February 29, 2012

Cabinet makeovers keep Kitchen Tune-Up franchisees busy

Arlene Phillips hangs up the phone. New customer, same old story.

Arlene Phillips hangs up the phone. New customer, same old story.

“Getting rid of oak is keeping us in business," she said.

Actually, the Kitchen Tune-Up franchise that Phillips owns with her husband, Jim, does a lot more than just redo oak cabinets. But that work has been a mainstay.

Asked what customers prefer over oak, Jim replied: “Anything else."

The Phillipses started Kitchen Tune-Up in the summer of 2005, after Jim had spent 17 years working for Learjet.

“What’s the politically correct way to say this?" he said. “I was ready for a change."

Arlene, meanwhile, had just retired as a school secretary for Maize. That job, she said, prepared her for the customer service aspect of owning a small business.

Arlene answers the phone and handles the paperwork while Jim, who always has been good with his hands, oversees the physical work; both do estimates and sales. They work out of their home in west Wichita and employ two people – Charlotte Martin and Austin Koehn – whom Arlene calls “gold."

Kitchen Tune-Up is a franchise operation headquartered in Aberdeen, S.D. The couple considered a dozen different business opportunities, including starting their own business from scratch, before finding Kitchen Tune-Up through a franchise broker. They are the only franchisees in Kansas.

Jim said paying for a franchise was worth it because of the associated benefits, from training to help with marketing to being part of a buying network.

“I didn’t have to reinvent the wheel with them," he said. “If you do what they tell you, you’re usually successful."

Jim said he was initially attracted by the company’s signature wood reconditioning service, known as the Tune-Up. It’s a one-day process that removes built-up grime and dirt from cabinet surfaces, touches up faded areas and restores the finish. Kitchen Tune-Up brochures say the result is a cabinet that looks “90 to 95 percent new."

“I looked at that and said, that’s neat," he said. “People will like that."

Cabinet refacing has become the biggest part of the Phillipses’ business. That involves replacing cabinet doors and drawer fronts along with installing a matching wood veneer on the existing cabinet boxes.

“We have thousands (of models) to choose from," Jim said.

The results can be subtle or dramatic. One customer is going with a high-gloss purple and silver look.

“It’s gonna be styling," Jim said.

For another project, which won a national award from the corporate office, Kitchen Tune-Up created a kitchen island with seating for 10 and its own beverage center.

Another line of business for Kitchen Tune-Up is replacing cabinets altogether with custom cabinetry. The couple are accustomed to coordinating their work with other craftsmen in the remodeling business.

Kitchen Tune-Up has completed around 500 jobs in Wichita and the surrounding area.

The Phillipses say TV shows about home remodeling drive many of the trends in their business. The “reality" tag on some of those shows causes Jim to grin.

“There are two things you see," he said. “One is they can remodel a kitchen for $2,000 in two days, which is not right. Or if you watch the next show, it takes them two months and costs $150,000.

“The reality in Wichita is somewhere in between."

Interestingly, the Phillipses’ own kitchen features oak cabinets, albeit ones that look brand-new thanks to the Tune-Up.

It’s not that Arlene’s work hasn’t given her ideas for changes. She has too many, in fact.

“Every one we do is my new favorite."

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