Sara Baumann shows how a Kitchen Solvers franchise can thrive without a handyman at the helm
Sara Baumann bought the Kitchen Solvers franchise in Eau Claire, Wisc., in the summer of 2011. She booked $85,000 worth of jobs in the first 10 weeks of 2012.
What were you doing before Kitchen Solvers?
I have a marketing degree, but before Kitchen Solvers I had been concentrating on raising my kids.
How did you find out about Kitchen Solvers?
If you’d have told me two years ago that I’d be doing this, I would have told you that you were crazy. I didn’t have a particular passion for cabinets. I was looking to start working again, and I met a gal at the YMCA who is a meeting planner and who asked if I’d like to work part-time from home. I was living in La Crosse at the time, and about the same time, a neighbor called to tell me about an opportunity in Eau Claire — a Kitchen Solvers franchise for sale. My husband and I are risk-averse, but it was clear that the new Kitchen Solvers owners have a good vision for the company, and that they were willing to invest in the system in order to build the business. It was obvious that they were doing a lot of research and talking to a lot of people to see where opportunities would be in remodeling. I was able to buy from the previous owner and keep him as an installer.
Why kitchen remodeling?
How many times do you have people over to your house, and you invite them to get comfortable in the family room, but no — everybody gathers in the kitchen. When you give people a kitchen that they really enjoy, there’s a great deal of pride.
Who would make a good Kitchen Solvers franchisee?
Not to knock installers or guys who have been in the construction industry, but people are more likely to trust a woman who has good design skills. I have a friend who is a psychologist, and she would be fantastic. She’s kind of tired of therapy, and she loves decorating — “we could do this with the kitchen, we could do that with the kitchen.” She would be unbelievable. She salivates when she talks about this stuff, and she is a fabulous people person. You meet her and you automatically love her. I think personality is a big factor in your success. You can learn everything else, but if you don’t come across as caring, people won’t want to hire you. And a woman — I think it might sound sexist — but I think they like a woman to come in for sales and a man coming in to do the install.
How do you build trust with your customers?
When I walk into a home, I don’t immediately just start in with questions about the kitchen. I try to build a rapport. If they have a dog, we can talk about dogs. About 90% of my customers have a dog. You can talk about kids. You need to build the rapport first before you start talking about your plans or what you envision for their kitchen. I’ve heard many nice stories from clients. The first time that you meet them, you should just try to really listen. That’s what they want. And they know very quickly whether they trust you or not. People make the decision about trust in the first few seconds.
How much experience did you have related to the business?
I’d never done this sort of work before. I’m still working on the craft skill end of the business, but I gain a little knowledge from each job. To be honest though, I don’t want to be on a lot of installs. I’m great at the sales calls, and I prefer to hire the installing out. I’m able to pay a better wage than what installers typically receive, which helps me get good installers who will make themselves available for my jobs. I have not gone on an install, and that’s a goal of mine, but I don’t need to be there the whole time. I don’t think I need to be an expert on install.
How have you grown your business?
The very first job I did was actually a little different: It wasn’t for a house, it was for a pre-school. I offered the pre-school’s owner a great price to remodel its kitchen, because she knows everybody in town — so it was really a marketing plan. She has told so many people about Kitchen Solvers. I can’t tell you how many people have said to me, “You did the pre-school?” So many people use that pre-school that that job has opened many, many doors.
A lot of people in Eau Claire did not know the brand. The previous owners made a conscious effort not to do any advertising, because referral work kept him busy. I think the business has a lot of room to grow, so I’ve been marketing it pretty aggressively. I just spent a lot of money on radio advertising — it’s a $1,000-per-month commitment. Last month the ad focused on an upcoming home show. I closed three sales at the home show, and the booth cost me $500. This month, I’m using the ads to get the word out that we’re not just refacing — we’re doing focusing it on Bridgeport promotion. I also went to weekly real estate agent meeting in October and explained what I did and how a fresh look for the kitchen can help people sell their house so that property isn’t just sitting on the market.
What kind of business do you get?
I’m doing a lot of oak refacing. I thought oak had gone out of fashion a long time ago, but I’m doing a lot of work with retirees and oak is just what they are used to having. The majority of refaces that I’ve done have been oak. About 80 percent of my work has been refacing, but I’m also doing some new construction. I’m working with a builder now, because the homeowner who is having her house built didn’t care for the builder’s designer. When she came to me, we clicked instantly. My average job is around $7,000.
Are there any misconceptions about cabinet refacing?
Some people think that refacing is going to be a $2,000 job — that it’s really, really inexpensive. They don’t understand that we’re not just putting on some cheap sticky veneer that will start to look bad in a year or two. No, we do entirely new doors, new drawer fronts, real wood laid over the existing cabinet. We can save clients money, but what we do is not the thrift store way of doing things.
What challenges have you had to overcome, and how did you do it?
The part I struggled with at first was asking for the sale. I was almost apologizing about the price before I pushed the proposal across the table. (President) Gerry (Henley) was like, “They’re expecting you to ask for the sale. Don’t feel bad about it. They want you to ask for their business.” I used to be so nervous about it that I would just leave the contract proposal on the table. Now, it’s gotten easy —it’s just second nature. I was also lowering my margin in order to get a sale, but now I’ve set the margin that I’m going to stay at. I’m not going to lower it just to get a job. I just tell people, this is what we can offer, this is the great thing that we can do for you and this is the price. I’ve gone over the sales process over and over again to get more comfortable. For a long time, I would call Gerry after each proposal so we could go over how it went. He had to keep asking me, “Have you asked for the sale?” His coaching helped me get comfortable.
What’s your typical day?
I take the kids to school, and I try to have an appointment around 9 o’clock. I try to set appointments in the morning. In the afternoon, I do a lot of follow-up about when materials will ship. My kids come home at 3. If I have an appointment later in the afternoon, then that’s sort of my day.
If I have new cabinetry, I’ll have it delivered to a moving and storage place. Materials for a reface arrive on a palette and I have it delivered to my house. From there, the installer picks it up and takes it to the job site.
What do your customers say?
My customer feedback is good. They like the installer. He’s professional and he presents himself well. I have one client named Patty who has been very good to me. We did an oak reface and a new countertop with an undermount sink for her, and she has invited several of our customers to come see her kitchen. She’s very happy, obviously, since she’s letting people into her home. It’s been wonderful, because if you can see one of our refaces, you want it done. There hasn’t been one customer that has been unhappy. I always ask them before final payment if they are 100% satisfied, because things can be tweaked.
How has owning a Kitchen Solvers changed your life?
It is nice, because I can make my own schedule. I haven’t worked at a nine-to-five job since I got out of college, and I like that I can set my own schedule and be my own boss, which helps me balance my professional and personal life. My family does come first. At the home show, I had a guy who asked if I could come out on Sunday. I told them that I can come in the evenings, but I don’t do weekends and I’m not going to change that, and they were fine with that. His wife was like — she doesn’t want to come on a Sunday. This is a business, I want it to be successful, but it isn’t consuming my whole life.
Would you recommend a Kitchen Solvers franchise?
Yes. The support I have received has been phenomenal. Early on, I called Gerry almost in tears sometimes and he’s was like, “Here’s what you need to do.” I can call Brian and Suzie Crowley (franchisees in La Crosse) to ask questions. There is a real sense of helping each other out. I’ve had two new franchises call me, and I’m happy to talk to him, too. There was a guy in Madison who was debating whether to buy a Kitchen Solvers, who wanted to know what I thought. There is also a yearly convention, which was huge. These people are very passionate about their business. I saw the passion, and I wanted to be a part of it.