Well-Trained Staff, Solid Values Drive
By Denise D. Vermeulen
BRIGHTON, MIAlthough the recent decline in housing starts in the
Detroit area had slowed business for KSI Kitchens & Baths, the
company remained undaunted. KSI management recognized the need to
expand its customer base in order to keep its sales numbers up.
Enter a well-trained sales staff. The sales team quickly landed
107 new builders as clients. As a result, last year, KSI had sales
in excess of $30 million and it continues to look confidently to
While KSI’s systematic and assertive marketing techniques have
been a key to its success, the company’s approach to training, and
its commitment to a philosophy that preaches the “golden rule,”
positions the company as a service-oriented business.
The company, which has its roots in the cabinet business, was
founded in 1971 by Don Fisher and Don Ziegler. Though the two are
still involved in the company today, both are semi-retired.
According to president and CEO Pete Casteel, who joined the
company in 1999, the founders created a corporate culture that has
survived to this day. “Our culture is founded on real, solid
business ethics,” says Casteel. “We have great relationships with
The foundation of those supplier relationships can be attributed to
the firm’s employees. According to Casteel, the staff known as team
members benefits from a unique and rigorous training program.
In fact, education has become an integral part of the corporate
culture at KSI. Just over two years ago, the company decided to
formalize its training program and appointed Carol Cammet as
director of “KSI University,” a training regimen that is now
required for all new hires.
At KSI University, a new recruit is indoctrinated into the
corporate culture and introduced to the various systems in place.
The courses offered are geared to the individual’s needs, and may
include computer-aided design, design techniques and sales
techniques. Manufacturer representatives provide product training,
and employees visit suppliers to experience first-hand how the
products are made. Finally, employees spend time in each department
at KSI and visit all of the showrooms.
At the end of training, KSI University “students” are required
to take exams. The tests cover quotes, orders, various programs,
pricing and closing techniques.
KSI University also offers an abbreviated program for warehouse
employees and office support staff. The overall program includes a
meeting with Casteel, who emphasizes the company’s core values.
In keeping with its devotion to education, KSI requires that
every one of its 52 designers, as well as its entire sales staff,
be licensed by the state. KSI provides additional training as
needed, and tests its employees regularly.
The salespeople at the design firm are divided into two teams.
The showroom team sells to retail customers, some remodeling
contractors and small builders. The other unit is the builder
division, which consists of 10 employees who work out of their
homes, generating 47% of sales dollars. An additional support team
of 10 works out of headquarters.
Though Casteel maintains that KSI’s competition is “very
robust,” it has maintained 40% of the builder market share.
Although competition in the retail market is stiffer, KSI hopes to
grow this end of the business, noting a recent increase of 7% on
Backing up the highly trained KSI staff are eight showrooms that
total 29,000 sq. ft., situated in locations all over metropolitan
Detroit and Flint, MI. According to Casteel, each showroom was
designed with its local demographics in mind. KSI defines its
target customer, gathers information including average income and
the age of the population and displays various products according
to location and the type of customers anticipated.
KSI also reviews the percentage of old homes versus the
projections of new homes in the area when filling its showrooms.
The older homes will open doors for KSI’s retail sales, and new
construction will provide opportunities to expand the builders’
Occasionally, KSI holds events at its showrooms, most of which have
playrooms for clients’ children. Some of these happenings are
geared to showcase products, such as a Corian event and a granite
promotion. One successful event was an open house that featured a
cookbook signing by a local celebrity a contestant straight off the
popular television show “Survivor.”
KSI also implements a customer information management system,
which was developed to better measure “how well we’re doing,” says
Casteel. The design firm tracks measurables such as showroom
traffic and how serious the customer is about a purchase.
Information about how the customer heard about the firm is also
According to Casteel, this information has helped the company
better spend its advertising dollars. “Our local TV buys used to be
broad-based,” he comments. With more information now available to
the firm about its customers, KSI uses its television advertising
dollars more wisely. Added success has come by way of advertising
on home and garden as well as food shows.
“Our goal is to clearly be the best supplier,” says Casteel. “We
are not a price-based house, we are a value-based house.” It’s not
likely KSI will miss its mark.
KSI Kitchens &
LOCATION: Brighton, MI
PRINCIPALS: Don Fisher, owner; Don Ziegler, owner; Pete Casteel,
president and chief executive officer; Dan Romback, v.p. and chief
SHOWROOMS: Eight, totaling 29,000 square feet
HOURS OF OPERATION: Mon., Wed. and Sat., 9 a.m.-5 p.m.; Tues. and
Thurs., 9 a.m.-8 p.m.; appointments by request.
MAJOR PRODUCT LINES: Merillat, Dura Supreme, Kitchen Craft, Delta
Faucet Co., Kohler Co., Elkay, Jacuzzi, Moen, Aqua Glass, American
Standard, DuPont Corian, Wilsonart International, Formica Corp.,
Hera Lighting, Broan.
SPECIALTIES: “Service is our
specialty. Our real goal is to be the premiere service supplier. We
want our products to become
secondary to our service.”
BUSINESS PHILOSOPHY: “Our philosophy is the ‘golden rule.’ We treat
clients as we would want to be treated.”