New NKBA President Works Toward Future

by WOHe

New NKBA President Works Toward Future


It’s seemingly a time of very positive momentum for the National
Kitchen & Bath Association these days, as the Hackettstown,
NJ-based NKBA continues to move forward on several fronts thanks to
a new, multi-faceted strategic plan aimed at education, membership,
consumer awareness, new technology and public policy.
Leading the charge  aside from new CEO Cecelia Balazs is
Stephanie Witt, a Michigan-based kitchen and bath dealer who
recently assumed office as NKBA president for 2000.

Witt, in office several months now, has established a clear
agenda for her one-year term. It’s a vision that has been forged
through years of active involvement in both the kitchen and bath
industry, and the NKBA.

Witt, who has been in the kitchen and bath industry for more
than 20 years, is a Certified Kitchen Designer, a Certified
Bathroom Designer and a State Licensed Contractor. A graduate of
Western Michigan University, she entered the industry as a sales
professional in 1978 and joined the NKBA in 1982 the same year she
established the dealership she heads, Kitchens by Stephanie, Ltd.,
in Petosky, MI. She subsequently opened a Grand Rapids branch, and
consolidated her operations in that city in 1990.

Witt has been active in the NKBA at both the chapter and
national levels, serving in various capacities in the Michigan
State Chapter and on the NKBA’s executive committee as a secretary,
vice president, president-elect and now president.

She has also remained highly active as a designer, In fact,
aside from many kitchen and bath projects in private residences,
she designed and installed a new kitchen for the Michigan
Governor’s Mansion in the summer of 1996.
Witt recently shared her views with Kitchen & Bath Design News
about the direction and goals the NKBA has defined for itself, and
the role she plans to play as president in 2000. 

Q What are your primary objectives as the president of
NKBA? What do you hope you can accomplish?

A I was fortunate that, as president-elect,
past president Jeff Burton permitted me to become very involved in
helping to implement the new long-term strategic plan adopted by
the NKBA. My primary goal is to see that the objectives of that
plan are met.

The thing I feel best about is that now we have a comprehensive,
workable, viable, forward-looking strategic plan that enables us to
work together toward a very promising future. I feel very good that
we were able, as a group, to sit down and discuss where we are
coming from, where we are, and where we want to go, in a way that
was more open and sharing than at anytime I can remember in the
past and that’s a real reflection of what the people who make up
the association want for their future. What we have done is to
express their collective vision.

My primary goal for my year as president is to see our new
strategic plan through, and to assure its continuity. I want to be
certain that what we’ve done to date just doesn’t stop here.

Q What is the mood, and the mindset, at NKBA these
days?

A There’s a feeling right now of excitement and
communication and connectedness that, in my view, hasn’t been there
in past years. That’s a very important element of what’s taking
place. I’ve been involved in NKBA since 1982, and I believe that
this is the first time we’ve created an opportunity for all
governing bodies, at all levels, to exchange ideas so openly,
without the pressure of time, without operating in a vacuum. What
we have done 
started from the grassroots assessment of needs.

To this point in time, there has been some friction and
discontent within the association. But I think people realize now
that the evolution of the kitchen and bath industry has
demonstrated that this is a broad-based industry with room for
everyone. The NKBA, it’s clear to me, must comfortably encompass
all aspects of the industry. We have to continue to come together
and share ideas. As a matter of fact, the association has started
an endowment fund that was established by using a surplus revenue
of $50,000.

Q What specific areas do you see the NKBA focusing
particular attention on in the next several years  and
why?

A We’ve outlined some other very real goals in
our new strategic plan. What members told us, first and foremost,
is that they want the association to become the leading information
resource for developing and maintaining an educated work force,
resulting in a higher level of professionalism. We are also going
to staff a full-time position at national headquarters while
establishing an endorsement for colleges to facilitate growth of
the chapters. We plan to follow that mandate. For example, in
education, we aim to increase enrollment in entry-level educational
programs to 12,000 participants, increase the number of endorsed
colleges and universities in the U.S. and Canada to one per state
or province, increase the enrollment in management training
programs by 100 participants annually through current and new
programming, and train and test a minimum of 500 new applicants for
certification per year. The hope is to have all of this done by
2005.

We’ve established very specific goals in the areas of
technology, membership growth and brand awareness. We’re also going
to take a far more proactive stance about monitoring and impacting
public policy and legislation, not just trying to put out fires all
around the country on the legislative front (see related stories,
Pages 12 and 56).

