Extending Innovation to Customer Satisfaction

by WOHe

Extending Innovation to Customer

by Susan Harper

STERLING, MA “No job is too small!” “Customer satisfaction is
our business!”

“The customer is always right!”

While most of us are used to hearing these slogans, believing them
is often another matter. But for Robert Sponenberg, CKD, president
of Kitchen Associates, applying the same kind of innovation to
customer service that his firm applies to design is what makes his
business successful. “Do what is best for the client, not just for
ourselves,” is his philosophy, and he asserts that an important key
to his success is that each and every employee, from receptionists
to installers, sees their primary goalas making the customer happy.

The benefits of this attitude to the customer are obvious, but
it can reap large rewards for the company, as well. A woman walked
into the showroom one day and asked Sponenberg to help her with a
redesign so that she could use cabinets she had already purchased
from a mass merchandiser. “While this is not exactly why I unlock
my doors each morning,” Sponenberg wryly notes, he agreed to take
the job. A few days later the customer called to say she had
changed her mind. She now wanted Sponenberg to design her kitchen
with new cabinetry supplied by him. After his design was complete,
she and her husband had only one question: Could he put in a 48″
Sub-Zero refrigerator, instead of the 36″ model originally
expected? This job, which turned out to be the largest Kitchen
Associates has done to date, eventually included a bathroom, plus
bedroom cabinetry. And, yes, Sponenberg did install the original,
mass produced cabinetry in the laundry room.

This willingness to put the client’s interest foremost has seen
the company through significant growth, according to Sponenberg.
Kitchen Associates began in 1958as a small concern, operating out
of Sponenberg’s MA home and garage. In 1972, it moved to a gas
station, which was converted into a small showroom. The company
continued to grow until, in 1989, they built a 25,000 sq.-ft.
building, approximately 10,000 sq. ft. of which is used for
showroom. The size allows numerous design and layout features to be
shown concurrently, with a variety of islands, peninsulas and snack
bar options always on display. Unusual items found here include the
Sico built-in bed system and a selection of Corian-topped

Focus on surfacing 
One area of interest which has become a significant focus for the
company is solid surface fabrication, which now comprises about
half of the company’s business, according to Sponenberg.

To this end, staying on the cutting edge is critical, and indeed,
members of the staff were invited to the Global Fabrication Seminar
hosted by DuPont Corian in 1997, where fabricators from six
continents exchanged fabrication techniques. Sponenberg also hosted
200 members of ISSFA in September of 1999. Along those lines, one
of the more intriguing projects undertaken by the firm’s fabricator
was the formation of Corian chairs and love seats for use in the
dining concourse of New York City’s Grand Central Station. These
chairs look like upholstered chairs from the 20th century, but are
as durable as a Corian kitchen countertop.

The other 50 percent of the business remains focused on
residential kitchens, divided equally between new homes and
remodeling. The vastness of the showroom allows the company to
carry a variety of quality product lines, specifically Wood-Mode,
Brookhaven, Kitchen Craft, Homestead, LesCare, Medallion, Schrock,
Omega, Doverwood and Merit.

Having 35 displays is another way Kitchen Associates stands out
from other design firms, and Sponenberg notes that he is proud that
customers can see more here at one time than at most home shows,
though he laughingly adds that, with a showroom this size, “Every
Saturday is like a home show.” The number of employees has grown
along with the space, totaling 50 today. The kitchen design staff
consists of five people with a total of 106 years of kitchen
experience. The design staff concentrates on layouts that are
“interesting, but not so complex that they interfere with
installation.” The 7,000 sq.-ft. shop allows accessory items, such
as unusually configured cabinets, to be produced in the company’s
wood shop and spray room. The 8,000 sq.-ft. warehouse prevents the
necessity of “drop shipping” to clients; not only are installations
scheduled more efficiently, clients are not unnecessarily

Despite the size of the operation, and its willingness to expand
when new growth opportunities arise, Kitchen Associates considers
itself something of a local operation. Most business is done within
an hour’s drive of the showroom. Advertising is concentrated in
small weekly edition newspapers and local Yellow Pages. Annual
calendars are sent to previous clients, who are invaluable for
word-of-mouth advertising. Additionally, Kitchen Associates is a
member of the BKBG buying group, which, among other things, has
been a way to move into new areas of interest, according to

Sponenberg knows that it takes more than superior design and
excellent products to keep customers happy, and he and his staff
are willing to go many extra miles toward this goal. He sums up
this attitude with, “Everyone who walks through our doors should be
glad they entered, whether they have come to ask for directions or
to purchase a kitchen.”

LOCATION: Sterling, MA
PRINCIPLES: Robert Sponenberg, CKD,
SHOWROOM: 10,000 sq. ft., including offices
NO. OF EMPLOYEES: 50(25 kitchen; 25 solid
HOURS: Monday-Saturday,8 a.m.-5 p.m.
MAJOR PRODUCT LINES: Wood-Mode, Brookhaven,
Homestead, Kitchen Craft, LesCare, Medallion, Schrock, Omega,
Doverwood, Merit; solid surface fabrication
BUSINESS PHILOSOPHY: “Do what is best for the
client, and not just for ourselves. Each and every employee, from
the receptionists to the installers, should see their primary goal
as making the customer happy.”

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