Design Firm Turns Branding Into an Art Form

by WOHe

Design Firm Turns Branding Into an Art

By John Filippelli

WINTER PARK, FL Just as a good painter must expertly mix colors and
textures, Joan DesCombes believes that blending the creative and
practical sides of a business is the best way to end up with a true
design firm masterpiece.

According to DesCombes, CKD, and president of Architectural
Artworks, Inc., her business started out as an architectural design
firm in the late ’80s, but soon became focused on kitchens and

Unlike many designers who focus only on the artistic side of the
business, DesCombes was very aware of the practical concerns that
go into making a business successful. “When we began, I employed my
business and marketing skills to develop a detailed plan,
leveraging the artistic and architectural abilities of the creative
director [who is also her husband] with my business expertise,” she

“We added the kitchens/cabinetry business as a separate design
opportunity and profit center, so we decided to represent a mix of
product lines [including SieMatic, Rutt and DBS, among others] to
ensure that we would meet the profit objectives of our business

As part of that plan, DesCombes opened a showroom at the Winter
Park, FL location to show clients that the firm was designing total
spaces not just selling cabinetry.

The showroom became a strong marketing tool, and DesCombes
notes, “Now, clients will refer to displays, saying ‘I want that
room,’ as opposed to [just asking for a] certain cabinet or door

This, in turn, creates a looping, symbiotic relationship between
her design business and her kitchen/ cabinetry business. “The
kitchen and architectural design businesses remain separate profit
centers, although they often feed off of each other providing
architectural design for cabinetry clients, and vice versa,” she

Another key component to the business, DesCombes notes, is the
close working relationship the firm forges with its client base. To
that end, she says, “It’s important to qualify clients to make
certain there can be a good marriage, and that we will enjoy
working together.

“We research the clients’ project thoroughly by asking questions
in an interview and using a survey that I’ve developed.”

To ensure the finest quality finished projects, DesCombes
insists that the firm’s contractual documents be followed and that
the staff retains creative freedom. As she points out, “We approach
each project as if it were a marketing plan, including those
elements of the marketing mix such as product, pricing,
positioning, distribution and promotion. “I think our structured
approach to business and the application of basic marketing
principles to our organization is a key differentiation point
between us and the industry in general,” she adds.

Word-of-mouth and referrals produce a a substantial portion the
firm’s work, and she notes, “We spend the lion’s share of our
promotional budget on public relations, and have a Web site that is
continually upgraded.”

But, in the end, DesCombes believes one factor will make or
break any marketing plan. “You must know yourself. Only then can
you put together a plan that focuses on what you do best.”

Architectural Artworks, Inc.

LOCATION: Winter Park, FL
PRINCIPALS: Joan DesCombes, CKD and Roland DesCombes, architectural
designer/fine artist
SHOWROOMS: One, 2200 sq. ft.
HOURS OF OPERATION: Mon. – Fri., 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (showroom hours);
other times by appointment
MAJOR PRODUCT LINES: SieMatic Corp., Rutt Handcrafted Cabinetry,
DBS, Signature and a variety of countertops, plumbing fixtures,
flooring, hardware and lighting.
SPECIALTIES: Specializing in architectural detailing, custom
cabinetry and furniture design for projects throughout the United
BUSINESS PHILOSOPHY: “The spaces we create truly are ‘functional
works of art.’ “

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