September heralds the end of summer, and for those with children, it’s back to school time. But smart design professionals know that classes aren’t only for children, and you’re never too old to learn a few new tricks, tips or business skills.
As long-time kitchen designer, speaker and educator Florence Perchuk, CKD, CAPS, explains, “In the kitchen and bath industry, change is very vital, and education is what feeds change.” The New York City-based Perchuk, who is a member of the NKBA Manhattan Chapter and the IFDA, believes that continuing education is important “not only to keep us within the trends of what’s happening in the marketplace, but to look at the business end of this, what it means to us, and how to alter what we need to do in the future” to remain vibrant, growing and successful.
Similar sentiments are shared by Mary Jo Peterson, CKD, CBD, CAPS, who was named NAHB CAPS Educator of the Year for 2014. She states, “Education is important for those who are new to the industry, but it’s equally critical of those of us who have been in a profession for a long time to stay current. We can’t be everywhere at once, but education offers us a chance to develop areas of specialization, explore areas of greatest interest and identify our target markets. Education also helps us to develop confidence by broadening our knowledge base…and this can happen in ways we may not have planned, as networking often opens up new opportunities for learning and growth.”
A decade ago, when the economy was first starting its boom, education seemed a lower priority for many in the kitchen and bath industry. Interestingly, however, when the economy was at its worst, the educational arena saw a resurgence of interest, as the confluence of new technology, a rapidly changing consumer base and a need for stronger business and design skills led to something of a renaissance in kitchen and bath education.
Today, kitchen and bath professionals continue to benefit from a slew of educational offerings that run the gamut from live full-day seminars, online educational courses and “virtual” classroom offerings, on-demand webinars and an expanded KBIS conference, to manufacturer training classes, business books (both those specializing in the kitchen and bath arena and those offering more general business advice), trade magazines, one-on-one mentoring opportunities, design and business software programs and so much more.
Before the Internet, in-person classes were considered the primary way for kitchen and bath dealers and designers to further their education. Traditionally, design professionals could find educational sessions at trade shows such as KBIS and IBS, often segmented into one-hour sessions, focusing on a specific topic or area of expertise. Some of these provided a broad overview to a larger topic, while others focused more narrowly on a specific niche. Just like with college classes, dealers and designers might attend a series of these in order to work toward a specific certification: an AKBD, CKD, CBD, CAPS or some other designation.
In 1999, citing a need for more in-depth training, KBDN publisher emeritus Eliot Sefrin developed a exclusive day-long “Managing for Profit” program in conjunction with renowned designer, author and educator Ellen Cheever, CMKBD, ASID, CAPS, of the Wilmington, DE-based Ellen Cheever & Associates. The session, which took place in major metropolitan areas across the country, sold out quickly, and over the next 15 years, the program continued to grow and evolve, garnering strong support among manufacturer sponsors, and addressing such topics as “Designing for Profit,” “Profitable Showroom Design,” “Profiting by Design in the New Economy,” and, most recently, “Art + Science: How Contemporary Design & Cutting -Edge Technology Can Increase Profits and Resonate With Today’s New Clients,” in conjunction with technology expert Eric Schimelpfenig, AKBD.
“There’s just no substitute for live education,” Sefrin maintains. He stresses that the importance of bringing education to the design community, with instructors who are “professionals on the firing line and who understand the challenges our readers face.” However, he cites the added benefits of interaction – with peers, with the educators during breaks, with products that are on display from manufacturer sponsors – which all add to the educational experience.
In recent years, webinars and online classes have dramatically changed the game, providing options for those who either lack the time or budget to travel for training. Likewise, “on demand” pre-recorded sessions have sprung up, catering to those who are too busy to fit training into their regular work day, and prefer to do this after hours.
But while technology has been a boon for those who live in remote areas, or who can’t spare the time or budget for a trip, Cheever believes there are certain advantages that can only be achieved through in-person training. She explains, “The value of face to face is that you’re taken out of your normal environment so you can concentrate. The biggest problem with online learning is that it’s harder to focus on it, and you’re isolated. In person, you not only get the benefit of the formal program, but through class projects or breaks or the opportunity to talk with other attendees, you can increase the learning opportunities. For the program we do, when there are also product exhibits, so you get the additional benefit of being able to be exposed to and interact with new products.”
Mary Jo Peterson is also a fan of in-person classes. She explains, “I teach this class at Harvard, and what’s always so amazing to me is that each person comes to class with a certain amount of knowledge and experience that is unique to that person, so it’s not only the instructor’s experience and knowledge, but the experience and knowledge of those in the class that helps to create the overall educational experience through the discussions and networking.”
The National Kitchen & Bath Association has also long been a supporter of industry education, and in recent years, its “Voices of the Industry” KBIS conference program has grown dramatically. However, equally notable is the association’s growth in the virtual classroom arena.
When NKBA director of learning Nancy Barnes joined the association in June of 2011, she felt there were strong programs to support certifications, but fewer opportunities for educational courses designed simply to increase professionalism or reach “next level.” Additionally, most classes were geared for designers, but little was available for other segments of the market that NKBA serves. She states, “We wanted to provide some kind of learning for everyone, regardless of their situation or needs, whether on demand, webinar, virtual, or in person at our Voices of the Industry Conference.”
To address the growing need for expanded educational opportunities, NKBA University was born.
One of the most interesting aspects of this program is the Virtual Instructor Led Training, or VILT program. Barnes stresses, “It’s not the same as a webinar. We actually use a virtual classroom, it’s very different from a Go To Meeting, and much more interactive. We have a white board, we can show video, we can see each other, we can split people up into small groups, there are just a lot of tools we can use to make the experience interactive.”
