Marketing Boosts Family Firm’s Business
By Denise D. Vermeulen
KIRKLAND, WAAfter years of working in construction, sales and
marketing, Tom Phelps finally found his home in the kitchen and
bath industry in 1992, when he became owner and president of New
Face Kitchens. For Phelps, this was the realization of a lifelong
dream of working alongside his family and having a business to pass
on to his children.
Employing his wife Brandy, stepson Perry Fleming and
stepdaughter Brook Fleming, Phelps planned the business to be a
family affair right down to having Phelps’ father, Wally,
consulting for the firm and designing some of the kitchens.
However, while Phelps loved the idea of owning a true “family
business,” he also had to address some of the challenges that “mom
and pop” businesses face most notably that of updating the
business’ image and marketing to ensure that “family-run” didn’t
mean “unable to compete with the big guns.”
To begin, Phelps needed to identify what the firm was doing
right and what needed improvement.
In June 2001, Phelps hired a marketing manager to improve the
company’s overall image and sharpen its marketing strategy. “Our
ads were ‘mom and pop’ advertising,” says Phelps. “We looked a lot
like a little cottage company.” Phelps also wanted help with
managing the growing advertising budget that includes print, radio,
Yellow Pages ads, coupons, home shows and a Web site.
Marketing manager Wayne Blankinship began by asking, “How many
of our customers are satisfied?” Although Phelps and Perry Fleming
personally inspect every completed job, their answers were vague,
Blankinship thought. He quickly determined that more specifics were
needed, and he wrote a detailed questionnaire that would prove to
be an important marketing tool.
Eventually, the survey was mailed to over 1,300 former clients,
and the information gathered from the respondents has helped shape
the company’s outlook on the future. Probably the most important
outcome of the survey, however, has been to reinforce Phelps’
instincts. The numbers gathered supported his gut feeling that New
Face Kitchens was on the right track. In fact, according to the
survey, 98% of respondents rated the quality of their completed
projects as “satisfactory to outstanding.”
However, the results of the survey also prompted some important
changes at the company. “We have increased our training of all
employees,” states Blankinship. “Each week, our installers receive
training updates on the latest installation techniques.”
The survey also provided information that led the company to
make some changes to its automated job tracking system. The system,
according to Phelps, helps them stay ahead of problems on the job
site and avoid the “punch list” at the end of the job.
Another area of change prompted by the study was in the
company’s showroom. The firm has never had commissioned sales
personnel and maintains a policy of no-pressure sales. While this
has its advantages, the survey showed that presentations in the
showroom needed to be streamlined and better organized.
The changes have paid off, and today, the firm completes over
400 kitchen projects annually and boasts a growing bathroom
remodeling business, as well. Blankinship adds that New Face
Kitchens continues to survey its most recent customers quarterly to
help get “a clearer picture of what consumers are looking for when
updating their kitchen or bath.”
He expects that the information gathered will continue to help
the company strategize and compete in the marketplace.
When Phelps opened up for
business, serving a 70-mile corridor along the Puget Sound, he was
armed with more than a dream and extensive work experience. With
the help of his wife, Brandy, Phelps wrote an ambitious 25-year
plan. Phelps determined his business would target not the ultra
high-end, but rather, consumers looking for an “average kitchen.”
The company promotes its business to “reface, replace or remodel”
kitchens and baths, with the average kitchen project costing
$15,000, and the average bathroom project coming in at around
When New Face Kitchens was born, Phelps did it all sell, draw,
install kitchens. Through it all, his primary goal was a “job well
done. I figured the money would follow,” he explains.
He was right. The company now has some 45 employees, and Phelps
says his business grew annually by 50% between 1992 and 2000. Then
it “got to a size where I didn’t want it to grow anymore,” he
notes, adding, “I like the hands-on aspect of the business. I like
talking to the customers. I like driving over to the shopmaybe help
them run some boards through.” And he didn’t want to lose that
aspect of the business. So, Phelps made a conscious choice to grow
the business a bit more slowly, by only 10% in 2001.
“We don’t have a spectacular showroom on purpose,” explains
Phelps. He believes mainstream customers often find dramatic
showrooms to be intimidating. As he explains, “It’s great to tour
Hearst castle, but it’s not what you would do in your home.”
The showroom does, however, feature hundreds of door styles and
colors that New Face Kitchens fabricates. One part of the showroom
is designated just for tile samples, and the firm maintains a “huge
selection of knobs and pulls,” according to Phelps.
While the showroom may not be fancy, it meets the customers’
needs and for Phelps, that makes his family business a true success
New Face Kitchens
LOCATION: Kirkland, WA
PRINCIPALS: Tom Phelps, owner/president; Brandy Phelps, v.p.; Perry
Fleming, v.p.; Brook Fleming, order manager.
SHOWROOMS: One, 3,000 square feet
HOURS OF OPERATION: Mon.-Fri. 9 a.m. -6 p.m., Sat. 10 a.m. -4 p.m.,
and by appointment.
MAJOR PRODUCT LINES: DuPont Corian, Caesar Stone, Avonite,
DESIGN SOFTWARE: Cabinet Vision
SPECIALTIES: Reface, replace and redesign mid-range kitchens and
BUSINESS PHILOSOPHY: “To carry throughgiving customers what they
expect is what I’ve been after all of this time.”