Q How can the NKBA help independent dealers to survive
the growth and spread of the “big box” stores?

A I see the “big boxes” as a positive influence.
NKBA will help market dealers find their market niche and have
enlightened client awareness of the kitchen and bath remodeling
project. Independent dealers can capitalize on this new awareness.
I am a firm believer that competition is healthy, and that, in
reality, this will actually drive independent dealers to become
better at what they already do well.

Q What else is particularly “new” at the NKBA and what
factors do you see as having motivated NKBA to make the recent
changes they have?

A One thing that’s new that I feel very good
about is that we’ve found an ad-hoc committee to look at a “career
plan” for people in our industry. This has been requested by
various industry segments. Right now, of course, we offer major
certification programs, but what we want to do is to establish an
educational pathway for career development to that point, and
beyond it. It’s a quantum leap, for example, to go from a beginner
to a CKD or CBD. Our goal is to create a better educated work force
and to establish some level of professionalism certification prior
to achieving a CKD or CBD, and some level beyond it sort of like a
Ph.D.

We are making major strides toward boosting our endorsed college
program, which has been quiescent in recent years, and are in the
process of establishing an endowment fund to provide scholarships
for education and research and development that would benefit the
industry.

The biggest challenge with this is staffing the business,
whether a big box store or independent dealer, and to meet the
demands of our clients. There seems to be a dwindling labor pool of
qualified installers and there is a definite need for an incentive
to make this a viable career for young men and women. 
 
Q What do you see as the biggest challenge facing the
association and its members right now, and to what factors (within
the kitchen/bath industry, or outside it) do you attribute those
challenges?

A In my view, the single greatest challenge the
industry faces is the emergence of new technology or, more
specifically, the lightning pace at which change is taking place in
computerization, the Internet and related areas of technology.
That’s, of course, being driven by factors throughout our society,
not just from within the kitchen and bath industry.

Kitchen and bath consumers are getting more and more
sophisticated, and have access to more thorough information, more
rapidly, than ever before. We have to get our membership to totally
embrace the new technology and use that technology to its fullest
capacity. A big part of our strategic plan calls for NKBA to
identify, evaluate and promote emerging technologies for the
benefit of our members. We also want to bring 75% of our members on
line by the end of 2002, so that our goods, services and
information can be accessed via the Internet.

In addition our objective is to create, by next year, a means to
find, evaluate and disseminate information to our members on new
and innovative technologies, and to establish a forum to begin a
dialogue for interacting or standardizing industry products.
 
Q How do you see e-commerce affecting the
industry?

A E-commerce is a big unknown right now. What we
do is akin to creating an end product that the average
do-it-yourselfer would like. Our services will be mandated
somewhere along the process. There may be growth of designers who
do design-only work, or a demand for a firm or individual who will
orchestrate a complete job.

Q Where do you hope to be and where do you hope NKBA
will be at the end of your term in office ?

A If I can walk away with the satisfaction that I
have brought to the leadership pool a very positive,
forward-looking attitude toward growth in the future, I will be
quite happy. I want to see this association be such an important
element so recognizable to the end consumer, that membership is
mandatory.

Q How will the association attempt to grow, and retain, its
membership base?

A I see this association as having many years of dynamic growth
ahead of it. I draw parallels to the National Association of Home
Builders, and the growth which that association has experienced.
The last decade has brought kitchen and bath design to the fore,
and so many positive economic and demographic factors are in place
in the new construction and remodeling markets, that I don’t think
we’ve tapped even the beginning of what’s out there in terms of
potential new NKBA members.

Our plans for growth are very specific. We plan to create a
regional network for the development of chapter growth, and to
increase the number of chapters to 75. We also want to increase
membership participation at the chapter level, and to raise
membership retention rates to 95% annually through 2005. It’s also
very important, I believe, to make our chapters and subchapters
physically reachable by all our members. Now, it can be prohibitive
for members to travel to chapter meetings based on where they’re
located. We need to grow our chapter and subchapter involvement
because this is where our leadership comes from.

I’ve had the opportunity to travel to 25 chapters in the past
year, and I can tell you the potential for growth and additional
participation is enormous. The challenge we have is to tap into
what’s out there. My vision of the NKBA is one of an association
that’s so valuable, that any person in the kitchen and bath
industry can’t afford not to belong to it.

That’s the road we’re on, and that’s where I’m convinced we’ll
continue to head.

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