It isn’t easy being a one-man business these days, but Don Cunningham, owner of D.C. Kitchens, knows how to attract and keep clients: Use top-drawer local suppliers and subcontractors, and maintain your standards, and the word will get out.
“I’ve been in the kitchen industry for 30 years, and most of my work comes from repeat business and word-of-mouth referrals,” he said. “I’d hate to be coming into this business fresh, with the economy the way it is. If you aren’t established and don’t have a lot of contacts, it would be difficult.”
Born and raised in Louisville, Cunningham worked in Florida for several years with his Tampa-born wife, Sue. After they returned to his hometown in 1980, he worked for two Kentuckiana kitchen cabinet manufacturers before becoming an independent dealer in 1998.
“I cut my teeth at the H. J. Scheirich Co., where I was mostly a factory rep,” he said. “At Schmidt’s Cabinet Creations, I dealt more directly with people, which I preferred.”
The samples displayed in Cunningham’s compact showroom underscore his emphasis on products made in this area, including cabinets by Schmidt’s and Blue River Cabinetry.
“Local, local, local – I pride myself on that. I work with as many local suppliers as I can, including Kentuckiana Countertops and Plumbers Supply. It’s for a selfish reason: I’m very hands-on in every project, and I like to know that if a situation comes up, we can take care of it right away. If I sell a cabinet manufactured 1,000 miles away and I’m worrying about when it will arrive, that’s not good for business,” he said. “The quality of the products I sell is second to none, too. That’s a big deal with me. When you rely on referrals and repeat business, it’s important to sell things you can stand behind.”
With clients from Hurstbourne to Dixie Highway, Cunningham has found that Louisvillians still tend to be traditional: Shaker and mission styles remain popular, as do maple and cherry cabinets, and granite countertops.
“I like working with people who are unhappy with their old kitchen, and helping them from the beginning of the process to its end,” he said. “It’s a collaborative effort. Once they’re happy with the design on paper, we can deliver the kitchen they want. There is a great deal of personal satisfaction that comes from knowing that my clients are pleased with the result.”
Small kitchens are often his favorites to remodel, in part because finding the best use of space challenges his creativity. Kitchens from several decades ago, which often have windows or doors on almost every wall, can also require thinking outside the box.
“Sometimes a minor change in a room can make a world of difference,” he said. “It’s good to show people the benefits of considering some options.”
In order to be flexible enough to suit his clients’ schedules, Cunningham keeps irregular hours, along with his installer, Richard DiLaura, who also is an accomplished woodworker.
“If people need me to meet with them on weekends or in the evening, I’ll be there,” he said. “Most of the time I’m in my showroom by appointment; but if my truck is out front, I’m open. If people drive by and see it, they’re welcome to stop in.”
D. C. Kitchens, 103 Fairmeade Road, is open by appointment. For information, call (502) 897-2802.