Category 1 Overall Excellence in Operating a Kitchen & Bath Dealership

by WOHe

Category 1 Overall Excellence in Operating a Kitchen
& Bath Dealership

First place: Morris Black & Sons, Lehigh Valley,

Firm Serves Multiple Markets With One Level of Excellence

Some people believe in doing one thing only, and doing it well. At
Morris Black & Sons, though, diversification doesn’t mean a
diffusion of the firm’s strengths. Rather, the firm has created an
interlocking network of separate yet related divisions that
maximizes the firm’s skills, services and offerings. Each area
functions independently, yet collectively, they support each other,
resulting in a cohesive and exceptional whole.

The company is divided into three separate divisions which
operate as individual profit centers within the corporate
structure: Commercial Doors and Hardware, Fiberglass Insulation
Contracting and Kitchens and Baths Division. The firm serves as a
distributor for stock cabinets, offering a one-stop builder
purchase point for stock cabinets; a commercial/contract business,
serving light industrial casework needs with its own in house
manufacturing facility, and a high-end custom kitchen remodeling
business, with a focused “design studio” image.

In fact, the firm’s ability to succeed as a multi-faceted
business  without sacrificing quality earned it top honors in
Category One of K&BDN’s 2001 Industry Leadership Awards

The 93-year-old Lehigh Valley, PA-based firm is a family affair,
currently managed by the third and fourth generation of the Black
family. Serving the residential and commercial construction trades,
while simultaneously building its reputation as one of the most
respected high-end kitchen and bath remodeling companies in the
area, the company operates out of three locations its headquarters
in Lehigh Valley, and two satellite showrooms in Bartonsville, PA
(the Poconos) and Bryn Mawr, PA (Main Line Philadelphia). 

While some firms have struggled with secondary showrooms,
becoming overextended in their attempts to grow, Morris Black was
able to successfully expand into the two satellite operations
largely because it was able to build on its strengths without
relying on cookie cutter showrooms. Instead, each showroom is
carefully tailored to fit the unique style demands of its
respective clientele.

Recognizing and respecting differences while maintaining the
firm’s overall success strategy has worked well internally, as
well. Within the company, each division has distinctive and
separate responsibilities, yet each benefits from the other’s
experience. For instance, within the builder market, the two sales
organizations, although separated in their business focus, are
supervised by one kitchen department manager. This allows the
retail group to interact with the builder customer service staff
and designers, with each learning from the others.

At the heart of Morris Black is the high-end kitchen design
studio, which utilizes a showroom within a showroom concept,
keeping it completely separate from the stock/builder spaces.
Entering this area, everything from the carpet to the floor to the
design approach to the clientele changes in fact, the firm even
developed a separate image and logo for the high-end

Collaborative design carry out the service mission, with teams
made up of a senior designer and a design associate. The idea that
“two designers are better than one” works well here, with each
designer bouncing ideas off the other giving customers an added
sense of personalized attention that high-end customers expect. The
design team is backed up by a strong support staff to ensure
“turnkey” full service attention.

This team approach allows the large, multi-faceted business to
maintain the kind of small, personalized and focused “studio”
approach to residential kitchen design that high-end consumers

The Morris Black Design Studios eschews traditional advertising
in favor of a “community development” marketing campaign that
focuses on strong partnerships with interior designers, architects
and key specifiers within the upscale community. Not only have
interior designers partnered on accessorizing the displays, but
ASID and designer events are regularly held in the showroom, the
firm notes.

2nd place: Kitchen Distributors of America, Itasca,

Design Firm Practices ‘Growing Sales by Growing People’

At Kitchen Distributors of America, “Growing sales by growing
people” is considered not just a good way to do business: Rather,
it’s the only way to do business. The Itasca, IL-based design firm
has always believed in employing a strategy that focuses on
providing top quality products and services to its clientele and
that concern for quality starts with the staff. 

In fact, the firm cares so much about investing in its people a
number that currently includes some 235 employees in 21 locations
it recently instituted a personal coaching program which pairs
associates with a district manager to help each associate reach his
or her potential. Notes general manager Rob Best, “[The coaching
program] is like getting ready for an athletic event. To get to the
next level, [associates] strategize with their coach.” Best
believes that the coaching program is unique to the kitchen and
bath industry, giving associates a “go-to” person, someone to learn
from through personal contact. 

Additionally, KDA has two other support programs to promote
quality and excellence in its sales associates: KDA University,
which offers sales associates 40 hours of individually based
curriculum, for which they are allowed to choose courses that suit
their professional needs and schedules; and NKBA industry
certification opportunities, which allow associates to earn their
Certified Kitchen Designer certification.

The firm’s willingness to invest in its own people has resulted
in a level of excellence that has won the firm accolades from
peers, customers and the community as well as second-place honors
in Category One of K&BDN’s third annual Industry Leadership

There’s no one formula for success, but quality that permeates a
firm from the top down can go a long way toward building a company
that people want to work for and buy from. And KDA has built a long
history of success in its 50 years in the industry. KDA began as an
offshoot of Builders Plumbing Co, when a salesman interested in
selling vanities joined with Orville Merillat, founder of Merillat
Industries, resulting in the firm being the first distributor of
Merillat cabinetry.

While much has changed in the past 50 years, the company’s
commitment to quality and service has not. KDA works with a
customer-driven model based on a firm, three-point core ideology.
First, the customer always comes first. Second, employees are
rewarded for hard work and honest effort toward achieving
unsurpassed service. Finally, everyone is treated with respect and

Personalized service is key to realizing these aims, and Best
notes, “We try to sit down with each customer to determine what
will work for that person’s for family’s lifestyle, and then design
a kitchen around that.” 

Because KDA sales associates handle their sales from beginning
to end, the associates are encouraged to “own” their customer base,
and this gives them the chance to make a personal connection and
build trust which results both in job satisfaction for the
customer, and long-time employment for the associate.

Technology has also been a big part of the firm’s continued
success strategy, with the company taking advantage of
communication technology that links multiple locations. In fact, in
the last six months, the company completely converted to a new,
efficient warehouse management system that utilizes barcodes. The
company is also developing a design program that will use computer
technology to connect KDA directly with its product manufacturers,
Best notes.
Even in an uncertain economy, this strategy seems to have been
successful for the firm. With the market falling off for many, Best
decided it made sense to move away from selling stock cabinetry and
focus more on selling higher-priced, custom and semi-custom

It was clearly a wise decision for the company, and Best notes
that KDA has continued to grow its semi-custom cabinet sales at “an
extremely fast rate,” with sales in this sector increasing a
whopping 300%. 

The firm’s mission statement sums it up nicely: “The purpose of
KDA is to provide products and services through its dedicated
employees to meet the highest level of customer satisfaction.”
While it might seem a tall order for some, KDA doesn’t find this a
challenge: Rather, it’s just a logical and profitable way of doing

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