Dealer Works Harder and Smarter for Distinction

by WOHe

Dealer Works Harder and Smarter for
Distinction

By Denise Vermeulen


SPRINGFIELD, ILDarlene Weaver, CKD, CBD, ASID, president/co-owner
of Distinctive Designs for Kitchens and Baths, was attending a
seminar in which kitchen and bath dealers were asked if they had
budgets. Most did not. Just the idea of this was enough to send
Weaver into a tailspin. 

“You’d better believe that Home Depot or Lowe’s has a budget,
and they know their gross profit!” she says.

“Working hard is not enough. We have to work smart!”

Working “smart” and motivating others have always been high
priorities for Weaver, whose business primarily serves successful,
two-income households within a 50-mile radius around Springfield.
However, she initially learned these skills in a whole different
field. A former biology teacher and cheerleading coach in the
public school system, Weaver did not have a strong resume to
present when she arrived on the doorstep of a local kitchen and
bath dealer looking for a job. 

“My husband and I were building a new house, and I was having
the time of my life,” Weaver says. “I thought it would be wonderful
to spend all day playing with house plans.”

Of course, the dealer initially said no to Weaver’s pleas for a
job. She was, however, relentless in her pursuit of the job,
offering to work only for commission. Her persistence paid off, and
Weaver was ultimately hired. She promptly enrolled herself in an
NKBA course and, today, the former schoolteacher continues to
believe in education. Weaver enthusiastically attends seminars, and
devours books and articles primarily about topics that will enhance
the bottom line of her business. Strategic planning, managing
money, employee relations and marketing are some of her favorite
topics.

Two years ago, Weaver and co-owner of Distinctive Designs, Curt
Mavis, sat down and wrote a plan that would take the business,
which has been operating since 1990, through the year 2003. The
team decided how the company would look when it is essentially
“done.”

They concluded that they wanted to maintain one showroom and
stay relatively small; the company did $1.35 million in sales last
year and handles approximately 180 jobs annually. The pair also
wanted to create a corporate culture that would recruit and retain
employees. The details were hashed out, including the projected
numbers. 

Once the initial planning was done, Weaver says they realized
that they were not that far away from their goals. Filling in the
gaps was the next task at hand.

‘Raising’ designers
According to Weaver, one of the greatest challenges in the kitchen
and bath industry is finding new designers. “Colleges are not
pumping them out,” explains Weaver, “so, we raise them!”

Several years ago, the company hired two women one with a
graphic arts degree and one with an interior design degree and
immersed them in the business. The apprentices were paid a salary
for two years as they learned everything from design to pricing.
The co-owners supervised all aspects of their experience. 

Although the apprenticeship did not require an agreement to work
for the firm after the two years, both of the new designers stayed
on. With a generous commission, the new designers now have the
opportunity to make “serious money” and have developed into “good,
conscientious designers,” says Weaver. The program continues today
with another apprentice on board whose background is in
architecture.

The staff at Distinctive Designs looks forward to a reward
system designed to build the team. Weaver, who says she detests
sales contests that pit employees against each other, devised a
plan that would reward the group as a whole. The goal was to earn a
trip to Cancun one employee at a time, based on seniority. The
design team made its numbers and celebrated under the Mexican sun
last February.

Weaver believes that investing in the design/sales team is the
best way to market the firm, and she is currently offering a $5,000
bonus to any of her designers who become certified. The bonus will
be paid out in $1,000 increments over a five-year period as long as
the designer is employed by Distinctive Designs. The company shares
in the cost of the certification process, as well.
Earning a salary and a percentage of the gross profits further
motivates Distinctive Designs employees. They can also take
advantage of a retirement plan, and health and disability insurance
which is offered.

Bottom line
Weaver and her partner have also gotten serious about their bottom
line. Budgeting, projecting figures and communicating their fiscal
goals to staff have helped increase profits for the company. Weaver
is proud that her staff understands the business side of things
each is able to quote company statistics such as gross profit and
monthly sales figures. 

The company also began taking two percent of the total revenues
every week and putting it aside in an account. They use the money
which is now a five percent account for taxes, staff retirement,
matching funds and other needs. Weaver also prides herself that
Distinctive Designs always takes advantage of vendor discounts for
prepayment of bills, and makes deals with the vendors they work
with most.

Not surprisingly, gross profits at Distinctive Designs have
increased nine percentage points since implementing this plan, with
Weaver and her staff attributing it to two basic things working
harder and smarter.

Distinctive Designs

LOCATION: Springfield, IL
PRINCIPALS: Darlene Weaver, CKD, CBD, ASID,
president/co-owner; Curt Mavis, CKD, CBD, ASID, co-owner; Dave
Robinson, designer; Kelli Shamhart, designer; Katie Hahn, designer;
Brandy Lantis, designer; William Skeens, CKD, designer.
SHOWROOMS: One, 3,200 sq. ft.
HOURS OF OPERATION: Mon., 10-6; Tues.-Thurs., 9-6;
Fri., 9-4; Sat., 9-1
EMPLOYEES: 8 full-time, 1 part-time
MAJOR PRODUCT LINES: Wood-Mode, Kitchen Craft,
KraftMaid, DuPont Corian, Avonite, Wilsonart, Formica, Granite,
Nevamar.
DESIGN SOFTWARE: CADKIT, 20-20
SPECIALTIES: Personalizing the job by getting to
know the customer and creating solutions that fit individual
lifestyles. 
BUSINESS PHILOSOPHY: “We want to create win-win
situationswhere the customer and the company wins. We want to
create an environment and culture in our company so that everyone
who works here will give a lot and get a lot.”

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