Upscale Design Leads to Unique Market Niche

by WOHe

Upscale Design Leads to Unique Market Niche

By Daina Darzin


ST LOUIS, MO Her kitchen and bath design business was taking off
rapidly, but Danean Mitchell noticed a major limitation in her St.
Louis market a dearth of sources for upscale decorative hardware.

“I started going to the kitchen and bath shows and seeing all of
these wonderful things [from companies such as] JADO and Phylrich,”
she recalls. “I used to travel all over the country to look at
lines.” 

Eventually, Mitchell’s refusal to employ standard “builder”
hardware in her upscale designs developed into one of her company’s
strongest components a specifying showroom.

“We’d get exclusives and bring the upscale lines that designers
wanted into the St. Louis marketplace,” Mitchell remembers. From
this was born the Kitchen & Bath Resource Studio, which truly
lives up to its name as a resource to the trade. 

“We have interior designers and architects who refer their
customers to us to select their plumbing, and, in a lot of cases,
to help them coordinate the design package,” she explains. “So, if
a designer is coming in with a client saying, ‘we want country
French,’ we start pulling things from the catalogs.


“I don’t stock anything everything is specifically ordered for a
customer,” she continues. The showroom is configured for designers,
architects, contractors and plumbers only; the upscale and often
customized nature of the products makes them inappropriate for the
do-it-yourself market. Mitchell also participates in the ASID trade
show, as well as local NKBA and homebuilders shows, and a few
carefully selected local design contests. 

“We try to get a fee for design services or specification
services, which is unique,” she notes. “We spend so much time with
the designer doing these specifications of product, we actually end
up writing their specifications [though they don’t always sell them
the products]. In that situation, you really want to be paid for
your time,” she explains.
In business as a designer for more than 20 years, Mitchell relies
almost exclusively on referrals for that aspect of her business,
and currently has an eight-month backlog of work. 

“We have an extremely strong referral base I advertise very,
very little,” she notes. Though she currently turns down work
(“I’ve got too much business everyone should have this problem,”
she quips), Mitchell has no plans to expand her operation. “I like
the intimacy of having a smaller com-pany,” she notes. “I’ve been
up to seven people at one point, [but] I’m a controlling-type
person. It’s my business and I take responsibility for what
everybody does. If I had [to supervise] seven people again, I’d
probably have an ulcer,” she laughs. 

Design is a group effort, she believes. “My senior graphics
person who does the CAD comes to the company with a strong
background in construction and installation [as well as] a very
good flair for design, so he has his own referral base, too. We
bounce ideas off each other for layouts,” as well as referring
clients to each other. “My showroom manager has a degree in fine
arts, so we’ll also bounce things off him,” Mitchell
adds. 

Kitchen & Bath Resource Studio doesn’t do any installations,
but does have a reliable base of sub-contractors who contract
directly with the homeowner, though Mitchell notes, “We’ll be there
if they have questions.” Using unknown contractors “makes us very
nervous because we don’t know the level of quality [of] their
work,” she adds. 
In terms of style, “St. Louis is a very traditional market,”
Mitchell says. “A while back I was known as the powder room queen,
but I think we’ve transitioned away from that I like to think that
we’re trend setters in the St. Louis marketplace.” 


Mitchell explains that her firm is involved in a number of loft
projects the current hot thing during St. Louis’ burgeoning
downtown renovation. “The loft setting is perfect for designing out
of the box; usually the clientele doing those are either empty
nesters, artisans or professional people who [aren’t interested] in
the traditional English and French stuff we’re so used to seeing,”
she explains. “We’re [taking off from] the Arts and Crafts
movement; we’re more into clean lines and lower maintenance.”

It’s an approach that particularly appeals to older baby
boomers, she notes. After retirement, “you want to travel, you want
your life to be more simplistic, in furnishings and
surroundings.” 

But, of course, that includes a extremely nice kitchen and
bathroom hardware. . .

Kitchen & Bath Resource
Studio

LOCATION: St. Louis, MO
PRINCIPAL: Danean Mitchell, president
SHOWROOMS: one, 
1,500 sq. ft.
HOURS OF OPERATION: Mon. Fri., 9-5, weekends by
appointment
EMPLOYEES: Five
MAJOR PRODUCT LINES: Wood-Mode, Phylrich,
Dornbracht, Porcher, JADO, Andre Collection, Valli & Valli, KWC
Faucets, Ultra
DESIGN SOFTWARE:  CADKIT
SPECIALTIES: Upscale “wet room” design
encompassing kitchens and baths, bars, laundry rooms, mud rooms,
and a specifying showroom for decorative hardware and
plumbing 
BUSINESS PHILOSOPHY: “We’re into designing ‘out of
the box.'”

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