In the years of recession and depression following World War I,
the unemployed many with good educations stood in bread lines
waiting for food to be distributed. For those of us who lived in
those times, the thought that employers would one day be the ones
lining up to hire talented people never even occurred to us.
However, with many states now reporting unemployment rates of
less than 3%, the emphasis in the kitchen and bath industry is on
recruiting competent personnel to staff existing and newly opened
satellite showrooms. The sad fact is, though, that many of the
people who are unemployed today don’t have the education,
personality or talent to attract employers.
The kitchen and bath industry operated for many years on the
theory that the responsibilities of the “salesperson” included
selling, designing and supervising installations. However, as in my
own case, many of those who could sell effectively were less than
gifted when it came to making presentation drawings. Moreover, the
detail work of drawing, pricing and supervision of installations
limited salespeople’s volume and income. The more conscientious
sales/designers performed some of these collateral functions at
home during their hours away from the business often detracting
from family life and resulting in burnout.
Years ago, employers felt that customers preferred buying their
kitchens and baths from one individual who would be involved in
every aspect of the sale. However, in today’s radically different
environment, dealers and distributors alike are learning that this
presumption was more in the minds of employers than customers.
I remember my childhood when we called “Dr. Roberto” for every
ailment from measles to appendicitis. He was the neighborhood
physician who made himself available day or night. It never
occurred to us that Dr. Roberto may not have had the skills of a
surgeon or the training to diagnose rare diseases.
In medicine, the change to specialization came more at the
behest of the overworked general practioner than as a result of
patients’ dissatisfaction. As a result, the home life of today’s
doctors is much like that of the rest of society. They generally
sleep through the night, uninterrupted, while patients now demand a
specialist for surgery or to treat most diseases.
Era of specialists
In similar fashion, the age of “specialization” is impacting the
kitchen and bath industry, through a “team approach” to sales.
If you’re having trouble recruiting additional salespeople, you
might give this “team approach” a try. In fact, according to
distributors who’ve adopted the team approach to cabinet sales,
customers are quite happy knowing that specialists have been
utilized in the various phases of their purchase. After all, the
final result is what counts. The purchase of a kitchen is not a
social event. It’s a project that must be completed in a
professional manner at a competitive price.
The team approach to kitchen and bath sales does not increase
the cost to the customer. Salespeople with support from a designer
can actually make substantially more sales and income even though
their commission rate is lower than when they did all the detail
work themselves. In fact, from reports I’ve received from both
salespeople and business owners, salespeople are often initially
reluctant to try the team approach, but find they can increase
their sales by 50% or more, while working with good support people
(designers who also price, and installation managers who
coordinate, schedule, supervise and order materials).
Moving to this sort of sales
model starts by analyzing your sales force and rating their
competencies. Traditionally, effective salespeople aren’t
necessarily gifted in producing attractive and accurate
presentation drawings whether by hand or by computer. There are
exceptions to this, of course, but they’re rare. On the flip side,
some designers relate well to customers, and become future
prospects for sales positions. Think of the advantages of moving
qualified designers into sales, rather than hiring new sales
employees who may or may not fit well into your mode of
Keep in mind, too, that all of this is not meant to suggest that
your salespeople do not need to have the training to plan a kitchen
or bath to meet their customers’ needs and desires. In reality,
though, they generally are already involved in measuring and making
a plan view layout that they discuss with their customer prior to
turning this information over to the designer to prepare a
presentation drawing and produce pricing.
Home Depot’s new EXPO Design Centers now actively selling
high-end kitchens and baths have pursued the team approach to
selling, and apparently have found this policy quite
They must feel confident in the direction they’ve taken, since
they’re projecting 200 EXPO showrooms in the U.S. over the next few
Those firms who use the team approach successfully take pride in
their degree of specialization, rather than apologizing for it.
They certainly should be proud of their efforts on a pure business
level: The “do it all” salesperson, selling to homeowners, does
well to sell $700,000 per year; under the team approach, $1,250,000
is attainable with far less burnout.
Don’t be surprised if you meet resistance when you propose the
team approach to your sales organization. People tend to be wary of
change, feeling that if the change is good for the employer, it
must be unfavorable to employees.
One successful distributor told me that he met resistance to the
team approach, so he made it optional. Within six months, the
non-participating sales/designers asked to switch. Their
Those in the program were making rnore money in fewer hours.
Try the team approach to sales on a limited basis if you have
reservations about it. However, just like the industry’s slowly
accepted move to computer-aided design, I’m willing to bet it
becomes a common way of doing business in the not-too-distant
Allan Dresner, CKDe, is a Washington, DC-based marketing consultant
with a broad background in kitchen and bath sales and distribution.
A member of the National Kitchen & Bath Association “Hall of
Fame,” he serves as a consultant to firms at all levels of the
industry, and conducts seminars for distributors and dealers.