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Aspiring to the Luxury Market

Good word of mouth is critical when dealing with the luxury market, according to Karen Dry, who believes that giving 100% to every project is the best way to win repeat and referral business.

By Philip D. Zaleon

Good word of mouth is critical when dealing with the luxury market, according to Karen Dry, who believes that giving 100% to every project is the best way to win repeat and referral businessBenjamin Franklin once said that "Wealth is not his that has it, but his that enjoys it."

Well, there's no better place to enjoy wealth than in a state-of-the-art, luxury kitchen. And as a kitchen designer, there is no better feeling than signing the contract for that new kitchen.

Some dealers seem to get all the luxury contracts; while others continue to battle for every dollar with lower-priced jobs. These designers frequently wonder why the other guy gets all the upscale projects. The thing is, it's not by chance, it's by design. And that design begins with reputation.

Branding, marketing and fulfilling all contribute to a designer's reputation. And it's that reputation that lands them in the lap of the luxury client.

The definition of a luxury job varies by market, and designer. Akiva Goldstein at Atlantic Design Center in Brooklyn, NY simply puts a dollar figure to define the luxury market.

Marylee Forsthoff, marketing coordinator for the Kitchen & Bath Center in Evergreen, CO, considers the luxury client one who spends $75,00+, but adds, "it's also about clients who can afford high-end appliances, cabinetry, and countertop surfaces and the freedom to be creative."

Other designers, such as Samantha Fisher at Fisher Cabinet Works, Inc. in Tyler, TX, say, "A luxury client is a client who considers great design, ideas, accessories and upgrades - price is not a determining factor for these items."

Of course most kitchen and bath dealers and designers have already defined the luxury project for themselves. So the next question they must ask is how can they reach the luxury market? And how can they do it without spending a fortune?

Designers need to begin with their own personal brand. When it comes down to it, consumers are buying a person, not just a product. So a dealer or designer is selling not just products and services, but reputation, talent, a sense of design, business acumen and personality. In general, consumers know they can get cabinets, countertops and appliances almost anywhere. So what the designer brings to the table is often the determining factor for who gets the sale.

Dealers and designers need to create their brand by defining themselves in manner congruent with the luxury market in their community.

Over at Atlantic Design Center, Goldstein has done just that and believes reaching the luxury market is about his relationships with clients. "I would advise other industry professionals to build a relationship with existing clients - complete the jobs to the last detail - and, within reason, spend money on your existing clients. Do not argue over an extra roll-out shelf or cutlery divider, the $50 or $100 you spend is 'advertising dollars.' Newspapers get thrown out the next day, but the happy client will rave about you for years to come."

Karen Dry at Garrett Interiors, Inc. in Westlake Village, CA, approaches her branding efforts like this: "You have to become your marketing statement and never slide for a moment. Luxury clientele expect this. They'll stand for nothing less."

Designers like Karen Dry of Garrett Interiors target the luxury client by sending a clear message that service comes first.REACHING OUT
But it isn't enough to have a brand that both the designer and the clients understand; rather, it's essential to be "out there" bringing in new luxury prospects to the showroom. Here are 10 ways to reach the luxury market.

1. Get yourself published - There are a number of ways to accomplish this, from buying your way into some publications to persistence to luck. Magazines and newspapers are looking for content. Every project has a story and the most interesting and compelling ones can get coverage, but you must take the responsibility to let publications know about your story.

Signature Kitchens & Baths and TRENDS are two of the national magazines that allow you to purchase advertorial space to showcase your projects.

On a local level, develop relationships with the writers, publishers and editors of the newspapers and magazines. Forsthoff says that, "One of the most effective ways The Kitchen and Bath Center reaches luxury clients is through industry-related articles [that run] in a local publication every month with owner Marion Patterson's photo and name."

2. HGTV - Like publications, HGTV is looking for content. With dozens of programs on the air telling hundreds of stories, there's no reason you can't submit your own story and share in some of the popularity of design television. offers an interactive, easy way to tell your story to the appropriate producers. Samantha Fisher contends that "an appearance on HGTV was one of the most effective ways our firm reached new luxury clients."

3. Referrals - The referral is likely the most common response to the question "how do you get new clients?" As Goldstein says, "No one is going to give you a $25,000 deposit for a kitchen that they will not see for 2-3 months without a very good referral!" But do you use your referrals effectively? Are they gathered and used in marketing collaterals such as brochures, Web sites and other advertisements? Or are you just waiting for the new client to wander in saying, "The Smiths sent us; they say you're the best in town and that's good enough for us"?

Use your referrals systematically and proactively. Karen Dry explains "aligning my company with other businesses whose marketing statement and level of business parallel mine is essential to referral marketing. We have strategic alliances with money managers, investment firms, high-end real estate brokers and advertising agencies. The key is to treat your referrals as gold - I have no problem rewarding high for a referral."

4. Design Awards - Design awards provide your clients with a level of comfort that you are accomplished in your field. They build morale and pride among your staff. They provide genuine, quality content for press releases. They make wonderful adornments for you showroom, and they help position you as a credible and reputable designer.

5. Networking Within Your Community - There's the old adage… it's not what you know, it's who you know. There is definitely some truth to that. You likely employ it in your everyday life with the vendors you use, the advertising channels you choose or the coffee you drink. You get comfortable and it's easier to automatically go with someone or something you know. Networking is about getting to know more people: potential clients, potential leads, potential alliances, potential partners, potential friends.

