Relationships, putting people at ease, are key to success, Kitchen Solvers franchisee Suzie Crowley says.
Suzie and Brian Crowley have owned the Kitchen Solvers franchise in La Crosse, WI, for 15 years. He handles installations, while Suzie takes care of sales and bookkeeping. We interviewed Suzie in March.
How did you find out about Kitchen Solvers?
My husband Brian was living in a mobile home, and he hated his kitchen. He asked for an estimate and Betty Baldner (wife of the company founder) came out. Brian was so intrigued by the process that he asked if they were hiring anybody. He went and filled out an application. He took a woodworking class and that was it — he started installing for Kitchen Solvers. At the time, the La Crosse location was corporate owned. When Brian proposed to me, he asked, “Would you marry me? And by the way, I want to buy a Kitchen Solvers franchise in Iowa.” That was in 1993. We’ve owned the location here in La Crosse for 15 years. Before we started, I was a secretary at Gundersen clinic. He said he wanted me to do the selling, and I laughed in his face. I hate sales people! Which is funny, since that’s what I do.
What was it like to start the business nearly 20 years ago?
We moved to Cedar Rapids and had $30,000 to our name, and we had a little “before and after” display, and we spent 2 weeks sitting in a mall with this little display. Brian came with me on my first sales call. I was so nervous. We went to this house and the lady had five cats, three dogs and a ferret, and the ferret kept trying to climb up my leg. We didn’t sell that one. On my first sale, I asked Brian not to come with me. It was a nice older retired couple, and the guy had a tattoo that looked it was from the Navy. When I got there, he went and sat in his recliner and let me talk to his wife. She yelled out “you might want to come in now, because we’re talking about price.” There was a gun sitting on an end table. I showed him price, and he said “we’ll do it.” There was just one problem: He wasn’t going to give us a penny until the job was done. Part of our training was to always get a down payment. I used their phone to call Brian and let him know that they wouldn’t give us money for a downpayment, and he was like, “oh, you’ve got to be kidding me.” Brian called corporate and asked what we should do. They said to go with your gut. That couple wound up being some of our happiest customers. They were just tickled pink with their new kitchen.
We owned the Cedar Rapids location for two years before we moved back to buy the La Crosse franchise. We’re from here, so we were eager to be back home.
What makes a good Kitchen Solvers franchisee?
You have to enjoy talking with people and have the desire to help them. You also have to be motivated in order to succeed, and have the willingness to market your business and yourself. You have to be willing to network and ask for referrals. It’s also important to follow the system and use the resources that have been given to you. Kitchen Solvers has a great process, so you don’t want to reinvent the wheel.
You don’t have to have previous installation experience. You can hire an installer. It is important, I think, for the sales person to go out on a job and see how it is done so that you can understand what installers do. I used to go out on jobs and help my husband.
It’s important to find what you’re best at, and what you enjoy, and then hire somebody to do the rest. I think you have to be somewhat passionate about kitchens and design. It helps to be a little creative.
Why do people hire you?
We take the pain and discomfort out of remodeling your kitchen. Most people are going to remodel a kitchen only once or twice in their life, so it can be scary. We help them understand their options so that they can get the most out of their new kitchen, no matter how much they decide to spend. People feel really good when they have a beautiful new kitchen that meets their needs better. I’ve had people tell me, “I like to cook more now!” It’s such an important room for the whole home. When you entertain, everybody gathers in the kitchen. It’s a lot of fun. It is an awesome business.
There are so many things we can do to help people who have outdated cabinets, banged-up drawers or an dirty old sink. (Pointing at a refacing example in her showroom) This is what we can make beaten up cabinets look like. We’ll reface the cabinet with a 1/8” strip of wood that can be stained to match the new doors and drawer fronts. We can use concealed hinges to give it a more modern look, and we can use hinges that are designed so that they close softly and never slam. For old drawers, we can also install new solid oak drawer boxes with new slides. We can add a tile backsplash. And we can do the entire reface in 2 to 3 days, for half the cost of replacing everything. It saves time and money, and the kitchen remains functional while we’re doing the work, so people can still use their kitchen. Most people think their only option is new cabinets. Sometimes that’s true if they want to completely reconfigure their kitchen, but if you just want to update the look of a kitchen, a reface can save a lot of money.
Why is remodeling scary?
One reason is the cost. Everyone knows that remodeling is expensive, and there are so many options that people don’t know where to begin. They’ve often only even thought about half of the questions that you wind up asking them. I try to take scariness out of remodeling a kitchen. It’s where they’re going to be spending a lot of their time. It should be something they’re very comfortable with, but a lot of people get scared when they first start educating themselves. They’ll turn on HGTV and see all sorts of information about pricing, and people see the price of custom cabinets and they see stories of people spending $50,000 to $70,000 on a kitchen — and that’s a ton of money. One of the other things that we pride ourselves in is that we will coordinate the plumber and electrician so that we take care of the entire thing from step one to the completed process.
What is the key to your success?
Relationships. One of my favorite parts of what I do is the relationship I build with customers. You develop a bond with customers as you walk them through the process, understand what they want and explain the options. For us to take their outdated kitchen and give them a beautiful kitchen, it really impresses them. Often, by the time a job is done, when we leave we feel like we’re friends. I have people stop by my showroom just to say “hi” and say how much they enjoy process.
Do you have to be a carpenter to be successful?
My husband took some classes before we bought our franchise. You don’t have to be a carpenter. The training is wonderful. Many franchises have come onboard that didn’t have carpentry skills or kitchen design experience. If you’ve got a flair for color or design, and you want to help people, you can succeed. They’ve got a great system to teach you the technical skills you will need for the job, but they also focus on you as a person and your business strengths and weaknesses. They really encourage you to do what you are best at, and help with other things.
Would you recommend Kitchen Solvers?
Yes. We have people call us all the time, and we’re always happy to answer questions. We just had a franchisee from Madison shadow Brian on a job, and by the second day, we were already getting referrals. Customers love what we do, and the franchise team offers a lot of help.