Make Your Mark
By Phil Zaleon
The new year is well under way, so now is the time to
ask: What’s new in your marketing plan this year?
Adaptability is the key to your firm’s survival in the
kitchen and bath industry, and your marketing
strategies should reflect that fact.
With the recent
market slowdown, it may be time to start rethinking
your tried-and-true marketing methods. When business
is thriving, firms tend to accept their good fortune
and don’t have to take the time to think about
marketing. When business is slow, firms have the time
to think about marketing, but money may be too tight
to implement a change.
With a mix of established concepts and new
programs, many kitchen and bath professionals have created a niche for
themselves in their communities with creative, simple,
cost-effective programs that transcend fluctuating
In Niagara Falls, NY, Christopher Connelly, owner
of Kinetic Kitchen and Bath, LLC wanted to put his
showroom ‘on the map’ and attract new customers.
“We sponsored the ‘Ugliest Bathroom in Western New
York’ contest in conjunction with a local remodeler
and with co-op support from our vendors,” says
Connelly. “We asked entrants to come by the showroom
with photographs of their bathrooms. After a month, a
winner was chosen. Our remodeler agreed to do the job
in a weekend, so we treated the winner to a free hotel
stay. Upon their return, the local TV networks covered
the homecoming on the news – which ran multiple times
on multiple stations for two days. It was incredible
With over 250 entries and only one winner, Kinetic
Kitchen and Bath was able to augment its database of
According to Connelly: “We now know over 250 people
who are dying for a new bathroom. We immediately sent
them ‘runner-up special offers’ and closed on three
new projects within the quarter.”
Raffael Brugnoni, CKD, owner of St. Clair Shores,
MI-based Woodmaster Kitchens, looked at what the slumping Michigan
economy was doing to his competition and used it as
his competitive advantage. Two of Brugnoni’s
competitors had filed for bankruptcy, leaving clients
in the lurch and, in some cases, with lost deposits
and unfinished projects.
“We began an ad campaign in the local newspaper
that positioned Woodmaster as a solid business. Our
headline ‘Reduce your remodeling risk,’ accompanied by
a photo of my dad to show longevity in the community,
seemed to hit home with our community,” says Brugnoni.
The campaign ran four weeks and reached about 18,000
Woodmaster offered a call to action in its ads. It
asked consumers to stop by the showroom for a free
booklet explaining what to look for in a remodeling
company. About 25 booklets were picked up. More
importantly, according to Brugnoni, “Our business
during that time frame was up 20% over the previous
year. I am not sure if I can attribute it all to this
campaign, but I received the most direct comments by
customers regarding this ad and this situation.”
“We want to reach people with disposable income, so
where better than while they are out disposing of
their income,” says Kevin Telaak of Artisan Kitchens
and Baths in Buffalo, NY. “We have purchased full-page
ads in every playbill in almost every theater in the
Buffalo area, including those events for alternative
Telaak believes that playbills are read and kept.
“Watch people in a theater before the curtain goes up.
They are often thumbing through their playbill. And at
the end of the show, you don’t see too many in the
trash or on the floor – people take them home.”
Supporting the arts, including alternate lifestyle
performances, makes an immediate connection according
to Telaak. “Helping to make a performance possible by
financially supporting the playbill connects Artisan
Kitchens and Baths with the audience, especially with
the smaller, more community-oriented theaters. Many
times customers mention our ads in the playbills as
the reason they came by.”
Amir Ilin, president of Northern New Jersey-based
Küche+Cucina, swears by the ultimate in public
relations – getting published in regional and national
“I have been getting published for years now, and
getting better at it each time – learning which jobs
should be professionally photographed and how to style
them. Editors seem to love our designs, and we find
ourselves on the pages and covers of national
magazines quite often.”
