Smart Investments Yield Big Return for Design Firm

by WOHe

Smart Investments Yield Big Return for Design

By Denise Vermeulen

Small kitchen and bath firms might find themselves envying the
advertising budget of a design firm giant such as Neil Kelly
Designers/ Remodelers. Those same companies might also be
pleasantly surprised, however, to learn that Neil Kelly marketing
executives still rely strongly on word-of-mouth referrals. 

In fact, Neil Kelly’s winning strategy is the end product of a
number of well-placed investments, all of which enhance the
company’s reputation, credibility, outreach efforts, and,
ultimately, referral business. Extensive planning, diversification
of services and products, a signature cabinet line manufactured by
Neil Kelly that adds to the firm’s appeal, an effective marketing
strategy and a commitment to its people are all among the tools
that have built and ensured the continuing success of the
54-year-old firm. 

Anticipated sales for this year are music to v.p./sales and
marketing Martha Kerr’s ears: $16 million in remodeling, $2 million
in cabinet manufacturing, $2 million in the Home Repair Team
division, and $1 million in the Renewal by Anderson division.

Kerr maintains that Neil Kelly is unique in the kitchen and bath
world because it offers a “single-search responsibility for an
entire project.” She explains that many firms offer some of the
same services, but rarely do they offer the same range of

Neil Kelly’s primary clientele is made up of a range of age groups,
but all are from a mid- to upper-socio/economic group, according to
Kerr. Approximately 80% live within a 25-mile radius of Portland, a
region that has been experiencing a population growth in its target

Investing in people
With 160 employees, including 10 CKDs and five CBDs, Neil Kelly
recognizes the need to nurture its people. The company offers its
production and sales staff an opportunity to attend a weekly
mini-seminar, where a guest expert looks at a new product,
innovation or trend. 

The company places a high value on having its employees
certified. Without the knowledge gained through certification, Kerr
says, “there is a lack of understanding of how to put rooms
together to work well for the people using them.”

But the firm doesn’t stop at nurturing its employees; it works
at nurturing the entire community, which Kerr believes offers
multiple benefits. Employees are strongly encouraged to be active
in the community, and each member of the management team is
involved with community housing on a volunteer basis. 

All staff members are expected to be a part of at least one
church or civic group of their choice, and the company, in turn,
supports the group’s work in the community through fundraising and
other activities. According to Kerr, the idea is not only to be a
good corporate citizen but to also “increase each team member’s
circle of influence,” which pays dividends to the firm in terms of
increased visibility, an enhanced reputation and, of course, more
jobs through word-of-mouth referrals.

Marketing efforts
With an advertising budget of about 3% of annual sales, Neil Kelly
employs a local advertising firm to assist with getting the word
out. Radio ads that feature client testimonials, and a weekly ad in
the region’s newspaper, are among the placements made. 

The firm participates in the annual Tour of Remodeled Homes and,
last spring, held a celebration to mark the opening of the firm’s
new showroom, just west of Portland. 

The new showroom, located in upscale and trendy Lake Oswego,
boasts environmentally friendly products, four kitchens (including
one working one) and four bathrooms. The building itself has won
awards honoring Neil Kelly’s commitment to energy-efficiency and
earth-friendly products, keeping in line with the concerns of its
environmentally aware consumer base. 

Neil Kelly also maintains a Web site that offers an overview of
its services, including a questionnaire that allows potential
clients to earn a $50 credit toward a Neil Kelly project. The web
site generates about two leads per week, Kerr notes.

Employees are also strongly encouraged to publish their work and
to enter contests, she notes. 

Keeping track
Committed to keeping detailed and up-to-date sales statistics, Kerr
relies on a weekly lead report to keep her abreast of potential
projects. “We get about 60 leads per week,” she explains. “Of those
leads, about 15% convert to design retainers, and 95% of those
convert to jobs.” Weekly and monthly lead reports are compared
carefully to those of the previous year and tracked, in order to
identify growth trends, lead sources and/or any weak

Such meticulous record keeping is how Kerr can say with
confidence that 75% of the firm’s referrals are still a result of
word-of-mouth advertising. So, without disregarding all of the
firm’s other important promotional efforts, Kerr has learned that
nothing proves more powerful than good, old-fashioned,
word-of-mouth referrals. 

Neil Kelly

LOCATION: Portland, and Lake Oswego, OR
PRINCIPALS: Tom Kelly, president; Martha Kerr, executive v.p./sales
and marketing; Julia Spence, v.p./human resources; Doug Richmond,
v.p./finance; Keith Andrade, v.p./production; Rick Fields, v.p. and
general manager of the Cabinet Division; Walt Harwood, v.p. and
general manager of Home Repair Team and Renewal by
SHOWROOMS: Two, each 5,000 sq. ft.
HOURS OF OPERATION: Mon.- Fri., 8:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m.; Saturdays 10
a.m.-3 p.m.
MAJOR PRODUCT LINES: Neil Kelly Signature Line, Heritage and
KraftMaid cabinets; Ann Sacks Tile, Pratt and Larson Tile;
Thermador, DACOR, ASKO, Fisher Paykel, Sub-Zero appliances; Rainier
Richlite and Slatescape glass countertops.
SPECIALTIES: Complete design and remodeling services are
BUSINESS PHILOSOPHY: The firm’s goal is to improve the lives of its
clients by remodeling their homes to suit their lifestyles, and to
provide a place for Neil Kelly employees to grow. 

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