Cabinets & Designs is going to feature a member of our team once a month in a blog. We chose to start with the legend himself, the founder and owner of Cabinets & Designs, David Steffan, Sr.
What started off as an interview, turned into a fantastic story telling session hosted by Mr. Steffan. He started from the beginning with what brought him into the kitchen industry. It was a story of chance. After the Army, David attended the Columbia School of Broadcasting. He wanted a job at a radio station in Memphis, not at a kitchen design studio. However, fate had something else in mind. David’s brother, John, worked for a lumber company in Memphis selling custom cabinetry. John portrayed the lifestyle of success and it had an impact on David. A job opportunity came about when John recommended David to Mr. Birchfield, who was in the kitchen industry. David assisted Mr. Birchfield in appliance sales or took on customers when Mr. Birchfield was busy. Almost immediately after starting, a customer came in asking for someone to do a kitchen remodel. David said yes with his mouth, but was thinking ‘I don’t even know what a measuring tape is!!!’ After the client left the showroom, Mr. Birchfield gave him a short lecture on how to measure a space and then sent him on his way! He was terrified, but did what he was told. Mr. Birchfield used David’s measurements of the space to create an estimate and drawings for the client. They agreed on a price of $1,100 for the tear-out, new cabinets, new countertops, new sink, new hood, and the price of installation (1948 prices)! David could not believe his ears and his immediate success.
His dream job after this day was “To be successful in the kitchen industry- I honestly felt like I was doing them a favor by selling them a kitchen, because I knew how happy they would be with the result.”
David eventually moved to Houston and worked as an installer’s assistant. His most memorable project was working on the President of Rice Institute’s house on campus (now Rice University). David went to Beaumont to sell cabinetry with his brother, but in 1954 returned to Houston to purchase a cabinetry dealership with a friend. They renamed the existing company Cabinet Systems (which became Cabinets & Designs) and transformed it into a business of their own. In 1971, he became the Wood-Mode rep for South Texas. His goal was to specialize in distributing custom cabinetry to builders. Most of the other dealers were selling the full services of tear-out, cabinetry, countertops, install, appliances, remodeling, etc. David decided to focus on one thing, cabinetry, and to do it well. He worked on building relationships with builders, architects, and designers to help influence the clients to use factory cabinetry over job built. David used his showroom as a selection room. He was allowing the trade to bring in or send in clients to make selections, but it was not for the public to come in to purchase cabinetry. He wanted to be a supplier, not a competitor. As time went on he realized he needed to sell to the public to gain loyalty because 95% of the market was using job built cabinetry. He wanted to educate the masses as to why factory built was a better built cabinet. David started off in an 800 sq. ft. space and expanded to a 4,000 sq. ft. space to accommodate larger and newer displays as the company grew. After 38 years, Cabinets & Designs, moved its location to Westheimer and created a brand new showroom to appeal to the ever changing client. David continues to works everyday and passed on the kitchen wisdom to his son, Tom Steffan, who is now the Wood-Mode rep, his daughter Maria, who is now the manager of Cabinets & Designs, and his son, David Jr., who is a designer at Cabinets & Designs.
Story time came to a close, but there was still more to be discovered. Mr. Steffan described the difference in quality between Wood-Mode and other cabinetry.
“The difference is the people of the Wood-Mode family. They are great to work with and they stand behind their product. It is about integrity and how reputable they are.”
David also complimented Wood-Mode on their evolving library of finishes, woods, and door styles. When he started off, Wood-Mode had about 4 woods, 8 door styles and finishes and not all were available to mix and match. Now Wood-Mode and Brookhaven carry over 100 finishes, 100 door styles, and 12 surface materials. They also offer custom finishes and door styles. A lot has changed over the years, but the superior level of customer service has remained the same.
When asked what he would say to a customer at the start of a kitchen remodel, David responded, “I would want them to know that we respect their investment and their decision to use our cabinetry.” He also mentioned a quote by John Koessler, “”The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of a low price is forgotten.”
The economy was inevitable topic of discussion. We asked how David stayed in business so long. His response was the company’s reputation in the marketplace. After all of his years in business he never received a complaint from the BBB. He said how important word of mouth was in the industry and that clients and tradesman made the referrals that made the difference in the success of the company. The positive impact we had on clients and industry members made us reputable.
His advice to designers today is to be knowledgeable of the products you carry and know how to communicate the information properly to the individual client. Along the lines of communication, listening to what your clients’ wants and needs are extremely important to producing a successful design. David advises designers to build and maintain relationships with other members of the trade. He wanted to be sure to make the point that enthusiasm and passion to work with others and create what they ultimately want to achieve within the means of space, style, and budget is crucial in this business.
At 83 years young, David says he enjoys coming into work every day and has since he was an installer’s “helper,” a cabinetry salesman, a Wood-Mode rep and now as an owner.