Whether your designs are published locally or
nationally, chosen by the editors or a paid
submission, to the consumer you are receiving an
impeccable third-party endorsement. These displays can
be more effective than paid advertisements, but the
process is not free. There are photography costs and
sometimes payment for submission, so be sure to
include these costs in any marketing plan. Still, the
payoff can be huge.
Ilin says, “The first time I realized this was an
effective way to market Küche+Cucina was a couple of
years ago. After being seen in a national magazine, a
gentleman called from North Carolina – we are located
in New Jersey. He had never seen our showroom, but
from this one published kitchen, he hired us for a
“More recently, a published job was directly
responsible for three sales – two were over an hour
away, and the third, 30 minutes. The magazine has been
on the stands for two months and we have already sold
over $190,000 from it,” Ilin adds.
Peggy Mackowski, CGR, CAPS of Quality Design and
Construction in Raleigh, NC, takes the approach that
clients should be able see, touch and examine her
firm’s craftsmanship first hand. To that end,
Mackowski schedules an annual “Tour of Remodeled
“We believe that if people can see for themselves
what we are capable of doing in a way that photography
doesn’t do justice, it’s worth the time, cost and
effort,” she says. “Dozens, if not hundreds, of
potential clients take the tour annually. We have an
on-site drawing for free design/consultation time. The
entries are then added to our database of potential
clients. It has become our best source of quality
Offering numerous “before” images and having the
homeowners available, in many cases, to answer
questions and provide testimonials adds to the
effectiveness of the tour.
“Our Web site features before-and-after photos for
all of our projects, but seeing really is believing.
And, being able to ask the homeowners for their
personal assessment of the project scope and how we
did is the best salesmanship there is,” adds Mackowski.
The Home Improvement Group of Woodland, CA
developed a similar idea, but included a key aspect
that the firm agrees solidified its brand in local
Owner Chris Dreith, CKD, CBD, began the Heart of
the Home Kitchen Tour nine years ago to benefit the
local Red Cross chapter. “I am an active board
member,” says Dreith. “I wanted to do something to try
to benefit the chapter. So we began a tour of the six
kitchens I had designed.
“Over the years it has just grown tremendously,” he
continues. “Each year new designers and contractors
join the tour, giving the community a wonderful
cross-section of designs and styles.”
Tour participants are required to purchase tickets to
the event and are provided with a booklet describing
each home on the tour. The booklet has in-depth
information about each project, lists the sponsoring
designers and suppliers and takes in advertising
“Because of the extent of the information, people hold
on to these booklets for years. It is not uncommon for
a client to bring in one of these booklets two years
later with all kinds of notes in the margins,” says
Each home on the tour is staffed with a knowledgeable
docent, often an employee or subcontractor who worked
on the project, to explain and answer questions.
“Often we have cabinet and plumbing reps on hand;
several times my appliance reps have been found baking
cookies and other goodies for the participants in
their convection ovens. The Red Cross really benefits
from additional sponsorships, while The Home
Improvement Group and our peers have the opportunity
to show off for the entire community…and do some
good,” explains Dreith.
“In addition to having begun the tour, I am a sponsor,
typically donating at the $1,000 level. It is the only
advertising I need to do. My clients ask if I think
their kitchen will be selected to be on the Heart of
the Home Kitchen Tour. We have really created a
community buzz and The Home Improvement Group benefits
from that buzz,” he concludes.
Showroom seminars are gaining popularity throughout
the country. Max Isley, CMKBD, owner of Hampton
Kitchens in Raleigh, NC, has been holding quarterly
consumer seminars for several years.
“The seminar is a great way to drive short-term
showroom traffic and produce short-term sales. We are
not using a sales pitch, but rather an educational
approach. However, people are in our showroom, seeing
our products, listening to our expertise; we can’t
dictate the conclusions they draw. But we have found
that attendees often become disciples, if not
customers,” he says.
Once scheduled, he suggests inviting the local
press to attend. If they do, you are setting yourself
up to become the local expert in their minds, should
they need one in the future. You can also garner some
press and public relations benefits.
