Whispering Pines, NC—In 1986, Scott Koehler’s design career was born in flames – that is, an accidental grease fire that necessitated the full remodel of his kitchen. According to Koehler, he found himself so enjoying the resultant remodeling process that, by 1989, he made the switch from his previous career selling AutoCAD and PCs and began working on kitchen projects for other homeowners.
Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, Koehler’s fledgling remodeling business grew, and he eventually opened a showroom of his own. He was active with the National Association of Home Builders, at various times serving as chair of the Remodelers Council and president, as well as president of the Greensboro Builders Association.
Things took a sudden turn in 2008 with the advent of the recession, compelling Koehler to sell his showroom and make a rather drastic career switch. In 2011, he returned to his tech roots, becoming a certified reseller for box.com, licensing software packages to companies. “It gave me the opportunity to learn a whole bunch from these incredibly intelligent young people in Silicon Valley…I was just immersing myself.”
As the 2010s began, Koehler began to contemplate another career change. “At that point, I had been out of the kitchen business for about three years, and a light bulb went off and I said, wait, what about getting back into the kitchen business and combining my two passions?” says Koehler. “And so I started Dream Kitchen Builders in 2015, just [with an online presence], no showroom. People who had worked with me before, vendors around the country and local subs and builders, were willing to do business with me without a showroom.”
Since his reentry into the kitchen and bath industry, Koehler has become known as something of a tech guru. For Koehler, technology plays a dual role in his business – in how the company actually operates, and in the projects the company completes for clients.
“I build a virtual ‘job book’…so everything’s available 24/7,” he explains. “You know, if the tile setter says, ‘how high do I set the tile?” he can just get out his smartphone and look it up.”
Koehler is also an authority on bringing technology and smart products to his clients’ homes. “We’re looking at the advent of real home automation,” he believes. “I’m trying to stay abreast of this topic all the time, and it’s growing exponentially.”
He is careful, however, to maintain a realistic view of the current and future applications for smart technology in the home, citing ongoing concerns regarding privacy and information sharing. “There are two different extreme ends to smart homes right now. At one end of the continuum, people say a smart home is a home with a smart speaker and two IOT [Internet of Things] devices….Another end of the continuum is a whole home automation.” While clients are likely to be open to smart lighting, smart door locks or an Alexa or Google voice-activated device, he says, “we just don’t know what a mainstream [whole-home automation] is going to look like.”
Koehler’s expertise in both the fields of technology and design has made him a sought-after speaker and authority on subjects such as cloud-based business solutions and kitchen automation. He has been a presenter at KBIS and other NKBA events multiple times and has contributed articles to industry publications. “When I go and do a talk, like for the NKBA… I am always trying to figure out where mainstream kitchen designers are with [smart technology], so I will be speaking about things they want to hear about,” Koehler notes. “I can’t give them [tech] that’s too far ahead, so I just have to be constantly working on that.”
A discerning clientele
Regardless of the level of home automation his clients are comfortable with, Koehler’s high-end customers tend to share certain traits. “They’re sophisticated, they’re worldly, they’re quick learners,” he notes, adding that his clients tend to fall in the 50s-60s age range and are comfortable but cautious. “They have money, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to spend whatever,” he adds.
His clients’ comfort with technology means that they go into their remodeling projects well-informed. “They’ve done their homework up front,” he says. “They already know who I am.” ▪