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RTA cabinetmakers eye DIY market.


If Bob Santella had his way, Bob Vila would be on TV everyday.

"Vila is about the best thing that ever happened to the do-it-yourself cabinet market," said Santella, executive vice president of International Products Inc. "He's done more than anybody to sell homeowners on the concept of |pride of authorship,' the satisfaction of doing things for themselves."

How much credit is owed to Vila is debatable, but it is difficult to question the growing importance of the do-it-yourself market for selling kitchen cabinets and bathroom vanities. In fact, a recent study by Home Improvement Research Center indicates that kitchen and bath remodeling projects represented 6.7 percent of all sales at home improvement centers in 1989, up from 4.1 percent in 1985.

The phenomenal growth of DIY remodeling projects coupled with increased consumer acceptance of ready-to-assemble products are two factors that Santella hopes will help put IPI on the map in the U.S. cabinet market. IPI was among a handful of kitchen cabinet and bathroom vanity exhibitors showing new RTA products at the National Home Center Show, held March 24-26 in Chicago. The Beaverton, Ore.-based firm imports all-wood cabinets and vanities made in Taiwan.

"The potential of RTA cabinets is unlimited because home centers are being forced to carry a greater selection of cabinets than ever to compete. RTA's biggest advantage is that home center stores can inventory three RTA cabinets for every assembled cabinet," Santella said.

Is future now for RTA cabinets?

The market for ready-to-assemble furniture - bookcases, wall units, desks, bedroom furniture, etc., - has been one of the hottest growth areas in the wood products industry for more than a decade. But RTA has yet to make an appreciate dent in kitchen cabinet sales.

Yet, Santella and others said they believe RTA cabinet sales are poised to take off.

Santella pointed to a recent agreement between Home Depot and Mill's Pride as reason to believe that RTA cabinet sales are poised to take off. Home Depot, with 146 stores in 12 states, rang up sales of $3.8 billion in 1990. The Atlanta-based retailer is the nation's largest home improvement chain. Mill's Pride, which invested some $75 million on its integrated manufacturing facility in Waverly, Ohio, is aggressively seeking to position itself as the nation's leading RTA cabinet manufacturer.

"I think it's a plus that Home Depot has picked up Mill's Pride because other major home center chains will have to follow their lead," said Santella, adding, "We've had interest from every major player in the industry."

IPI's cabinets and vanities feature all wood construction, face frames and 1/2-inch plywood backs. "In our showroom, our administrative assistant put together 22 vanity pieces in one day, and she had never assembled one before."

Another company showing its first RTA cabinets to the world was Titan Wood Products Ltd. of Mississauga, Ontario. The 30-year-old company has been selling furniture to home centers and hardware stores for only five years. Yet, sales to the home improvement market now represent about 50 percent of its sales, according to Michael Braniff.

"We went from targeting furniture stores to home centers and hardware stores, too. We're gearing more and more of our products to the home center market," Braniff said. Included is a full-range of RTA products, including book shelves, wall units, and now kitchen cabinets, which feature oak wood fronts.

"The response to our new RTA kitchen cabinets has been very good," Braniff said. "Our cabinets are priced to sell for under $500 - the average Joe's price point. These cabinets will appeal to people who don't mind spending a weekend putting in their own kitchen. In fact, they take pride in their handiwork, while enjoying a great savings."

Richard Buckley, president of Solve Your Problem Inc., Gardner, Mass., said his company first began marketing RTA vanities a year ago to the Florida market. His company was making its first showing at the National Home Center Show with the intent of branching out nationally.

"We make three grades of RTA vanities - all wood, melamine face frame and melamine frameless. The RTA product is essentially the same as our assembled product, except we use different hardware and we don't finish the interiors," Buckley said. "I think following up our vanity entry with RTA kitchen cabinets would be a natural extension of our business."

Matthew Bednarz, general manager of Eurocor, a manufacturer of frameless cabinets and vanities based in Bartonville, Ill., was less enthusiastic about the prospect for RTA cabinets.

"We tried selling RTA kitchen cabinets a couple of years ago, and it was a packaging nightmare because we offer 400 cabinet styles and sizes," said Bednarz. "We found that it costs about as much to put everything you need for an RTA kitchen cabinet neatly in a $5 cardboard carton as it does to assemble it and ship it in a $2 shrink wrap. I think you have to have tremendous volume to be effective at it."

At the National Home Center Show, Eurocor was showing several new products, including a six-piece vanity group sporting white painted MDF doors and book shelves with 3/4-inch sides, 1-inch shelves and finished backs. "We're hoping that we can claim the high-end niche of the home improvement center market," said Bednarz.

Tri-Pac shows "bare" cabinets

Triangle-Pacific introduced a new line of unfinished birch cabinets, constructed with mortise and tenon joints. According to Doug Avra, product manager for the Dallas, Texas-based company, "Unfinished cabinet sales have been coming on strong for about the last four years. The consumer saves about 20 percent under the low-end of prefinished cabinets and they can paint or stain the cabinets any color they want to match other things in their house. Retailers like the unfinished cabinets because of add-on sales for finishes."

Cary Sakol, Chicago-area sales and marketing manager for KraftMaid Cabinetry Inc. of Middlefield, Ohio, said, "The home improvement market is becoming more and more important. It's a lot more accessible to kitchen cabinet business than it was five or 10 years ago and we're seeing more home centers advance to step-up products in terms of price and quality."

KraftMaid offers its full line of cabinets to traditional kitchen and bath dealers and home improvement centers alike. "The only major difference to our marketing approach is that we use more detailed point-of-purchase displays explaining our product at home centers. The key to a home center's success in the kitchen business is to get qualified people to sell and not someone who was selling lawnmowers yesterday and cabinets today," said Sakol.

Diane Laulette, coordinator of the National Kitchen & Bath Assn.'s certified kitchen designer program, said the NKBA does not track where the 1,200 registered CKDs are employed, but added, "Judging from our applications, we're getting more interest from home improvement centers than before."

While he thinks "CKD can be an over-sell," Buckley said the home center market is definitely becoming more sophisticated. "I've seen the home improvement market evolve from the neighborhood lumber yard to the large lumber yard to today's full-service home center. There are more qualified sales people than ever before."

PHOTO : Triangle-Pacific displayed a line of unfinished birch cabinets at the Home Center Show, which spokesman Bob Avra described as "an exciting new niche."

PHOTO : International Products Inc. is importing all-wood RTA kitchen cabinets and vanities from Taiwan. IPI executive vice president Bob Santella sees unlimited potential for RTA kitchen cabinets.

PHOTO : Richard Buckley, president of Solve Your Problem Inc., believes RTA kitchen cabinets will be a "natural extension" to his firm's RTA vanities.

PHOTO : Eurocor wholesales this vanity featuring white painted MDF doors and melamine sides for the same price fully assembled or knock-down.

PHOTO : KraftMaid displayed the Cirrus cabinet line at the National Home Center Show in Chicago.

PHOTO : Titan Wood Products Ltd. introduced its first RTA kitchen cabinet with oak fronts at the Home Center Show.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Vance Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:ready-to-assemble
Author:Christianson, Rich
Publication:Wood & Wood Products
Date:May 1, 1991
Previous Article:Cashing in on the remodeling market.
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