Dan Armstrong, owner of Open Range Kitchens, Baths & Bars in Heber City, UT, calls it "word-of-mouth marketing." He explains, "We reach the luxury market by word of mouth with custom builders, architects, interior designers and homeowners."

Goldstein recommends developing and maintaining "good contacts with interior decorators and architects; almost all luxury clients will use one or the other."

According to Forsthoff, "The Kitchen and Bath Center has relationships with very upscale architects, builders and designers that bring extremely upscale projects to us …we also work with high-end realtors."

Kevin Telaak of Artisan Kitchens and Baths in Buffalo, NY creates his own networking opportunities. "We host events for the area's Interior Design and Architect Associations at least once each year, helping to ensure we are in the forefront of their minds when decisions are being made."

6. Get Involved - Nipping at the heels of networking is getting involved directly through serving on boards, donating time and resources, or actively participating in a cause in which you believe. Whether it's your company, yourself, your staff or any combination of these, putting your name in the midst of worthy community causes adds to your brand, your name recognition and the comfort level you want in your potential luxury clientele.

Focusing on the luxury niche and making quality a top priority will help to develop your reputation as an upscale designer, according to Karen Dry, who designed this eye-catching bathroom.Dry of Garrett Interiors takes networking up an additional step. "Each of our designers is required to be part of at least two industry related organizations to further our marketing statement. The company also strongly encourages employees to be part of something they believe in such as the City of Hope, The Coalition to End Family Violence, HomeAid or Habitat for Humanity. We also support all local high-end (private) high schools as design hours are donated through silent and live auctions at school-sponsored events, banners that are hung in gyms supporting the athletic teams year-round while displaying our message all school year long."

Forsthoff adds that "Marion Patterson [owner of The Kitchen and Bath Center] is involved in several local organizations and is on the board of directors of a few."

7. The Arts - In almost every community, the luxury market is out spending a significant amount of disposable income on the arts. You want to be in front of these folks. Consider supporting the opera, symphony, theatre, ballet, music center or other arts group that draws a high-end audience. Typically the cost for support with an ad is reasonable in relation to the number of potential luxury clients seeing your name, your logo and your brand in yet another place - and this time you're supporting something they're passionate about, creating an instant connection.

8. Rely on Professionals - Whether you rely on referrals, advertise in more traditional media or network to reach the luxury market, you must present yourself in a manner appropriate to the client base. Simply put, you have to "look the part." That means your logo, ads, brochures, Web site and face to the public should all be professional. The computer programmer down the street can very likely create a kitchen design working with 20/20, and he may even have a great sense of design, but would you be comfortable if he designed a kitchen for you? Turn to professionals to help you get where your want to go.

Fisher, for example, has relied on outside assistance in the past because marketing "is outside my area of expertise and I would rather leave the marketing of my business to someone who works in that field."

Dry adds, "Collateral materials must be printed [on] the best paper, with the best photos, unique graphic design elements combined with the most excellent before and after photos." This is what it takes to appeal to upscale clients.

When you are ready to present yourself to the luxury world, be sure you are ready, as Kevin Telaak did. He explains, "We not only upgraded our showroom for the luxury consumer, we also upgraded all our marketing materials to reflect a more upscale and professional look, and we used a professional design firm to make it happen." This creates a comfort level among upscale clients that you speak their language and move in their world; it also goes a long way toward convincing them that you will know what it takes to create the kind of caliber project that they are looking for.

9 and 10. Words of Wisdom - The designers quoted here feel they effectively reach the luxury market, and so I asked them, "What advice would you give other kitchen and bath professionals looking to bring in more of a luxury clientele?"

Dan Armstrong advises "Excel in quality. Focus only on the niche (and don't dilute your reputation by doing low/mid range). Respect your clients' time, ideas and, most of all, their money."

Forsthoff adds, "Repeat and referral business bring in highly qualified leads. So, once you have been in business long enough to build relationships, have treated your clients like gold, done exceptional work and built good relationships with reliable contractors, things will fall into place." In fact, 95% of her firm's business is repeat and referral. "All of our other marketing efforts help support the other designers on the staff and continue to build awareness and keep us in the public's eye."

Dry offers: "I see far too often with any professional that deals with the public's home front that they are intimidated by the money the luxury clientele has. They get nervous around money - afraid of it, afraid to ask for it. Luxury clients spend hundreds of dollars the way most of us spend a ten. You can not think of the money as money. You must, instead, stay true to your convictions and believe with your whole being in the design expertise you possess. Never put the money first or even think of it first. If the luxury clientele wants to hire you, they expect a professional, and they will accept the dollar figure that comes with your professionalism. They expect service and knowledge and the money is almost always secondary. All your marketing, ads, articles, etc. must solidify in their message that the luxury dollar is about service and professional expertise."

There is no one magical secret to reaching the luxury market. But in the end, it comes down to branding yourself to be attractive to the luxury market, marketing yourself to reach this market, and fulfilling your promises and then going the extra mile in order to ensure that the luxury market will be comfortable that you can offer the level of service they are accustomed to and expect.

Philip D. Zaleon is founder and president of Chapel Hill-based Z promotion & design – a full service integrated marketing and creative agency focusing on the kitchen and bath industry. Zaleon can be reached at Z promotion & design, P.O. Box 17291, Chapel Hill, NC 27516; Tel: 919-932-4600; E-mail:; Web site:



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