By Philip D. Zaleon
There’s an old joke that says: “The difference between ‘involvement’ and
‘commitment’ is like an eggs-and-ham breakfast: The chicken was ‘involved’ – the
pig was ‘committed.’ ”
Marketing your showroom is a lot like that. It’s not enough to be “involved,”
but rather, you have to throw yourself into it “whole hog” and make the
And, to help ensure success, that commitment has to start from day one. That
means dealers need to be prepared to do plenty of up front work, investing at
the earliest planning stages, long before expecting to see results. The
marketing process is analogous to designing a kitchen – the better the planning,
the smoother the construction.
However, remember that just as designs must be uniquely geared for the
client’s specific needs and tastes, the best marketing plans are specific to the
firm that is using them. There is no such thing as “one size fits all” in
For example, all of the designers who have been quoted in this article all
believe that they have been successful in marketing their individual firms. Yet,
although the designers’ ultimate goal was basically the same, the strategy and
process employed by each varied considerably. Each one had a different story,
and different needs, yet they all used the resources they had to create a
personalized marketing plan that would be successful for their specific firm.
When it comes to creating that marketing plan, it all begins with a process
of self-definition. That’s because your marketing strategy is largely fueled by
how you define yourself and your target market.
Kelli Kassor of Builders Appliance Supply in Walpole, MA defines her firm as
primarily an “appliance store with some cabinetry” and, because of this, she
markets the firm to attract contractors and remodelers, plus new homeowners and
consumers who are “do-it-yourselfers.”
On the other hand, Haskell (Hank) Matheny, ASID, IIDA, owner of Haskell
Interiors Design Collection in Cleveland, TN, focuses on the “high-end consumer,
as well as partnerships with regional interior designers and architects.”
A third definition is offered by Brian Long, owner/partner in Harbor View
Custom Cabinets in Mooresville, NC, who is in the process of redefining his firm
to meet his marketing goals. “We find the builder market satisfactory for
generating repetitive cash flow, but we’re looking to attract higher-end
remodeling clientele,” he says.
These three principals may all read KBDN, understand the art of kitchen
design and be familiar with the intricacies of cabinetry, but their firms are
defined differently, and their marketing strategies will differ accordingly.
However, that said, they do all have one more thing in common – their
objective for marketing.
Kassor says that, in 2006, her firm wants to “increase sales, increase
profits and increase repeat business.”
Matheny’s goal is even simpler: “We
want to make people aware we are here.”
And in Long’s words, “We want to differentiate ourselves by creating a luxury
image that upscale clients can relate to and average consumers will want to
emulate, [even] if it costs them their last dime.”
While each firm’s objective is to increase business, each will employ a
different strategy in order to attract members of their target markets. The
differences manifest themselves in such factors as budgets, planning, messages
and ad placement.
Obviously, your budget will be a factor in defining how you market your
showroom. But it’s not enough to just look at the dollar amount you are
comfortable spending; rather, you need to examine the cost in relation to the
market you hope to reach and your firm’s location.
For example, if you’re trying to advertise in New York, Los Angeles or
Chicago, you will need deeper pockets than if your firm is in Raleigh, Buffalo
To complicate the equation, you need to consider the budget your primary
clientele will be spending: If, like Matheny, you are going after the luxury
market, you’ll need to consider a greater marketing budget than, say, Kassor,
whose clientele is not quite as upscale. That’s because, in general, it takes
money to reach clients who have money.
“This industry used to preach that spending 3% of your anticipated gross
receipts on marketing [was the correct way to go]. But that was before Lowe’s
and The Home Depot, before the remodeling boom, and before there was a new
design firm on every corner,” says Bill Camp, CKD, of the Raleigh, NC-based
Triangle Design Kitchens. He adds, “Our firm has been spending 6%-7% annually.”
Of course, not everyone plans their marketing budget based on a percentage of
sales. For some designers, it comes down to deciding what marketing avenues work
best for them and what the costs of these are, and then determining their
marketing budget accordingly.
Matheny’s approach, for instance, is to “spend on what has worked for us in
the past, based on what we can afford.” He adds, “We don’t get caught up in
Your marketing budget may change, too, based on what resources you have
available to you. As Harbor View Custom Cabinetry’s Long notes: “Early on, we
were strapped for cash with the expenses of a start up [so we were limited in
what we could spend], but things have gotten much better [as we began growing].
We are now spending more and more on corporate image type ads and direct mail
pieces. In fact, we are running about 5%-7% of sales right now.”
There’s no question that planning is paramount to a successful marketing
campaign. Across the board, the kitchen and bath dealers surveyed for this
article said they plan their marketing on an annual basis, and believe this
planning to be critical to the success of their marketing programs.
