Over my years in the kitchen and bath industry I’ve watched many
changes take place.
In the early ’80s, like many of my industry colleagues, our firm
sold cabinets. The game was to find the right cabinet to sell at
the right price. Back then, when we all met at industry
conferences, the first question we asked each other was “what
brands do you carry?” Brand meant everything.
Then, as time passed and competition increased, we became a
“design” firm. Our focus changed to more upscale offerings, and
quality design became more important than the cabinet brands we
carried. It was our way of separating ourselves from the emerging
Major changes occurred again when the early ’90s arrived and we
were faced with a serious recession. I can recall attending a
meeting around that time where we all discussed the sad state of
the economy. What I remember most were those dealers who said, “if
I just keep doing quality design work for my customers, the
business will take care of itself.” Their name badges probably
should have read: “Hello! My name is . . . Road Kill.”
I wonder what they’re doing now, because they sure as heck
didn’t make it through the recession. In fact, perhaps the only
silver lining of those troubled years is that those of us who
survived did so by becoming better business people.’
I don’t know what it was that caused so many of us to shudder at
the idea of becoming, dare I say, profit oriented. Like oil and
water, there was this prevalent notion that business and creativity
somehow just couldn’t mix.
I’m not sure where it came from, but I’ve been gratified over
the last few years to see many of my industry colleagues taking
their business more seriously all the while discovering, miracle of
miracles, that we can be enormously creative in our design work
while generating profits at the same time.
A new phase
So now, here we are, entering a new economic phase. The stock
market has demonstrated that it’s not infallible. Economic growth
has slowed dramatically. How are those of us who are astute
business people going to maintain profitability?
I think the answer can be summed up in one simple word:
Salesmanship? The Next Big Thing is Salesmanship?
I really think so. Those who can effectively sell their products
will be the winners in the next few years. Now that we have become
more effective business people, it’s imperative that we continue to
refine every piece of our business to maximize profits.
Salesmanship should be an integral part of that fine-tuning
Unfortunately, if you mention salesmanship to many kitchen and
bath dealers, they shudder in much the same way that they once
shuddered when the concept of being a business person was brought
Why is it that being a salesperson carries a negative
connotation? It could be because so many people think a salesperson
is someone who talks people into buying things that they don’t
want. In actuality, a good salesperson is someone who helps people
discover and obtain exactly what they do want.
Salesmanship, in today’s kitchen and bath retail climate, means
selling yourself, not your products. It means selling the answers
to problems. It means selling ideas. It means finding a way to make
it easy for the customer to say “yes.”
Start with the sale There’s an old proverb that says “everything
starts with a sale.” It’s still true. Think of it this way: If you
don’t start with a sale, you’ll soon be finished as a business.
I hear a lot of kitchen and bath dealers talk about margin
erosion, and the supposed reasons for it mistakes, damaged goods,
forgetting to add freight costs, and on and on. But no one ever
says, “I didn’t maximize the selling price.” No one ever says, “We
should be doing a better job of selling our projects.” No one ever
says, “I should have sold it for more.”
Yet, I contend that is the number-one area we should be
concentrating on if we want to remain profitable.
When was the last time your entire staff discussed sales issues
such as: How do we qualify a customer? How do we ask for the order?
What do we say when the client thinks the price is high? How do we
sound when we answer the phone? How do we explain how we’re
different from our competitors? Which product lines produce the
best margins for us? How carefully do we listen to our customers?
What does our showroom say about our professionalism? How do we
make customers comfortable when visiting us for the first time?
What do we do after the sale to make sure we generate
There’s a myriad of sales-related issues that should be
discussed on a regular basis. Keep in mind that, during the recent
prolonged economic upswing, we’ve fostered an entire generation of
“salespeople” who really only had to be order-takers. These are
people who think that their designs “sell themselves.” But, even a
slight economic downturn will expose these order-takers to be what
they truly are: overhead.
And, additional overhead is something none of us can afford.
I’d suggest to any kitchen and bath dealer that there is no time
to waste in promoting quality salesmanship. Conduct in-house
sessions, look for sales seminars, invest in some sales books. I’d
demand that vendor representatives who call on you be prepared to
tell your staff how to sell their products. If a vendor doesn’t
know how to help with sales issues, find a new vendor.
Learning to sell effectively has got to be your number-one
priority as a new business cycle emerges.
One of the big advantages the independent dealer has over the
big-box stores lies in face-to-face interactions with potential
clients in an attractive and stimulating sales environment. To
maximize profit, we need to make the most out of every sales
There’s no question in my mind. Salesmanship is the next big
Steve Vlachos, CKD, CBD, is the founder and general manager of the
Portland, ME-based Atlantic Kitchen Center, a kitchen and bath
design firm that operates as a division of Hancock Lumber. Vlachos
is a well-known industry educator who has been the chairman of the
NKBA’s Education Committee and president of the Maine chapter of
the NKBA. He has spoken widely on business-related topics, and
serves as an instructor for the “Managing for Profit” seminar
series, sponsored by Kitchen & Bath Design News and the