Designer Finds a New Direction

Angela Simoneaux Poirrier grew up in the midst of the kitchen and bath design industry, literally. Her mother, Kathy Crifasi Simoneaux, founded Acadian House Kitchen & Bath Studio in Baton Rouge, LA, 34 years ago, and she often brought her young daughter to work with her.

“We lived behind the showroom, and she had my playpen in the office,” says Poirrier. “As I got older, I answered phones and went on jobsites to help with measurements. I was very ingrained in the business.”

Today, the multi-generation firm not only includes the mother/daughter duo, but also Poirrier’s father, as well as seven additional employees who handle everything from design to marketing, bookkeeping and installation.

Initially, Poirrier’s father served as a countertop fabricator in a separate entity. But, as the design firm grew over the past two years, he was brought into the business to oversee jobsites as well as contribute in the area of construction.

Poirrier relates that tweaking the business, such as making her father an official team member, is important to the company’s success, and to maintaining high customer satisfaction.

“Our design specialty – and philosophy – is offering the very best customer service in our industry. Everything stems from it, everything is driven toward it and everything is done because of it,” she stresses. Poirrier adds that a recent customer survey revealed a 100% satisfaction rating in the areas of communication, value, quality and clean/safe jobsites. All respondents also indicated they would recommend Acadian House to others and felt that its staff was trustworthy, professional and organized. “We couldn’t let customer service be negatively affected just because our company was growing,” she states.

Poirrier is insistent on maintaining that rating, believing that one of the keys to that rating is to maintain ethics.

“We don’t just state that customer service is important,” she says. “We want our clients to know we are aware of their feelings throughout construction and that we understand the emotion that goes along with it.”

The physical aspects of the job are the easy part, she indicates. “We’ve hand selected the best subs in Baton Rouge,” she says. “We know that no matter what, they’ll do the quality we expect on every job. That’s a given…that’s the easy part. But, customer relations, speaking with clients to let them know what’s going on and understanding their feelings throughout the process…that’s the hard part.”

Poirrier and Simoneaux also work hard to maintain customer service by placing employees in the right job for their personality. Everyone at the firm has taken the DISC assessment, a behavior tool that identifies personality traits, including dominance, inducement, submission and compliance.

“We have an amazing staff,” she says, “and we understand each other on a personal, as well as business, level. We position everyone according to their best strengths.”

Making changes

One of the biggest changes they’ve made – and one that helped turn business around – was hiring a business coach two years ago.

At the beginning of the recession, Acadian House, like many other design firms, was struggling. A lot of companies in the area were shutting their doors, and Poirrier and Simoneaux wanted to ensure they didn’t follow suit. “We needed some direction to get back on track,” Poirrier notes.

One area they focused on was improving systems and processes. “As an older company, we had lost consistency,” she says.

Their coach also helped harmonize the multi-generational family business. “Being a family business, we have different generations coming together to make business decisions,” she says. “As much as he is a business coach, he is also a mediator.”

The design duo meets with their coach for two hours each week, evaluating everything from budgets and events to revenue projections, leads and marketing campaigns. “No decision is ever made quickly,” Poirrier says. “We weigh, measure and test everything to make sure every decision is a good business decision. We look at ideas from multiple angles, not just another angle. And, we work everything out to the bottom line. Decisions are never made on a whim. It’s never ‘we can make it work.’”

Poirrier admits that hiring a consultant might not be for everyone. It does take work, especially initially, but the gain has been worth the pain, she believes. Business has doubled in the past two years, team productivity is high and Poirrier insists they’re in a much better place.

“It’s been great for me because I was never really involved in the business aspects,” she says. “It has been a lot of work, but it’s so much more productive. I have a ton more clients, and a ton more responsibility. But everything I do produces, nothing is done in vain. What we’re doing now is beyond our dreams.”

Planning for the future

Business has improved to the point where the mother/daughter duo wants to hire a marketing company to handle marketing and event planning, where each event draws a minimum of 200 people, with some drawing as many as 1,000.

“We’re getting so busy with design,” she says. “We want to take our marketing up a notch…to make it more professional, and we’re not professional marketers. Our coach is helping us with the process.”

The company is also finishing the details for a new 5,000-sq.-ft. showroom that will feature five displays – fully finished and decorated – one that will include a fully functioning Sub-Zero/Wolf kitchen, the only one of its kind in Baton Rouge. “We’ll have their corporate chef do demonstrations, as well as local chefs,” she says.

The bathroom and all of the offices will also serve as displays. “The bathroom will have a shower, although not functional, so clients can see a full suite of products,” she says. “Each office will have a theme and be equipped with cabinetry, countertops, tile and flooring. We’re making sure that every time we have an opportunity to display something, we are.”

The showroom will also include a sample area, which will be about the same size as the display area.

“We’ve found that clients are so overwhelmed when they’re shopping that we’ve decided to keep the display area and sample area separate,” she says. “We want the displays to serve as inspiration and, when it’s time to start making selections, we can go to the sample area where we can pull door samples, tiles, countertops and hardware. Our new showroom will be up to date and on trend. There will be no stopping us!”