Family Firm: Selling Kitchens Isn’t Rocket Science

by WOHe

Family Firm: Selling Kitchens Isn’t Rocket
Science

By Susan Harper

DAYTON, OHIO


Men wearing pocket protectors with slide rulers, using technical
jargon composed of polysyllabic words, selling cabinets and
countertops. . . .wait! Cabinets and countertops? If your image of
a rocket scientist includes all but the latter, you might want to
re-imagine. 

Dick Flaute, owner and president of the Dayton, OH-based Supply
One, is a bona-fide aeronautical engineer who spent six years
working on missile systems. His last project, the Atlas Missile
Program, ended at the same time that Flaute’s father, who started
the kitchen design firm in 1940, decided to retire. The elder
Flaute called his son to come on board; Flaute switched from
missiles to cabinets, and says he’s enjoyed every minute since.

Supply One is a 59-year-old, family-owned and -run kitchen
design firm which specializes in cabinets, countertops and
appliances. Flaute’s father began Supply One as a plumbing supply
company, and Flaute later added kitchen cabinets, which quickly
become a substantial part of the business over 50 percent, after
the firm purchased a kitchen distributor in 1984. 

Flaute, however, takes special pride in the firm’s installation
of countertops a job he feels is best left to a specialist.
Accordingly, Supply One offers a wide array of countertop materials
to choose from, including Wilsonart International, Formica, DuPont
Corian, Nevamar and Pionite.

Growing pains
In his 34 years at the helm, Flaute has seen tremendous growth,
including the firm’s acquisition of its largest competitor, Dayton
Showcase, in 1997. The purchase of Dayton Showcase’s assets and the
hiring of its personnel resulted in the creation of the premier
distributor of kitchens and baths in the area. Supply One then sold
the plumbing supply portion to concentrate on kitchens. 


Flaute calls the acquisition itself a “terrible experience” and his
half-joking advice to anyone contemplating such a move is: “Don’t
do it!” A new computer system was added at the same time,
increasing the tension. However, time resolved the temporary
wrinkles caused by changes and growing pains, and the firm now
benefits from enhanced computerization and a more focused
business. 

Flaute’s plan was to use the acquisition to increase his retail
business, as he expects the home building market to decrease in
future years. And, since the acquisition, Flaute’s firm has
increased the retail end, up from 15 to 30 percent, and without a
significant decrease in the builder portion.

Consumers in Dayton are not trend-oriented, Flaute comments.
Dayton is a typical small city in the conservative Midwest, and
Flaute notes that this conservatism carries over to customer
tastes. He has little call for contemporary lines, though he
carries one because he feels it’s important to offer a variety of
options. 
Although his customers historically have preferred the traditional
style, in recent years, Flaute has been bringing a “new” look to
Dayton. The addition of two Canadian lines, Kitchen Craft and Neff,
has given Supply One a competitive advantage with what Flaute calls
the “California look” a look that he describes as “conservative,
but with flair.” In fact, Kitchen Craft has been Supply One’s most
successful line this year, Flaute notes.

With Dayton providing more than sufficient challenge to keep
Supply One busy and profitable, Flaute is planning to follow his
father’s example when he retires next year and turn the business
over to his own son, Rick, currently v.p. He expects the firm to
remain solely a Dayton concern, as he believes that a firm with
multiple locations cannot provide the necessary degree of
personalization required in the kitchen design business. 

In fact, Flaute cites the relationship between customer and
owner as the key ingredient in a successful project, and believes
that his business philosophy supports this. “We believe that every
family is unique, and that we can design a unique kitchen to meet
the unique character, functionality, style, size and budget
required to best serve each client,” he notes, explaining that
understanding the unique needs and desires of the customer is
essential in the highly personal kitchen design business.

Professionalism
Although Supply One employs two CKDs and two CKDs-in-training, the
firm has also developed its own “grading” system which appraises
skills beyond just design expertise. The firm’s system uses the
designations “Professional Kitchen Designer” and “Master Kitchen
Designer,” Flaute explains, noting that these designations
encompass several important skills in addition to the ability to
design well.

Since the employees at Supply One sell to the clients for whom
they design, Flaute believes that design talent alone is not
sufficient: He wants his designers to be good salespeople and to be
able to handle the pressure inherent in such a job. He explains
that, while the CKD designation certainly has merit, it does not
encompass an evaluation of the sales and organizational talents he
needs, thus his own, more comprehensive grading system.

Of course an effective showroom is also key to helping customers
to visualize their dream kitchens. To that end, Supply One sports
an 11,000 sq.-ft. showroom which displays 35 kitchens, including
such cabinet lines as Kitchen Craft, Quality Cabinets, Kemper
Cabinets, Mouser Custom Cabinetry, Neff Kitchen Manufac-turers,
Kitchen Compact and more.

When Flaute first contacted an architect to build his showroom,
he took the architect to the nicest showroom he knew. At that time,
the trend in displays was to show only cabinets, but Flaute wanted
his displays to look like “real kitchens,” with lots of appliances
and built-ins. Although other showrooms contain appliances, the
number and scope of appliances Flaute wanted to display at Supply
One was far beyond what he’d seen done elsewhere. Accordingly, he
rented out part of the showroom to Appliance Gallery in a joint
venture in order to enhance the selection available to him.
Currently, the firm showcases such high-end appliance manufacturers
as Sub-Zero, Thermador, ASKO and FiveStar.

Supply One markets primarily to a Dayton audience, using the
Yellow Pages and direct mail. Marketing strategies aimed at
builders are also utilized, such as golf outings, home shows and
Build-A-Ramas, Flaute adds.

Flaute doesn’t expect any major changes when his son takes over;
rather, he expects that Rick’s strong emphasis on customer
relations will only continue to grow and strengthen the firm. And
if Rick’s route to president of Supply One is more direct than his
father’s, as Flaute likes to point out, “It doesn’t take a rocket
scientist to sell kitchens.”


LOCATION: Dayton, OH
PRINCIPLES: Dick Flaute, owner, president; Rick
Flaute, v.p. (soon-to-be president)
SHOWROOM: 11,000 sq. ft., including offices
NO. OF EMPLOYEES: 66
HOURS: Monday – Friday,  8 a.m. – 6 p.m.;
Saturday, 9 a.m. – 2 p.m.
MAJOR PRODUCT LINES: Kitchen Craft Cabinetry,
Quality Cabinets, Kemper Distinctive Cabinetry, Mouser Custom
Cabinetry, Neff Kitchen Manu-facturers, Kitchen Kompact, Wilsonart
International, DuPont Corian, Formica, Nevamar, Pionite, Sub-Zero,
Thermador, ASKO and FiveStar.
DESIGN SOFTWARE: Twenty-Twenty
BUSINESS PHILOSOPHY: “We believe that every family
is unique and that we can design a unique kitchen to meet the
unique character, functionality, style, size and budget required to
best serve each client.”

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