Suzie Williford hosted three past NKBA board leaders for a thoughtful, inspirational webinar offering strategies for success in challenging times. By Dianne M. Pogoda
Keep a positive attitude… Lift up others… Change the current narrative.
These were three of the key messages in “A Walk on the Bright Side,” part of the NKBA Live webinar series, which aired May 19. Suzie Williford, NKBA’s EVP and Chief Strategy Officer, hosted three past national board leaders to share some wisdom and advice with Chapter Officers and committee members.
Joining her were Maria Stapperfenne, CMKBD, of Tewksbury Kitchens & Baths in Whitehouse Station, N.J., who served as NKBA Board President in 2015; John K. Morgan, CEO of Green Forest Cabinetry in Chesapeake, Va., and board president in 2013, and Lorenzo Marquez, CEO of Marqet Group in Houston and a two-term NKBA Board Chairman in 2017 and 2018, who still currently serves on the board of directors.
“The old adage that ‘in crisis lies opportunity’ is most assuredly being put to the test during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Williford began. “But many of us have been through challenging times, and we’ve seen that the strong and the bold not only survive, but thrive by seeing the opportunity in these crises. How do we identify these opportunities? And where do we find the strength to uplift our employees, colleagues, clients — and even ourselves — during this unprecedented time?”
Morgan said business is starting to rebound in Virginia and his company is not only working overtime but he’s hiring. He attributed his company’s success to three simple pillars: Planning, Luck and Attitude.
“When we left KBIS in January, we saw what was happening in the rest of the world and figured it would come here in some way,” he said. “So we started contingency planning at that time — putting some cash away and right-sizing our business early, so that when systems started shutting down, we weren’t making decisions out of despair or without knowledge, we’d already prepared. So we started thinking post-COVID, and how we could take advantage of the opportunities that would come out of this. Part of it is luck — we’re in an area that experienced a middle-of-the-road impact, but frankly, we’re all lucky because our businesses are focused on a growth area going forward — making the home the place people want to be.”
Asked for advice about how chapter officers can successfully solicit sponsorships, Morgan said that since everyone’s budgets are strapped, the best approach is offering a value proposition — what’s in it for the potential sponsor? “Go to a sponsor with a business plan about what the value is in a sponsorship — will it build my business? Will it build my brand in the marketplace? Sometimes it’s about goodwill, but it can’t always be charity. Tell me what I’m getting.”
Addressing chapter officers, Stapperfenne said that the biggest responsibility of leadership is to lift up others.
“There is a phenomenal opportunity out there. People have spent some serious time in their houses, they’re looking around and seeing it’s not so wonderful and they’re ready for change,” she said. “They realize their space is horrible, but doesn’t have to be. And there’s the opportunity. They’re not traveling, vacationing, etc., so they have those funds available. As designers, we need to establish ourselves as the professionals who can help them to make their kitchens a more enjoyable space…They recognize that there’s expertise out there, and that’s valued now. This is a great time to enhance those positive changes. And remind them how much they deserve this [upgrade]! They’ve been working hard all year, they deserve to have this.”
Marquez said that the conversation between designer and client has to change from one of sales to one of empathy.
“This is about essentially about empathizing with people,” he said. “It’s not a sales process anymore. You have to be able to change the narrative so you’re creating an emotional connection with your audience. They’re looking for you, and you need to be able to relate your sales offering in a way that creates empathy and so your customer knows you’re not just driving revenue, you’re driving value by building a long-term relationship.”
Morgan said that having experienced a number of recessions and the tough times after the Sept. 11 attacks, attitude is what gets people and businesses through times of crisis. He said he tells the younger members of his staff that this crisis, like all the others, will pass, and that they should learn from this experience. “I tell my people they’ll go through more of these times — hopefully not too many, but every 12 to 15 years or so, something like this happens. There’s winners and there’s whiners. There’s people who whine and complain and console each other. And there’s people who say ‘this is the reality. What do I do with it and how do I move forward to be successful again?’ Because if you’re smart and driven and have the right attitude, this will be behind you, and you’ll be more successful than ever.”
Marquez noted that when disaster strikes, it’s all about maintaining the status quo to carry on. “You can either sit back and cry or push forward and lead,” he said. “It’s about evaluating what you’ve done to survive a crisis, and have the right support mechanism in place to help you drive forward… and create your own opportunities.”
Getting ready to re-open her business, Stapperfenne said preparation is key. She’s following all CDC guidelines with sanitizing procedures, wearing masks, and she lets clients know she’ll work with them however they want — even if it means walking them through the steps to conduct a virtual meeting. Her delivery drivers make contactless deliveries into garages that can be automatically opened and closed. “But even if someone wants to meet with me in person, I am prepared.”
When thinking about motivation, Morgan circled back to the positive attitude.
“We approach every day as an adventure,” he said. “It will be cool afterward when we can tell the story of how we overcame the pandemic. We’re motivated by where we’re going, we try to avoid the distractions of what’s going on around us. If we’re all focused on helping each other get to the end of this, we’re going to be the winners.”
Williford concluded that in the K&B world, projections are good for new homes and remodeling. “We’re seeing positive predictions. So keep that mind where it needs to be. We’ll be alright.”
To view the full webinar for more tips and advice, click here.