Designer Cooks Up Winning Marketing Strategy

by WOHe

Designer Cooks Up Winning Marketing

By Denise Vermeulen


Max Isley, CKD, is an award-winning kitchen designer, but it’s his
business savvy that saved his firm, Hampton Kitchens of Raleigh.
When sales flattened out in the early ’90s, Isley had some tough
choices to make. He could have easily succumbed to the pressures of
a changing marketplace and the major home center that opened near
his showroom. But Isley is a self-described survivor, and he set
out to carve his own niche in the only business he had known for 20

Isley, also a licensed general contractor, began by identifying
his target market. He went through the records of every job he had
done in the last five years and established that most of his
customers were from upscale, single-income families. He further
identified the geographic area from which most customers came.
Isley even called the last nine jobs he’d lost in order to better
understand his position. 

He also recognized the tremendous transition that was occurring
in Raleigh, a major center of high-tech research and business.
Studies had shown that half of that market turned over every seven
years. Therefore, there was an opportunity to regularly introduce
the business to new consumers.

Isley’s wife Lynn Snow joined the business in 1991 and, according
to Isley, became the financial backbone of its success. They
downsized the business from 18 employees to just the two of them,
and specifically defined their uniqueness in the market. Isley’s 20
years of experience, design credentials, and his background in
construction were identified as advantages.

Isley and Snow first got very serious about bringing jobs in on
time and within $150 of the budget estimate. “We check, double
check, and triple check our procedures in order to eliminate
mistakes,” says Isley. “Let’s face it,” he adds, “sales people and
designers usually hate details.” But Isley contends that making
that promise to consumers helps to make him profitable. Developing
lasting relationships with local subcontractors was key to making
that promise a reality.
The next question for Isley was how to communicate his firm’s
uniqueness to the target market. Isley and Snow realized that they
had been perceived as being in the kitchen cabinet business more
than the kitchen design business, so they were determined to change
that image of themselves.

A marketing plan
Hampton Kitchens had tried using both print and radio media, but
previous advertising campaigns had failed to produce any serious
results. Participation in home shows, formerly the focus of the
firm’s marketing strategy, no longer showed results.
Dollar-bill-size ads in the local Yellow Pages had only shown a
minimal amount of acti-vity. Personal contacts and developing
relationships with others in the field were still important but,
apparently, not enough for his business to continue to succeed.

Isley and Snow needed to play a new game. They came up with a
marketing communications strategy that increased their business by
nearly 300%. According to Isley, a series of consumer-oriented
seminars “was born out of desperation.” 

Isley recognized that he frequently fielded calls from consumers
who had a lot of product available to them, but little information.
He decided to invite the public to free information gathering
sessions. The seminars are held in Hampton Kitchens’ showroom, an
appealing setting in a turn-of-the-century Victorian home that
showcases such upscale lines as Wood-Mode, Brookhaven, Viking,
Bosch, Sub-Zero, and DuPont Corian. 

The seminars are informal, with only a 10-minute prepared talk
on previously announced topics. Isley then opens the floor up to
questions. It’s a win-win situation, Isley notes, as consumers get
straight answers from a professional and Isley is able to showcase
his knowledge of the business.

The amount of business generated by the seminars varies. But the
dollar signs speak for themselves. Since beginning the seminars,
Isley’s sales have been $1.2 million annually. He claims he could
easily increase sales, but has made a conscious decision to
maintain the number of jobs at its current level of 35 to 40 per
year a level he feels he can deliver maximum quality on. 

The topics offered quarterly by Hampton Kitchens have catchy
titles such as “George Jetson’s Kitchen: The Future is Now.”
Hampton Kitchens typically offers a morning and afternoon session
on several consecutive Saturdays. Isley will sign up more than 100
people, and there is usually a waiting list. 

While it may seem that Isley must be spending a fortune
promoting his seminars, he’s not. He writes a simple public service
announcement giving the details of an upcoming seminar, and then
submits it to the local newspaper, where it is run for free. He
puts a legible but fairly small sign outside of his showroom, which
generates added interest, since the showroom is conveniently
located on a fairly busy street near a stoplight. Finally, Hampton
Kitchens’ well-organized and informative Web site promotes the

Isley has decided that Hampton Kitchens of Raleigh is now truly
unique in its field simply because of its profitability. “So many
of us are sales or design driven rather than profit driven,” he
notes. “We’re profitable, but not at the expense of the

Hampton Kitchens of Raleigh

PRINCIPALS: Max Isley, CKD; Lynn Snow 
SHOWROOMS: One, 2,200 sq. ft.
HOURS OF OPERATION: Mon.-Fri., 9-4; evenings and
Saturdays by appointment 
MAJOR PRODUCT LINES: Wood-Mode, Brookhaven,
Viking, Bosch, Sub-Zero, DuPont Corian
DESIGN SOFTWARE: Planit Millennium 
SPECIALTIES: Kitchen designs that meet the
customers’ needs, time lines and budgets.
BUSINESS PHILOSOPHY: “We work to extract from our
customers the creativity inside of them and make that work for
them. We also expect to be profitable!”

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