Remodeling Magazine

Kitchens that Cook

Max Isley, CMKBD
Hampton Kitchens of Raleigh, Raleigh, N.C.

Practically Beautiful
Size: 256 square feet
Cost: $57,000

G-magazines_RemodelingMagazineCoverPosted with Permission of Hanley-Wood LLC and Charles Harris, photographer. This article was originally published in Remodeling magazine. For more information, visit

Max Isley considers himself a “meat and potatoes” designer. He concentrates on the functional side of a kitchen first, then turns to design details. “You can add incredible trim details with flutes on a base cabinet, but you’re costing yourself storage,” he says. Many designers forget that a concept might be practical in one situation but not in another. “Designers create spaces that are monuments to our egos and design ability and not as functional as they could be,” he says. For example, says Isley, raised dishwashers are a great idea, but some designers forget to create a “landing space” on the counter between the dishwasher and the sink. And sometimes designers force an island into a small space, resulting in an uncomfortable, impractical kitchen.

Isley’s pet peeve is lighting. He says some designers try to brighten a dark kitchen by installing white or light stained cabinets. “But sometimes a new lighting scheme is enough,” Isley says. Although switching from fluorescent to incandescent lighting is often enough to improve lighting in a kitchen, Isley says the aesthetics of a kitchen design are dependent on a good lighting layout. “Your cabinet and countertop can be high quality, but if you have a lousy lighting system, it will die on you,” he says.

Isley has lost projects because he told a client what they wanted was not practical. “I would rather lose a client than put my name on something that is inefficient,” he says.

The project: The homeowner is a single woman who is a doctor at the state university. The flow of her 1950s kitchen (next page) and the lack of good appliances did not allow her to entertain. She had remodeled the rest of her home and wanted the kitchen to reflect the same style. The original kitchen had bad lighting and an inefficient layout, plus the cabinet doors were delaminating. The client gave Isley a list of appliances she wanted: a wine chiller, microwave, cooktop, refrigerator, and double ovens. Isley carved out room for all of this equipment by stealing 12 square feet from a nearby laundry closet. He replaced the washer and dryer with a stacked unit and put it in the pantry. Isley updated the kitchen with contemporary maple cabinetry, granite countertops, and a stone-look accent backsplash.

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Max Isley, CMKBD
Honored by National Magazine

The May, 2000 issue of REMODELING magazine has named Max Isley, CMKBD, and Lynn Snow of Hampton Kitchens of Raleigh, Inc. to its BIG 50 list for 2000. Their firm, Hampton Kitchens of Raleigh, Inc. is named as one of the fifty best remodeling firms in the country, according to Paul Deffenbaugh, editor-in-chief.

Isley and Snow were designated as two of the professional remodeling industry’s top achievers in 2000. The awards were distributed in front of industy peers on May 22, 2000 at the REMODELING Leadership Conference in Washington, DC.

The BIG 50 featured in REMODELING’S May, 2000, issue, is a group of outstanding remodelers chosen because of their excellence in the remodeling business. Through smart marketing and business management, unique design or industry or community impact, these remodelers set the standard for professionalism and integrity in the industry.

Says Deffenbaugh, “BIG 50 remodelers are among the best in the business”.

Remodeling – The BIG 50 Niches

Max Isley, CMKBD, and Lynn Snow
Hampton Kitchens of Raleigh, Raleigh, N.C.

KBDN-1Kitchens, kitchens, kitchens. That’s all Max Isley and wife Lynn Snow, do, with guaranteed turnarounds. “Having to wash dishes in the bathtub – if we keep that to one weekend. we’re happy,” Isley says. The company can compromise the impossible because suppliers hold inventory until it’s needed. Scheduled delayed? Hampton Kitchens pays for meals out. The company works its magic with just the two principals. Ten reliable subcontractors handle all on-site work. The key to maintaining the roster is paying well, on time. Isley’s carpenter acts as project manager when Isley is absent.

Hampton Kitchens effectively has no accounts receivable because jobs are finished so quickly. Snow brought her business acumen to the company in 1991. She keeps jobs to within $100 of budget and manages cash flows so well that she’s able to pay half the annual rent with interest on savings. At job end, she sends chocolates with the final bill. “It’s our sincere way of saying thanks,” she says. “But it also serves to speed collection.” And it leaves a sweet taste in a client’s mouth.