Richard Ryan of Kitchen Concepts in Cincinnati, OH, adds: “We work with an
agency specializing in our industry and plan our year during the fall of the
previous year. This helps us maintain focus and keeps us from just reacting to
sales calls. In the past, we may have been pulled into advertising that wasn’t
effective, just because a salesperson would call right after we received a
retainer [but now we advertise in accordance with our plan].”
Of course having a plan doesn’t mean foregoing good opportunities that come
up along the way. In Cleveland, TN, Matheny plans “annually, at the first of the
year,” but he adds, “we also leave a ‘whatever fund’ for those [unexpected]
things we may want to participate in [over the course of the year] that are
always coming across my desk.”
Planning is sometimes done internally, sometimes with an outside agency, and
more often than not, as part of a collaboration. Especially for those without a
strong marketing background, outside expertise can come in handy for creating a
more streamlined and successful campaign. As Tim Aden, co-owner of Sawhill
Custom Kitchens & Design, in Minneapolis, puts it, “I think dealers need to
understand that they are not marketing experts. Give the marketing people input
on your clients, etc., but have an open mind to [their suggestions].”
Your showroom’s message to the world will vary based on your target audience.
As an example, Rich Ryan describes Kitchen Concepts’ target market as “40 years
and up, looking for upscale to high-end full-service remodeling.” The firm’s
objective, he notes, is “to let our market be aware of who we are and what we
offer, so when it comes time to remodel the kitchen or bath, we will have name
recognition.” Kitchen Concepts’ competition is “similar firms to ours that offer
full turnkey operations,” he adds.
In contrast, Kassor’s target audience is primarily allied professionals,
contractors and remodelers. Builders Appliance Supply’s goal is to “increase
sales, in competition with The Home Depot, Lowe’s, Sears and other appliance
Price is likely to be more of an issue for Builders Appliance Supply than it
is for Kitchen Concepts, making their messages very different. Additionally,
since each firm is targeting a different type of client (consumer versus
industry professional), the message needs to be shaped in such a way as to speak
to that specific audience. Finally, Kitchen Concepts is looking toward a
long-term goal (gaining greater recognition) that may not show immediate
results, while Builders Appliance Supply is looking to increase sales right now.
So, crafting the message for each of these firms means figuring out what is
important to each audience, both short term and long term, and ensuring their
messages meets these issues.
In addition to the message itself, where you place your message will have an
effect on the response you receive, both in terms of quantity of responses and
quality. Kassor from Builders Appliance Supply says, “Direct mail to
contractors, word of mouth, the Yellow Pages, the ‘Blue Book’ for contractors
and our Web site are all effective marketing channels for us.” With the
exception of the resource book for contractors, the rest are typically
advertising venues for price-conscious shoppers, therefore effective choices for
meeting Builders Appliance Supply’s marketing goals. By choosing advertising
environments that attract the target clientele, Kassor is able to, in effect,
By contrast, Kitchen Concepts’ most effective marketing channels include the
“local NPR [National Public Radio] stations, lifestyle/shelter magazines and
consumer remodeling trade shows,” according to Ryan. These venues, with the
exception of the remodeling shows, may not fill up a showroom the way a direct
mail campaign might. However, they will help meet Kitchen Concepts’ objective of
“letting our market be aware of who we are and what we offer, so when it comes
time to remodel the kitchen or bath, there will be name recognition drawing them
to us.” So the message is helping the firm to meet its long-term goals, which
are equally important.
Does it Work?
Marketing your showroom is a commitment: a commitment of time and money.
Although not to the same degree as our ham breakfast, watching money flow out
the door in support of a marketing campaign may give you the same feeling that
the pig had. In reality, it takes time to see results, but consistency is the
key, and lead tracking will help ensure you are spending your money wisely.
Although he has only been marketing for a little over a year, Matheny offers
this advice: “Track your leads. We ask each visitor to our showroom to complete
a ‘registration’ form, and that includes a ‘where did you hear about us?’
question. I literally saw an impact after one month, and after three, you could
really begin to see the effects.”
Gretchen Cutsler, director of marketing for Kitchen Design Center in
Beaufort, SC, measures her marketing campaign through increased sales. “Since we
put our marketing plan into effect, and made a conscious effort to cold-call the
local builders, architects and interior designers, our sales have increased over
25%.” Being able to measure results assures her that she is on the right track,
and provides additional revenue to invest in future marketing efforts.
Indeed, tracking leads will help weed out the less effective marketing
investments while focusing on the ones that really pay off. “We have seen
results immediately, generally within days, especially in the case of direct
mail and monthly magazine ads,” states Harbor View Custom Cabinets’ Long. “Every
time we send out a direct mailer or run an ad in the higher end local full-color
publications, we see an immediate hit. We track the source of every lead.”