A particularly notable tool that supports the VILT program is a social platform called Yammer. “Similar to Facebook, it allows students in a course to chat and post about a topic, or homework assignments, it allows instructors to post video to illustrate something they want to explain and it provides a safe and private forum to further continued interaction with other members of the class,” Barnes states.
Another benefit of the VILT program is that it’s not simply a single one-hour course. Rather, it provides the opportunity to have multi-week sessions, which allows students to take the time to reflect on their work, absorb information, get input on practice exams or designs, and even meet with the instructor during “virtual office hours.”
NKBA University also offers more than 300 “on-demand” classes, where users can sign up and take a class at their convenience, from their office or home computer, at any time of day or night, pausing or bookmarking the class if something comes up. This provides a tremendous amount of flexibility,
Most people agree that technology is the future, but Barnes is hopeful that this doesn’t mean impersonal. Rather, she believes, “We need to align our learning in the industry with what’s happening in learning in general – which is a trend toward much less rote memorization or sitting in a classroom, a lot more learner-centric, personalized learning, open-source courses, learning geared for how an individual learns best.”
BOOKS, MAGAZINES & SOFTWARE
While classes, both online and in-person, provide a wealth of learning opportunities, sometimes upping one’s educational game is as simple as sitting down with a good book, poring through an industry magazine or exploring a new software program
Jamie Gold, CKD, CAPS, owner of the California based Jamie Gold Kitchen and Bath Design, LLC and author of New Kitchen Ideas That Work, maintains, “Books have tremendous value to a designer’s education. They can serve as reference tools, inspiration and sources for new points of view. Long before I wrote my first book, I had amassed a design library, and when I was preparing for my NKBA certifications, I also used their excellent Professional Resource Library series as study guides, which helped me to pass both on the first try. To stop reading is to stop learning and growing.”
Cheever, too, believes books can play an important role in a designer’s continued professional growth. However, Cheever suggests that when reading for the sake of learning, it’s a good idea to review some of the studying habits learned back in school. Instead of just reading a book casually, she suggests starting with a quick skim, followed by a more in depth review using a highlighter pen.
She explains, “I always suggest first skimming the book from cover to cover in a swift way, then set up a schedule and write it on your calendar, where you devote 30 minutes or one hour a day or every other day to give yourself time to really read the material in depth. Use a highlighter to key into points of specific interest, just like you did in college. Then it can sit on your shelf and serve as a resource, because you can find the info you need at a glance. “
Cheever, who has been authoring books since the 1970s, recently completed a book for the NKBA’s Professional Resource Library entitled Kitchen & Bath Products and Materials, which will be available in November. Using this as an example, she suggests, “I would suggest skimming it first and focusing on materials you’re perhaps not familiar with…then, as you reread, you can highlight areas of relevance and use this is your day-to-day specification process if you need to be reminded of the attributes of one particular product or another.”
Industry trade magazines can also provide everything from trend information and new product to business management advice, marketing ideas and lessons from other successful industry professionals, while consumer design magazines can provide insight into what’s resonating for potential clients.
Even software programs can further the educational process, whether it’s learning to better understand your business’ finances and how marketing, selling and management systems integrate, through a program like the SEN Design Group’s newly launched Network Management System (NMS), to a design program like Google Sketchup, 20-20 or Chief Architect, which can help designers better understand design options for the space they’re working in.
When we think about education, we generally tend to focus on classroom-type learning opportunities –
seminars, conferences, classes, books or the like. However, one of the most frequently overlooked learning opportunities can be found through professional mentoring.
Ken Peterson, CKD, founder and president of the Chapel Hill, NC-based SEN Design Group is a huge believer in the benefits of mentoring, and notes that this is one of the most valuable aspects of joining a buying group such as SEN. He states, “Mentoring is something that everyone in the kitchen and bath field should look for. There are so many people with 20, 25, 30 or even 40 years of experience that can be leveraged by those looking to learn and grow their kitchen and bath firms.”
Peterson explains that too often, small kitchen and bath firms end up working in somewhat solitary circumstances, and do things by trial and error because they don’t have access to those who have significant experience in the kitchen and bath field, particularly with respect to financial and business management knowledge. He cites the Great Recession, and the many firms that went out of business, as proof of this. Mentoring can help dealers get advice and learn skills that can make the difference between struggling to stay in business and having the opportunity to grow.
But mentoring isn’t only for new businesses, he stresses. “Most kitchen and bath dealers are too close to their operations to be able to get perspective or see what the flaws might be. An outside perspective from someone in the field with years of experience can make a huge difference in identifying and addressing weaknesses and focusing strengths.”
While industry-specific mentoring provides the unique advantage of being able to seek professional advice from someone who understands the challenges that are specific to the kitchen and bath field, for those looking to work on a particular area of expertise, there are other mentoring options as well. For instance, organizations such as SCORE, which has offices is more than 300 cities across the nation, match retired business professionals with those seeking business mentors in a wide variety of niche areas, from marketing, technology and finances to legal issues, branding, business planning and more.
Finally, manufacturers offer a wealth of product-specific training perfect for getting hands-on experience with the ever-growing array of new products in the industry. With constant innovations in product manufacturing, finishing, engineering and technology, it’s critical for designers and dealers to stay abreast of new products, and manufacturers and distributors can be a tremendous help with this.
As Cheever concludes, “Consumers research so much on the Internet, and often, they think they know everything. For that reason, designers need to have in-depth, product-specific training so they can remain the beacon of knowledge for their clients.”