I initiated the lead and the contractor was brought into the project a bit later with a separate contract. As always, a discussion of who will be the primary conductor of the orchestra took place.


True alliances require knowing someone well and venturing beyond the usual hierarchy to one of equal partner. The contractor knew me and my intentions, which allowed for an upgraded sense of flow to the project. Communications were frequent and collaborative, and the shared responsibilities rarely duplicated themselves. When you have a true ally, you have someone who knows you, agrees with your principles, has your back, will fight alongside you, unwavering in support as well as promotion. What a joy!


A conversation I had recently with colleague Erik Listou, CAPS, CAASH, CGR, CGP, CR, LDST and former NAHBR Remodeler of the Month, enlightened me as to the impact of these types of alliances. As he plans for the future of his business instead of thinking only about the next job, Erik shared his experience with true alliances.


“The qualities of my alliances affect not only my ability to get business, but how to do business,” Listou said. “I look for honesty, open communication and true delegating in these alliances. Mutual alignment of these characteristics in our relationship assures me I have a long-term asset.” Alliances like these not only include the other trades in this industry, including kitchen and bath designers, interior designers and architects, but also the subcontractors and suppliers. This goes way beyond our typical list of “resources,” and is defined by qualities of trust, respect and accountability.


One might wonder, “What’s new with this idea? I’ve been networking and working with my subs for years.” What’s new is raising the bar for greater responsibility in business and industry leadership, and relying more on our own ingenuity, creativity and guts, instead of just governmental aids or “the way I’m used to doing things.” The same spirit of entrepreneurship that made this country great is required of the next generation, including alliances with new, energetic entrepreneurs.


New alliances require searching for those with specific experience, similar business and personal values, vision, mission statements, and how to treat the differences in estimating, billing, contracts and duplication of services/products, etc. In my recent kitchen remodel, and as expected on most jobs, it expanded as it progressed. An interior designer was added to the team for drapes, reupholstering, furniture and accessories. She was able to hit the ground running because of the foundation already established by the alliance, producing results in record time. The countertop supplier, unfortunately, left the alliance while pointing fingers and harboring frustration; Even solid alliances aren’t perfect.


Alliances are relationships that extend to our business allies and even to our customers. Who doesn’t want a business fed by referrals that keep us busy? What if marketing dollars were focused on alliances that produced a fair share if not more than other marketing mediums? Listou recounted that in the past 2½ to 3 years, he relied solely on referrals, not marketing. The result is one strong $500,000 client from years ago who referred three clients worth $250,000 this past year. If we approach our alliance with our customer with the same principles as our subcontractors and tradesmen, referrals could be assured.


Every day is an opportunity to form new alliances. Think hard about the people who could be a future ally. Venture beyond to after hours to hook up and create relationships. Be open to doing business a little differently, capitalizing on your allies’ strengths and sharing your own.


Barbara Barton is a Certified Master Kitchen and Bath Designer, Certified Coach and Sales/Marketing and Appliance Specialist who has shared 30 years of experience with several kitchen and bath dealerships as well as two major appliance distributors. Her current focus as a Business Consultant, Executive Coach and Educator has been geared to the kitchen and bath, interior design, and remodeling industries.   She has also sold for new home builders in Denver for 12 years, understanding the sales and marketing needs of this group as well.   She can be reached at