Crystal, MN – JoLynn Johnson, CMKBD, CAPS, had worked as a designer at Crystal Kitchen Center for about 10 years before she decided to jump into entrepreneurship by buying the nearly 20-year-old business in 1994.
Since then she has transformed her Crystal, MN, company into an award-winning design/build firm that specializes in remodeling rooms that highlight cabinetry, including everything from kitchens and baths to bedrooms, offices and laundry rooms. She also specializes in built-ins such as entertainment centers and fireplace surrounds.
Some changes she has made have been out of necessity; others just “happened.”
“When I purchased the business, the company focused on cabinetry for new construction,” she recalls. But Johnson preferred remodeling and slowly made the switch, starting small then adding more in-depth tasks as clients asked her to do more.
The economy also forced some changes. Until 2008, she had one employee who ordered materials, oversaw the paperwork and, in general, performed all the technical tasks. A second employee served as the field supervisor, checking on jobsites, subcontractors, etc. Now she has taken over both positions, serving as project manager for all jobs.
She actually prefers this relatively new role, noting that she enjoys the architectural focus of jobs rather than selecting fabrics and wall coverings, which she leaves to the rest of her design team, all of whom have studied interior design and/or are CKDs.
With her transition to project manager, her firm has become one of female domination. All four of her designers are women, and Johnson feels that it actually gives her an edge. “I enjoy working with women,” she says. “I feel we make good listeners and we are good at getting things done. Plus, we all love to cook, so our clients can work with someone who understands the kitchen and how to organize it.”
Who is coming, when?
Johnson feels several other keys have contributed to her business success. For one, her 8,000-square-foot showroom (which is split 50/50 between display space and office/warehouse) features 19 displays of kitchens, baths, offices, laundry rooms, etc. This year she remodeled two of those displays, incorporating new trends and products such as a trough sink, steam oven and built-in coffee maker to “keep on top of our game.”
“I think a showroom is still important,” she says, adding that her one-stop shop offers clients everything from appliances and countertops to tile, flooring, cabinetry and hardware. “People can walk through it and see the details and quality of the products and materials. Many people have a hard time visualizing a space. Remodeling a room can be overwhelming. With a showroom, they can see it, touch it and feel it. You can buy computers off the internet, but I think it would be very difficult to buy a kitchen.”
Johnson also feels that developing a job calendar puts everyone at ease. “Too many times people don’t know who’s coming, when,” she says. “Creating a job calendar for each project is standard practice for me.”
The entire job process is specifically outlined on the calendar, including dates for everything from when tear out begins to when the job will be completed. No details are overlooked, since she includes dates for when plumbers, electricians and painters are scheduled, as well as when dumpsters will be available and appliances installed.
“Everyone knows how important the calendar is to me,” she says.
Changing with the times
While there have been many changes at Crystal Kitchen Center, one constant through most years has been the firm’s participation in the Parade of Homes Remodelers Showcase. The twice-yearly event (spring/fall) serves as one of the company’s most important, and profitable, marketing programs.
Johnson used to faithfully participate in local home and gardens shows, but has shifted her focus, especially in the past decade. That change has occurred as people have found new and different venues to view home products.
“It used to be that a home/garden show was the only place where people could go to see so much,” she says. “Then came the Web. Now people can sit at home and research appliances, cabinets, etc. They don’t have to wait to go to a show to see what’s new.”
But the remodeler’s showcase does give Johnson a new advantage because people can see first-hand the quality of the company’s work. “They can come through the home and talk to us in a non-threatening environment,” she says. “The showroom can be a bit more intimidating, but this is someone’s home. And they can be anonymous if they want to be.”
While there is a cost and time commitment to participate in the showcase, Johnson feels it is money well-spent because of the extensive coverage she receives in such a short amount of time. “We host a cocktail party for all the neighbors the night before the event so they can see the house,” she says. “That can add up to about 200 to 300 people. Plus, we get about 500 to 600 groups of people coming through the home during the event. For some people, it’s just something to do for the day. But for most, they are actually interested in finding a remodeler.”
This past spring was Johnson’s most successful event to date, in large part because of the effervescent personality of the homeowner. Thus far this year, her firm has completed two jobs which were direct leads from the show, and she is also working on several others. “People will often come to us years later telling us they went through one of our homes,” Johnson says. “It could be five years down the road until a lead comes to fruition, so there is definitely residual value from our participation.”
At A Glance
Crystal Kitchen Center
Principal: JoLynn Johnson
Showroom: Crystal, MN
Hours of Operation: 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Monday-Friday; 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Saturday (Labor Day through Memorial Day); by appointment
Major Product Lines: Crystal Cabinets Works cabinets; Sub-Zero, Wolf appliances
Design Software: 20/20, Chief Architect
Design Philosophy: To work with clients to create the rooms of their dreams, to stay within budget and to be unique to their personality. “For some clients it’s all about function, while for others it’s all about glitz. It’s important for us to find out what is important.”
Business Philosophy: To exceed client expectations. “When our clients are happy, I’m happy.”
Photos: JH Peterson, Mark Ehler, Brian Droege