AlliKristé Tore Down, Rebuilt Company After Housing Crisis
Tampa Bay Business Journal – by Mark Holan Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG — The housing meltdown forced Joe Houlton to turn his business inside out. But even in challenging times, he has still been able to expand AlliKristé.
Eighty-five percent of sales were related to house and condominium construction when Houlton took over as CEO and partner in 2002. Now 85 percent of sales are remodeling contracts.
“We had to completely tear down and remake our company in all facets of operation between 2007 and 2009,” Houlton said. “Because I put financial controls and forecasting models in place we started cutting expenses and staff early. Thank God I was watching the numbers to see the downturn early and had the discipline to make the adjustments.”
Houlton cut his work force to 19 employees from a high of 65 as net revenue plunged 55 percent over a three-year period. By comparison, sales had increased six fold, up to $1 million a month, at the height of the building boom.
“It’s been a real ride,” Houlton said.
The business was founded in 1996 by designer Bob Ostrowski and is named after his two daughters. Brothers Joe Houlton and John Houlton became majority owners in 2002 with Ostrowski remaining as partner and senior designer.
“I didn’t feel right changing the name,” Joe Houlton said. “It was in the community. I wanted to continue the brand.”
The Houlton brothers are former owners of Application Profiles, an employee-screening and drug-testing firm. Joe Houlton invested $1.2 million in AlliKristé his first 18 months as co-owner. The money was primarily self-funded from the sale of the previous business.
AlliKristé’s goal is to become the largest high-end kitchen and bath design firm in Florida. The company works with 15 manufacturers in the United States and Europe in addition to what it builds in the 27,000-square-foot headquarters and showroom in north St. Petersburg.
Most of the firm’s kitchen and bath projects cost $10,000 to $30,000. A smaller share of the business falls in the $50,000 to $90,000 range. “We occasionally get jobs that are over $100,000,” Houlton said.
Houlton streamlined the business by breaking down the work into “functional specialties,” such as design, pricing, ordering and project management. “We’ve taken advantage of the personalities of our staff that work well with each of those jobs,” he said.
During the boom years Houlton expanded the company by adding showrooms in Naples and Sarasota. Then the housing bubble forced him to take another hard look at the company.
He renegotiated showroom leases and developed exclusive relationships with manufacturers. He had the company’s Web site redone to improve search engine optimization and began reaching out to interior decorators, architects and real estate professions for leads on potential customers.
“We are always looking to develop other networks,” he said.
About a year ago Houlton also began working with John Lankford at ActionCoach Pinellas, which develops marketing, training and other management strategies. A key in the master plan they developed is improving the sales system, including nearly 200 hours of staff training over 10 months.
Houlton estimated that up to 30 percent of smaller cabinetry companies in Florida have gone out of business during the recession.
“We focus on the job we do well,” he said. “Our sweet spot is middle to high-end kitchen design. I am not competing with Home Depot or Lowe’s.”
Houlton has avoided mission creep, such as selling ancillary products and services.
AlliKristé does not offer customer financing. Most of its clients write checks against their credit lines.
The company is not carrying any significant debt, Houlton said.
So even as the economy sputters, AlliKristé recently opened a showroom in Jacksonville and plans expand into Orlando early next year.
“There are plenty of opportunities to increase market penetration,” he said. “We can grow our business even if the economy stays flat. There’s a certain flight to quality even in tough times.”
ADDRESS: 9900 18th St. N, Suite 102, St. Petersburg 33716
NATURE OF BUSINESS: Cabinetry, Kitchen Design
firstname.lastname@example.org | 813.342.2468
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