Andrea Chapman’s Kitchen Solvers franchise in Louisville, Ky. is going strong 20 years after she started it during a recession
When Andrea Chapman got laid off from her job after 15 years as an industrial designer at GE, she found herself in a spot a lot of people will find familiar: She wasn’t old enough to retire and she had no job prospects in a bad economy.
What a perfect time to launch her own business.
The business she ended up launching was Kitchen Solvers of Louisville, and 20 years later, she still loves being a franchise owner.
“The main thing that sets Kitchen Solvers apart is that the home office totally cares about you,” Chapman said. “They don’t just sell you a franchise and say go do it.”
Chapman learned about Kitchen Solvers from a story in Entrepreneur magazine.
“I had looked at several other businesses, and I called Kitchen Solvers and asked them to send me some samples of what their product looked like… When I opened the package, the first thing that dawned on me was that although I had worked previously with large budgets at trade shows, I could now offer something for real people that could be just as gorgeous.
“It was an ‘aha’ moment for me.”
And although her background was in design rather than sales, it didn’t really matter.
“One of the good things about Kitchen Solvers is all the owners are from various backgrounds. In my case, I had design. We all have something to bring to the party.”
Chapman learned the ropes in the sales department and hires out the installation work. “Some people have a big storefront; I have a home office,” she said. “We rent a shop.”
On a typical job, Chapman, who is a kitchen design consultant, starts with an in-home presentation. “That’s the fun part — talking to customers about possibilities.”
The consultation takes about two hours for a full remodel proposal – floors, cabinets and countertops – although it can be shorter for simpler jobs. Some people simply want to reface cabinets, others want to add in items like countertops and even kitchen islands.
Over the years, Chapman has learned to figure out a lot about customers’ likes and dislikes just by walking through their homes. And, of course, she asks lots of questions. She takes the time to educate the customer on all the products and materials available to them.
Once they’ve made a final decision, Chapman brings back a contract that outlines all the options they’ve discussed and a price.
She collects a deposit, does her own measurements while at the home, and then has her installer come out and get his own. She places the order from the final measurements, which takes about 6-8 weeks on a full remodel. Actual installation? About three days – four if a granite countertop is involved.
“It’s a pretty quick proposition,” Chapman says. “It’s one of the things that appeals to customers.”
The cost to customers is quite reasonable. Chapman does everything from a $950 laminate countertop replacement to a $30,000 high-end job that included from a backsplash to a new kitchen island. A typical job probably falls within the $5,000 range for cabinet refacing and new laminate countertops.
She’s also finding a lot of flexibility with the home office to stretch in new ways to grow her business. She started working on introducing new cabinets in apartment complexes, since so many people are renting rather than owning their own homes.
Even when business is a little slow, as it tends to be around the holidays, Chapman spends her time prospecting to apartment owners and Realtors who may have trouble selling their homes that need updating. “Outdated kitchens and bathrooms are usually what hold people back from buying,” she said.
She finds a great deal of pleasure in what she’s doing. It’s hard work, certainly, but uniquely satisfying.
“Owning a franchise business takes a certain individual, a self-starter, a self-motivator. You can’t just sit back and wait for someone. It’s exactly like owning your own business — you do own your own business — but you do have a safety net.
“I got laid off from my job at GE. Now, I know I won’t be laid off,” she said. “You’re empowered; you’re self-employed. Knowing that your job won’t be eliminated is a big thing.”
Plus, a franchise owner can make his business as large (or small) as he wants. “Kitchen Solvers gives you that flexibility. They don’t demand quotas. Some can do two jobs a month, and some can do 10 a month.”
The backing from the corporate office has been key, Chapman said, and she was relieved to find out that didn’t change even when the company changed hands a few years ago.
“I was all set not to like the new guys, but they’re terrific,” she said. “I love them.”
One of the best things about being a Kitchen Solvers franchise owner, Chapman said, is having all the training, marketing and advertising already in place. “When you start your own business, you’ve got to get all that figured out,” she said. “But when you first open your new Kitchen Solvers business, you’ve got all that set up.”
Also key to her success? Listening. And treating people like she would want to be treated. No strong-arm sales tactics, just good, old-fashioned customer service.
“If I didn’t have to make money for a living, I still love what I’m doing,” Chapman said. “It’s a passion, and I’m just fortunate to be doing what I love.”Back