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August 2004
Cooking Up New Designs For Living
By Heather Head

      Kitchen sinks that light up blue for cold water, red for hot; dishwashers that disappear into the cabinetry when closed; washing machines that also dry. These are a few of Carol Lindell’s favorite things. It’s nice that they’re also her business.

      As owner and lead designer for DCI Home Resource, Lindell helps homeowners create custom kitchens, baths, dens, pool houses, cabanas, and other areas that call for detail and built-in furnishing. The company supplies high-end cabinetry, countertops, appliances, fixtures, and many other related items.

 

Plumbing the vision

      DCI’s products are hand-picked, with many offered exclusively by DCI within the Charlotte area. LaCornue ranges, Quality Custom and Neff cabinetry, Eurotech appliances and Pyrolave countertops are but a few of DCI’s unique offerings. Coupled with Viking, Sub-Zero, Wolf, Miele and KitchenAid appliances, as well as Medallion and Holiday cabinetry, DCI’s clients can be assured a wide selection of high-end product choices.

      “The devil is in the detail,” as Lindell is fond of saying. “We have purposefully chosen the cabinetry, appliance and kitchen/bathroom manufacturers we work with. As we do, they pay attention to the details. Whether it is a product warranty, the styling of a cabinet door or the unique finish on an appliance, both form and function are accounted for.”

      “We go out and actually tour the factories and get to know the people before we recommend a manufacturer,” says Lindell. “Our products carry the finest in manufacturer warranties. We’ve selected manufacturers because they also stand behind their cabinetry, appliances and kitchen/bath products, today and in the future.”

      But the core of DCI’s business, and what truly sets them apart from other kitchen and bath providers, is the high quality consulting they offer to their clients.

      The process begins by asking the client seemingly mundane but quintessential questions such as, “How tall are you?” and “Are you right or left handed?” Lindell points out that these sorts of things are central to understanding a client’s needs and helping them design an area that will truly delight them for years to come. Discovering the client’s vision is the first step in a long, careful process that ensures the finest in design features and functionality.

      Clients can experience DCI’s offerings firsthand with a tour of the lovely showroom and the nearby penthouse in the Arlington. They can move through more than 25 separate displays of everything from Old World and French Country to contemporary and modern European styles of cabinetry. In each display are integrated various appliances and other built-ins including sinks (one that flows curvaceously across the countertop like a stainless steel brook), cook ranges, and countertops.

After initial selections are made and a budget drawn up, DCI provides clients with a thick binder containing staff contacts and detailed discussions of hundreds of options. The binder provides areas for the client to mark their choices and to stash drawings, schematics, and elevations that the DCI staff provide along the way.

      Lindell admits that the number of options and detailed explanations “can be quite daunting.” That’s where the design team’s consulting expertise comes into play. They provide the client with a “decision tree” that simplifies the process, allowing the client to make very detailed choices in a systematic and uncomplicated manner. Or they can choose to make only the most basic decisions (“I just want blue,” for instance), leaving the rest to

the staff.

      Because DCI provides not only the cabinetry and countertops, but also the appliances, plumbing fixtures, lighting, and many other accessories, they are able to provide a one-stop experience for the client. And because the DCI design professionals are well-versed in engineering and architectural principles, they can coordinate the many complexities of a project from ensuring a good fit between plumbing fixtures and cabinetry to successfully utilizing difficult spaces.

 

Communication key to results

      Once all choices have been made and a timeline agreed upon, DCI begins placing orders for the various components. Clients pay in increments as items are ordered and work is completed. DCI stays in touch at every step, ensuring communication lines are open and that the client is kept up-to-date.

Projects are sometimes completed in as little as six weeks, but the scope of most of DCI’s design work requires timelines spanning months and even years. Many projects involve “large homes with a lot of detail and a lot of build-out,” says Lindell, but they also work in high-end multi-family units and vacation homes, and can even order appliances or other items individually for small-scale home improvements.

Long timelines mean an enormous need for good communication. “I want to ‰ operate on a no-surprises basis,” says Lindell, and when there are surprises, she wants the client to know immediately and know that they are taking care of it.

