Design Firm Discovers Building Block for
HILLSDALE, NJ When it comes to identifying the key building blocks
to their company’s success, the principals at Ken Bauer Inc. point
to a unique sales and design tool they’ve been employing for years.
That element is a specially made set of three-dimensional miniature
blocks, crafted from wood and laminate. The set is utilized by the
company’s designers to skillfully and efficiently develop layouts
for kitchen prospects.
At first glance, you might think the blocks located in three
different positions in the design firm’s showroom are designed
simply to entertain the children of showroom visitors. The 3D
blocks, however, are hardly child’s play.
In reality, they’re not only Ken Bauer Inc.’s primary design and
selling tool, they’ve become an integral part of the 30-year-old
company’s identity, growth and longevity. They also stand in sharp
contrast to the techniques employed by most kitchen design firms,
which are relying more heavily than ever on a computer-aided design
and sales approach.
The blocks, which are
made in a countertop shop in the rear of the Ken Bauer Inc.
showroom, simulate literally any major component of a kitchen
including cabinets, appliances and countertops. Each block is
marked with the dimensions of the product it represents, so that
room dimensions can be accommodated. New blocks can be produced, or
old ones modified, to simulate new products or designs that enter
Ken Bauer Inc. associates ask clients, in advance of a showroom
visit, to draw a rough outline of their existing kitchen, including
measurements. A simulated room is then quickly built to scale using
the blocks, and the firm’s designers walk clients through a variety
of layout options, arranging and rearranging the blocks as they
proceed, based on the client’s needs, budget and design/product
“Using the blocks, their new kitchen takes shape right before
their eyes,” says company president Ken Bauer. “The blocks give
clients and prospects a very good visual sense of how their kitchen
will look. It’s easy to show them a number of layouts based on the
size of their kitchen.
“Literally, within a couple of minutes you can give a prospect a
whole new design,” Bauer adds.
According to company secretary and designer Sandy Martucci, the
use of the blocks represents “a very personalized approach to
design and selling.”
And, says Martucci, “Clients love it. They want to take the
blocks home with them, or have their children play with them.”
Instead of leaving the showroom with the blocks, however,
clients are able to take with them a digital photo of their new
kitchen’s design, downloaded onto a CD so that clients can review
the design at home on a computer.
Ken Bauer Inc.’s entire block system is based on speed and
efficiency. Bauer estimates, for example, that within 90 minutes a
client can decide on a floor plan, tour the showroom, review
pricing and leave with an estimate. Bauer says his company averages
15 such estimates a week. Taking measurements, producing hand-done
drawings and signing an order, he says, takes no more than several
This type of speed and client involvement, Bauer notes, enables
the company to achieve a closing ratio of 35-40%, while generating
between $4 million and $5 million in annual revenue with three
salespeople. Currently, the company is doing about five remodeled
kitchens a week, averaging some $21,000 per project, just for
cabinets, countertops, construction and installation. Clients are
referred to nearby retail outlets to purchase their appliances,
plumbingware and other projects.
The block system also eliminates the need to charge a design
“Since we don’t spend much time at that point in the process,”
says Bauer, “we figure we can give our customers that much time
Aside from its unique approach with the 3D blocks, the company
can also produce kitchen designs, perspectives and elevations via a
CAD program, if a client wishes.
“We recognize that some people feel comfortable with that kind
of approach,” Bauer points out. “It’s important for our customers
to know we have a computer system and can handle their designs that
However, Bauer notes his designers have not become overly
dependent on CAD and, in fact, they prefer using the blocks, he
“Computers are certainly a good business tool, but a lot of
designers, I think, become overly dependent on them and don’t learn
as much about the ins and outs of good design as they might
otherwise,” Bauer says. “And, people still appreciate hand
Customers have obviously responded to this approach. The firm,
in fact, has remodeled an estimated 6,000 kitchens in northern New
Jersey over the course of the 30+ years it has been in business
since it was founded by Bauer’s father, a former appliance
Many Design Options
Ken Bauer Inc. operates
out of a 2,200-sq.-ft. showroom that contains about 10 displays,
ranging from full kitchens to vignettes.
“We try to have pretty much everything in the showroom,” Bauer
points out, adding that about one display is changed out each year.
“We try to show a lot of possibilities,” he says, “because people
tend to buy what they see.”
The company carries five different cabinet lines Elm Mfg.,
LesCare, Hanssem, Hillcraft and CE (Cuisine Expert) and employs 20
people, including five two-man installation crews, two countertop
fabricators, a plumber and three designers. The business focuses
primarily on remodeled kitchens, but handles a limited number of
bathroom projects in new homes, according to Bauer. The showroom is
open weekdays and Saturdays; extended hours are offered two
evenings during the week.
The company also makes extensive use of a photographic portfolio
of the kitchen projects it has completed, with a significant number
of photos of those kitchens also available for review on the
company’s Web site.
CMK Interiors, a separate business owned by designer Christine
King, adjoins the Ken Bauer Inc. showroom and produces designs for
custom bookcases, office furniture, entertainment units and
closets. “We used to turn people away when they asked for those
kinds of designs. Now we steer them there,” notes Martucci.
Overall, Bauer and Martucci point out, the company’s approach to
selling is decidedly low-key.
“There’s no pressure, no closing area in our showroom,” Bauer
comments. “We don’t pressure people for the sale. We just show them
what we can do, keep things simple, make it as easy as possible for
the customer, give them a price and let them make a decision.
“Our business is word-of-mouth. People are already comfortable
with who we are, to a great degree, when they come into the
showroom. We remind people all the time that they’re really buying
And, there’s “a lot of taking care of the customer after the
fact,” Martucci says. “We bend over backwards for the people who
buy from us.”
KEN BAUER INC.
LOCATION: Hillsdale, NJ
PRINCIPLES: Ken Bauer, president; Sandy Martucci, secretary.
HOURS OF OPERATION:
9 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday, Wednesday and Friday; 9 a.m.-9 p.m., Tuesday
and Thursday; 9 a.m.-3 p.m., Saturday.
NUMBER OF EMPLOYEES: 20
ANNUAL SALES VOLUME:
$4 million-$5 million.
SPECIALITIES: Custom kitchens; libraries, entertainment centers,
office furniture, etc. through its affiliate, CMK Interiors.
BUSINESS PHILOSOPHY: “We remind people all the time that they’re
really buying us. And we bend over backwards for the people who buy