When you think of the wealthiest counties in the United States, counties in the state of New Jersey probably do not come to mind. You probably envision a traditional blue-blood breeding ground like Nassau County, N.Y., or Marin County, Calif., where the technology titans build their California castles, but New Jersey? Yet there they are, Somerset County and Morris County, bordering each other in north central New Jersey and ranking as the seventh and 10th wealthiest counties in terms of per capita income, according to data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau in 2000. With 1,134 people per square mile, New Jersey also leads the country in terms of population density. If you think that with all of that money and so little land the remodeling action must be pretty hot, you're right on.
“The past three years have been the best years for our company as far as volume is concerned,” says Mitch Berlin, president of Augusta, N.J.–based remodeling firm Berlin Construction. “We grew faster than probably we would have liked and are just getting through growing pains now.” Berlin probably won't have the chance to slow down anytime soon, either, as the new construction market begins to cool. “Usually when the new-home market dies off, remodeling gets even busier,” he says. “It seems when people become afraid to move up, they fix up.”
Based in Fair Lawn, N.J., and doing business since 1912, Kuiken Bros. is also no stranger to the lucrative remodeling market in the northern half of the Garden State. Last year alone, the seven-unit pro dealer saw gross sales increase 13.5 percent to $147.4 million, fueled in no small part by remodeling contractors like Berlin, who make up approximately 40 percent of the company's business. Devoting nearly half its business to the sector means Kuiken Bros. is well aware of the time constraints on its remodeling contractors and is fully schooled in the specialized services and product requirements that those contractors require, a fact the dealer hopes to further establish this month with the opening of KB Concepts, the company's first stand-alone showroom venture. The 6,000-square-foot facility in Succasunna, N.J., will feature approximately 50 lines of siding, trim and millwork, windows, interior and exterior doors, cabinetry, and kitchen and bath products.
In addition to remodeling contractors, Kuiken Bros. plans to welcome New Jersey custom home builders—its second-largest customer group—as well as designers and architects to the showroom, which they hope will evolve into a training facility, meeting place, and consultative atmosphere for the dealer, its contractor customers, and their homeowner clients alike. “How do you grow your business? By doing more with the people you have and attracting new customers with new products and by becoming a one-stop shop,” explains company president Doug Kuiken. “You always have to think of ways to fully reinvent yourself. And the showroom is another way for us to be able to impact our business in a positive way by continuing to grow and by being more proactive in how we go to market with our products.”
Adhering to the timeless retail mantra of location, location, location, the Succasunna showroom is nestled in a nexus of major transportation viaducts including Interstates 280 and 287, U.S. Highway 46, and New Jersey State Highway 10 and couldn't be any more convenient to north Jersey construction hot spots, including the upscale Morris and Somerset County markets. When the property became available in spring 2005, it presented Kuiken Bros. with the opportunity to execute the stand-alone showroom strategy that had been percolating for some time, according to Kuiken. “Every location we have has a showroom area, an area with some windows, doors on racks, boards on a wall that show our trim, and we have three locations that currently show kitchens,” Kuiken says, “but this is a whole new concept for us.”
Core Innovations Even as a formalized product category, kitchen and bath is somewhat new to the pro dealer, which first embraced the profit center as part of an acquisition of Conklin Lumber in January 1998 that brought locations in Ogdensburg, N.J., and Warwick, N.Y., into the Kuiken Bros. fold. After a year or two improving general lumberyard operations, the company began reinvesting in those locations' kitchen and bath showrooms, a move that eventually led to the company expanding showroom operations to a third Kuiken Bros. location in Emerson, N.J., and consolidating operations approximately six years ago into a single Kuiken Bros. Kitchen and Bath division.