      To facilitate communication, DCI is currently working on rebuilding their Web site to include not only more information but also a secure intranet where clients can check the status of their project 24 hours a day.

      Obviously, DCI’s services are not for everyone. “I don’t do tract homes and mid-level condos,” says Lindell. “I find that high-touch projects are just more fun. I love meeting the client and working with them.” Project budgets with DCI range from $10,000 into the hundreds of thousands, and include all the installed items and accessories, as well as consultation

and design.

      Lindell’s “high touch” approach has brought accolades for the company both from clients and third party organizations. “I just wish I had some future project in mind,” gushes one client listed on their Web site. “My cabinets are beautiful and the quality is wonderful. Through the whole project I felt like I was dealing with a friend.”

      The publishers of a nationwide magazine called “Kitchen and Bath Design” named DCI as the Top Firm in Customer Value for 2004, and in 2003 recognized Lindell as the Businessperson of the Year.

 

Building the business

      Lindell was not always in this line of business. In 1998, she was working in a different kind of consulting – strategic planning for banks – and looking for a change. At the same time, she had just completed some projects on her home, including building a second kitchen. In her words, she had “connected with this business and ended up buying it.”

      “I love the business of business,” smiles Lindell.  Garbed in a simple yet elegant dress highlighted by a vertical three-diamond pendant, Lindell’s appearance complements the beauty of her showroom. Her poise also reflects the elegance of her product offerings; she calmly exudes enthusiasm for the “fun” of her chosen profession.

      But like the simple flat shoes she wears, Lindell’s approach to business is sensible. High-end design and installation offers a simple and profitable cash flow model. All of the work is completely

custom, and so there is no need to carry inventory.

      “We invest in a great deal in the displays, and place orders at the time a client purchases. That way the client is assured of a full choice of colors and styles as well as the most up-to-date bells and whistles.  Besides, it makes for a good balance sheet.” The company is privately owned and the financial statements not published, but, according to Lindell, “there is no debt on the business.”

The lack of debt and the advantageous cash flow mean that DCI is on very secure ground financially. “I’m pretty fiscally conservative,” says Lindell. “You get a lot of people working for you and you don’t want to have that conversation of, ’Oops, we had bad sales for two months and now we’re downsizing or closing our doors or whatever.’ It’s not going to happen.”

 

Cooking up growth

That secure foundation has allowed for slow but steady growth. Six years ago when Lindell took over, the company had only one employee. Now she employs eleven full time, plus contractual workers brought in for specific jobs.

“It’s been evolutionary,” she says. “As you get more clients and you find good talent you bring them in and there always seems to be enough work.”

Although she hesitates to project specific numbers, Lindell expects the same sort of “evolutionary” growth to continue, certainly leading to more employees and possibly even additional locations.      “But,” she adds conservatively, “It would have to make very good business sense.”

Right now DCI is focusing its growth on breadth of services and products. They have already added small appliances and cookware to their offerings, and Lindell wants to continue to add items that will enhance the client’s ability to visit only

one provider.

 

Designing for the future

      Revenue growth also has been steady and “very, very good,” according to Lindell. The downturn in the general economy shortly after Lindell took over the company had no adverse impact on her business.

      “We got to be very, very busy because people still were earning and wanting to invest,” says Lindell. “Rather than investing in the market that may go up or may go down, they put that money into an area they’re going to enjoy every day and experience somewhat of a return on.”

      Lindell is adamant that she will be with the company for a long time to come, but she has no illusions about being irreplaceable. “When I go away for a week, the company runs just fine without me,” she laughs.

      This is deliberate. Design companies that maintain their existence solely on the personality and presence of an owner and/or lead designer are what she calls the ‘dental office model.’ “If the dentist is gone, there’s no one to do the work.” Lindell wanted instead a business that could run smoothly with her and in her absence.

            “I do a lot of the design, I do have my own clients,” she says. “But someday I want to take more time off, perhaps eventually going on one long vacation.” Smiling and somewhat wistfully, she adds, “That sure would work for me.”
Heather Head is a Charlotte-based freelance writer.
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