For most small business owners, building a successful company is the ultimate goal. Jennifer Gilmer, CKD, has attained that goal with her Chevy Chase, MD-based Jennifer Gilmer Kitchen & Bath, and yet, she is still pushing herself to do more – she wants to share her knowledge with others in the industry.
Gilmer has been offered the perfect platform to do so: This year, she will be replacing Ellen Cheever, CMKBD, ASID, CAPS, as speaker in KBDN’s new seminar series, “Client Engagement Strategies for Today’s Evolving Market,” where she’ll be sharing the stage with veteran presenter Eric Schimelpfenig, AKBD. Gilmer is excited to share her expertise with members of the kitchen and bath industry through the day-long educational sessions, whose programming was created in conjunction with Cheever. The seminars will kick off later this month in Atlanta and include presentations in eight key cities around the country (see related story, “2016 Seminar Kickoff Set for This Month“).
“I’m looking forward to meeting more people in our industry and to making lifelong connections,” says Gilmer. “I’m especially excited about being in a position where I can help raise the bar in our industry, helping others to become the best that they can be by sharing both Ellen’s and my experiences, knowledge and insights.”
ONCE AROUND THE BLOCK
But no one’s career starts on the main stage; building up industry knowledge and expertise is a lifelong process. Gilmer’s extensive experience was gained through a journey that started and remained on the same street block, albeit through three different businesses over three decades.
She started working at Tunis Kitchens on Wisconsin Avenue in Chevy Chase some 31 years ago. Armed with a drafting degree, Gilmer learned directly from Richard Tunis and his staff for eight years, which led to her opening a kitchen and bath design studio with a partner down the street. Finally, four years later in 1997, Jennifer Gilmer Kitchen & Bath was born…just across the street.
It is safe to say that Gilmer has found success in her geographic area. The designer uses her brick and mortar showroom location to bring in business. To remain an industry leader and trend setter, JGKB is constantly changing and updating its showroom to include the most “interesting, exciting and stunning displays,” as well as incorporating what she believes to be the top products in the industry.
AHEAD OF THE CURVE
Being in the Washington, DC area, many of JGKB’s clients are looking for the most on-trend designs for their kitchens and baths. According to Gilmer, they are even willing to go out on a limb for something new and different. However, the challenge is working with mostly traditional houses and making them more contemporary.
“In order to get a contemporary kitchen to work in a traditional house, we usually design them to be ‘warm’ contemporary styles,” says Gilmer. “This means that we will combine natural wood with high-polished, painted doors – or recommend a reclaimed wood floor.”
Reclaimed wood is one of the many “out-of-the-box” materials that Gilmer has used in her designs – and even in her own kitchen. Another unusual material featured in her showroom is a custom-made hood made out of “gnarly, knotty” cherry wood. While Premier Custom Built, the manufacturer, thought she was “nuts” for not using refined wood, they still made it. It has turned out to be a hit both with Premier and with Gilmer’s clients.
Other trends that Gilmer has been at the forefront of are backpainted backsplashes, a hot rolled steel island and Macassar Ebony engineered wood.
PATH TO SUCCESS
Gilmer knows that no man (or woman) is an island, and believes that the right staff is essential. While she admits that she may be a demanding boss at times, she thinks this is also a big factor in her firm’s success.
“My business philosophy is that every staff member is critical to the whole of the company, so no one is more important than the other,” states Gilmer. “It’s also important for me to have a comfortable place to work, so I’ve worked tirelessly to find the right employees.”
Being surrounded by the right employees includes having a trained engineer, a junior designer who graduated from an NKBA-accredited interior design program, an in-house PR person and an outside firm that handles social media.
Gilmer underlines the importance of marketing and how it has helped her firm brand itself, gaining recognition and awards. Houzz has been a key player as well: JGKB has more than 150 projects and 2,000 photos on the site, which have been added to over 10,000 ideabooks.
When it comes to her company’s success, Gilmer counts on not only the quality of her work, but also on the care given to customers.
“Clients appreciate the fact that we are all about service, about making sure that they are satisfied with the fact that they decided to work with us,” asserts Gilmer. “We service our clients, even 15 years later, if they need doors adjusted or something repaired, and we don’t charge them for this service as a show of appreciation for their business. They are usually blown away that good old family businesses like ours still exist in this day and age, where we appreciate them as much as they appreciate us.”
As she adds the KBDN Seminar Series to her repertoire, Gilmer looks forward to what lies ahead.
“I’m excited about my career moving in this direction and especially excited that I’m learning from the best, just like I did when I started my kitchen and bath career!”
AT A GLANCE
Jennifer Gilmer Kitchen & Bath
Location: Chevy Chase, MD (just outside Washington, DC)
Principal: Jennifer Gilmer, owner
Hours of Operation: 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Mon.-Fri.; 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. Sat.
Number of Employees: Full-time employees range from 10–12, with interns from a variety of schools also part of the mix.
Major Product Lines Carried: Premier Custom Built, Greenfield Cabinetry, Decor and Zonavita, ArtCraft, Miele, Sub-Zero/Wolf, La Cornue and Gaggeneau
Design Software: Auto CAD, Sketch-Up
Business Philosophy: “My business philosophy is that every staff member is critical to the whole of the company, so no one is more important than the other.”