Of course, just because something doesn’t show instant results doesn’t mean
it isn’t working. Kitchen Concepts, located in the highly competitive Cincinnati
market, has seen a slower return on its marketing investment, yet the firm was
willing to stick to the plan in order to pursue long-term growth. Ryan notes, “I
would say that we were advertising for at least a year before we felt confident
that our leads were a result of that effort, rather than drive-bys or referrals.
However, today we can see that our leads are consistently from the marketing
He adds, “Clients tell us ‘we see you everywhere’ or ‘we saw you in a
magazine’ [although they can’t always tell us which one].” This kind of
recognition can take time, but Ryan believes it has great value, and therefore
is worth the longer-term investment. As he points out, “Although it was
difficult, we were patient – and it has really paid off for us.”
In today’s economic guessing game, it’s probably more judicious than ever to
make marketing a priority. It’s common across all industries to cut marketing
and advertising first when the economy looks shaky; but those who do the
opposite are likely to better weather the storm overall.
Paul McDonald, president of Royal Cabinet Co. in Hillsboro, NJ, says,
“Spending money on advertising is always a tough decision when times are good,
but the mood of the market cannot be predicted. Business levels can go from
painfully busy to excruciatingly slow in a matter of two months. Continuous
advertising is not wasted on good times, as customers will perceive your company
in a better light and be willing to pay more to buy from a ‘company they know.’
“In slower times, continuous advertising brings opportunities that your
silent competitors don’t see. Not every ad you run will produce visible results,
but the effect of continuous advertising is cumulative; your business will grow
as a result.”
A creative analogy is offered by Amir Ilin, president of the Paramus,
NJ-based Küche+Cucina: “Marketing your company is just like driving a car – as
long as you maintain a certain speed, your car uses less gas, and when you hit a
puddle, you should be able to drive right through it. If you stop and go, your
car uses more gas overall and if you hit a puddle, it will take a lot more gas
to get you out. Not to mention that you might get stuck.”
The point is that marketing pays big dividends, according to those who have
taken the plunge. However, getting from where you are today to achieving your
marketing goals is not always a straight line. Defining your firm, your market
and your goals will help create a clear path for your business, and help you
define your own version of success.
Like designing a kitchen, there are guidelines to follow, but it’s equally
important to personalize your marketing plan in accordance with what makes your
Remember, no matter how wonderful your firm is, it will never reach its
potential without a strong marketing plan. In a world where perception is just
as important as reality, kitchen and bath design firms need to be sure that
they, just like their finished projects, look as great as their work. KBDN
Philip D. Zaleon is founder and president of Chapel Hill-based Z
promotion & design – a full service integrated marketing and creative
agency focusing on the kitchen and bath industry. Zaleon can be reached at
Z promotion & design, P.O. Box 17291, Chapel Hill, NC 27516; Tel:
firstname.lastname@example.org; Web site:
One of the most important aspects of marketing a showroom is defining
the target clientele. For example, the Fairfax, VA-based Kleppinger
Design Group believes the showroom should be a detailed, visual
interpretation of the range of styles native to the firm and the
market it serves, and this fully accessorized display does just that,
acting as a focal point for the showroom.
Photo courtesy of NKBA.
Royal Cabinet Co. subscribes to the theory that it’s important to
advertise even when times are good and business is plentiful, as this
will raise consumer awareness and help to keep business flowing in,
even when the market is less strong.
The 12,000 sq.-ft Modern Supply showroom in Knoxville, TN markets its
greatest strengths, including a wide variety of products placed in
modular displays, an open, easy-to-navigate layout, a secondary work
area where designers and clients can mix and match products and even
an enclosed children’s play area.
The Kitchen Design Center, in Beaufort, SC, has seen measurable
results with its marketing program, which intrigues clients with its
message: ‘Designs inspired by your lifestyle.’
Marketing can be done from within a showroom as well as from without;
here, at the Lindenhurst, NY-based Lakeville Industries, the
showroom’s 50-plus kitchen displays and plasma screens located
throughout showing manufacturer videos complement the firm’s existing
Kitchen Concepts, located in the highly competitive Cincinnati market,
gears its marketing toward the upscale consumer, with a goal of
enhancing its name recognition factor among high-end clientele.
At the New York City-based MyHome showroom, the theatre-district
location seems to contribute to the media playing a role in the
showroom’s marketing, with two television shows filmed at the
showroom, and a national magazine planning to film there for a video
piece for its Web site.
The Raleigh, NC-based Triangle Design Kitchens spends 6%-7% of its
anticipated gross receipts on marketing, with a powerful campaign that
makes a strong statement in the community.