Kitchen & Bath Design News – Designer Cooks Up Winning Marketing Strategy
By Denise Vermeulen

RALEIGH, NC—Max Isley, CMKBD, is an award-winning kitchen designer, but it’s his business savvy that saved his firm, Hampton Kitchens of Raleigh. When sales flattened out in the early ‘90s, Isley had some tough choices to make. He could have easily succumbed to the pressures of a changing marketplace – and the major home center that opened near his showroom. But Isley is a self-described survivor, and he set out to carve his own niche in the only business he had known for 20 years.

Isley, also a licensed general contractor, began by identifying his target market. He went through the records of every job he had done in the last five years and established that most of his customers were from upscale, single-income families. He further identified the geographic area from which most customers came. Isley even called the last nine jobs he’d lost in order to better understand his position.

He also recognized the tremendous transition that was occurring in Raleigh, a major center of high-tech research and business. Studies had shown that half of that market turned over every seven years. Therefore, there was an opportunity to regularly introduce the business to new consumers.

Isley’s wife Lynn Snow joined the business in 1991 and, according to Isley, became the financial backbone of its success. They downsized the business from 18 employees to just the two of them, and specifically defined their uniqueness in the market. Isley’s 20 years of experience, design credentials, and his background in construction were identified as advantages.

Isley and Snow first got very serious about bringing jobs in on time and within $150 of the budget estimate. “We check, double check, and triple check our procedures in order to eliminate mistakes,” says Isley. “Let’s face it,” he adds, “sales people and designers usually hate details.” But Isley contends that making that promise to consumers helps to make him profitable. Developing lasting relationships with local subcontractors was key to making that promise a reality.
The next question for Isley was how to communicate his firm’s uniqueness to the target market. Isley and Snow realized that they had been perceived as being in the kitchen cabinet business more than the kitchen design business, so they were determined to change that image of themselves.

A marketing plan
Hampton Kitchens had tried using both print and radio media, but previous advertising campaigns had failed to produce any serious results. Participation in home shows, formerly the focus of the firm’s marketing strategy, no longer showed results. Dollar-bill-size ads in the local Yellow Pages had only shown a minimal amount of acti-vity. Personal contacts and developing relationships with others in the field were still important but, apparently, not enough for his business to continue to succeed.

Isley and Snow needed to play a new game. They came up with a marketing communications strategy that increased their business by nearly 300%. According to Isley, a series of consumer-oriented seminars “was born out of desperation.”

Isley recognized that he frequently fielded calls from consumers who had a lot of product available to them, but little information. He decided to invite the public to free information gathering sessions. The seminars are held in Hampton Kitchens’ showroom, an appealing setting in a turn-of-the-century Victorian home that showcases such upscale lines as Wood-Mode, Brookhaven, Viking, Bosch, Sub-Zero, and DuPont Corian.

The seminars are informal, with only a 10-minute prepared talk on previously announced topics. Isley then opens the floor up to questions. It’s a win-win situation, Isley notes, as consumers get straight answers from a professional and Isley is able to showcase his knowledge of the business.

The amount of business generated by the seminars varies. But the dollar signs speak for themselves. Since beginning the seminars, Isley’s sales have been $1.2 million annually. He claims he could easily increase sales, but has made a conscious decision to maintain the number of jobs at its current level of 35 to 40 per year – a level he feels he can deliver maximum quality on.

The topics offered quarterly by Hampton Kitchens have catchy titles such as “George Jetson’s Kitchen: The Future is Now.” Hampton Kitchens typically offers a morning and afternoon session on several consecutive Saturdays. Isley will sign up more than 100 people, and there is usually a waiting list.

While it may seem that Isley must be spending a fortune promoting his seminars, he’s not. He writes a simple public service announcement giving the details of an upcoming seminar, and then submits it to the local newspaper, where it is run for free. He puts a legible but fairly small sign outside of his showroom, which generates added interest, since the showroom is conveniently located on a fairly busy street near a stoplight. Finally, Hampton Kitchens’ well-organized and informative Web site promotes the seminars.

Isley has decided that Hampton Kitchens of Raleigh is now truly unique in its field simply because of its profitability. “So many of us are sales or design driven rather than profit driven,” he notes. “We’re profitable, but not at the expense of the customer.”