The closing ratio, says Isley, is not high. “We can
directly attribute sales within 60 days of the
seminars to about 1 in 50 attendees. But we are
getting over 175 attendees per session now, and the
good will and word-of-mouth over the last few years is
something traditional media can’t buy us.”
Where do you watch television? Paul McDonald,
president of Royal Cabinet Co. in Hillsborough, NJ,
hopes it is in your local supermarket. Royal Cabinet
is a strong proponent of checkout-line video
advertising. Relatively new and still unavailable in
many markets, TV monitors playing commercials while
you wait in checkout lines is a new way to reach your
As a growing cabinet manufacturer with dealers
throughout the East and Midwest, Royal Cabinet finds
itself working to support its own local showroom,
while not getting in the way of its New Jersey
According to McDonald: “It’s not easy to find
advertising venues in New Jersey that can focus our
message on the homeowners around our factory and
showroom, without competing with our area dealers.”
However, the video monitors in the supermarket
checkout line appear to work for Royal Cabinet. “With
the opportunity to choose very local store locations,
down to the neighborhood, we almost feel like we are
picking out individuals to speak with,” says McDonald.
“Since we began this program, I have heard over and
over from acquaintances on the soccer field, the
little league diamond and other local places – ‘Hey, I
saw an ad for Royal at the supermarket today.’ If
people who know me are seeing these, so are those who
You may have considered many of these marketing
concepts, while others may be new and intriguing to
you. But, the one thing they all have in common is
that they are real, they have been tested and they
work for your peers who are implementing them.
Remember, marketing ideas will not work for your firm
if you do not implement them.
Telaak says: “We played at marketing our showroom
for a number of years until we decided to do it right.
Once we put a plan together and began to follow it, we
saw a greater degree of consistency of business – even
growth in a questionable economy.”
“Your ad doesn’t have to be perfect, as long as it
is consistent, says what you want it to say and runs a
long time to get the message out,” advises Brugnoni.
Mackowski stresses the importance of sleek
production. “Remember that everything you do to market
your firm must be professional; use professional
photography, design full-color ads and don’t print
marketing materials from an office printer.
You need to leave a lasting positive impression. If
you don’t, your competition will,” she says.
Connelly is a proponent of using viral
communications to get the word out. “I have always
been a fan of public relations.
Most kitchen and bath advertising is ‘top of mind’.
I get frustrated writing big checks without knowing
exactly what the return is. In the case of our ugly
bathroom contest, we got more ‘free’ advertising than
we could have ever afforded at the time…and people
were talking about the contest, and Kinetic Kitchen
Regardless of your individual approach, getting
your name “out there” in whatever way you choose is
the only way to ensure your business remains a
McDonald concludes: “I hate to think where our next
job would be coming from if we hadn’t consistently
marketed the Royal Cabinet name over the last few
years. We advertised during the easy markets of 2003
through 2006, when we were busy without chasing new
work. However, the residual benefit of this exposure
is making a real difference now. There would be no
easy way to kick-start an effective advertising
campaign in 2008 to fill the showroom without a
disproportionate budget. Long-term advertising keeps
us in the public’s face to remind them that, when they
are ready, we are ready."
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.
Prior to founding Z promotion & design in 1996,
Phil held the position of v.p./research &
development for a new technology-based communications
Phil is currently Vice President
Communications/Technology for the Eastern Carolinas
Chapter of NKBA, an industry speaker on marketing,
advertising and technology subjects and author of "A
is for Advertising... B is for Branding... a hands-on
guide to improved profits through marketing your kitchen
and bath business - volume 1".
Z promotion & design is a member of NKBA and KCMA.
He can be reached at Z promotion & design, P.O.
Box 17291, Chapel Hill, NC 27516; Telephone:
919-932-4600; Fax: 919-932-4447;
Web site: www.kitchenmarketing.com