A Nice Dinner at Home
John Cook Kitchens’ mission is to make kitchens that people love
For Mark Olson, president of John Cook Kitchens, the ultimate A+ always involves home cooking: Happy customers invite him to dinner prepared in kitchens just completed by the local design firm. “My designer even gets invited out to dinner during projects,” says Olson, “which says a lot for her.”
John Cook Kitchens is known for everything from award-winning kitchen designs to simple upgrades to cabinet sales. Less known is the firm’s work on baths, entertainment centers, home offices and libraries—anything involving cabinetry. The quality is evident in its brand-new showroom in Mapunapuna: warm woods and sleek countertops fill the space, inviting and inspiring customers.
RSVPstyle caught up with Olson recently to get a feel for his business.
RSVPstyle: You went from being a contractor working on massive resort and commercial projects to working on the smallest spaces in people’s homes. What’s the biggest difference?
Olson: I like working with people. With my old work it was a numbers game. I was figuring out how to get the hotel or the condo building open. There was no personal relationship.
Now I’m working with people who have an emotional attachment to their space. I like that. I like figuring out how to keep people happy and hold their hand through the project.
RSVPstyle: And how do your large-scale contracting skills transfer to kitchens and baths?
Olson: I’m a contractor at heart. I like building stuff. I have a couple of really good designers, but I also have a really comprehensive construction background. I know if something can be built, I know how not to disrupt the house completely, how to stay within a budget and within code, and get it done right.
RSVPstyle: Finish this sentence: The best part of my job is…
Olson: Making customers happy. I’ve had many customers come back years later and tell me they love their kitchen. It functions the way they want it to, it looks the way they want it to, and it’s still in great shape because of the quality of craftsmanship and installation.
More than anything else, they love it because it turned out the way they wanted it to turn out. That speaks highly of our designers, who spend a lot of time getting into the lives of our customers so they end up designing for them—not just designing a kitchen.
RSVPstyle: Now this sentence: The biggest challenge in my work is…
Olson: Keeping all the details straight. Kitchen design is a very, very detailed business. If you’re building a house and your 2x4 is too long, you can cut it. You can’t do that with cabinets. Everything has to fit absolutely perfectly on paper and be coordinated and ordered so the end result works perfectly. It’s a tremendous challenge.
RSVPstyle: You get a lot of customers who are doing their own remodels. What are the most common mistakes people make?
Olson: The biggest misconception about designing a kitchen is that it’s easy. Most people who try it on their own learn the lesson the hard way—they end up with a kitchen they’re not happy with.
It’s very easy for non-professionals to miss the details. Cabinets sometimes don’t fit the room. People forget to allow exact spaces for appliances, which are often different sizes than what they assume. They forget to account for electrical and plumbing, or locate them in the wrong spots.
They forget that every fraction of an inch is important. Often people put in their cabinets and then their flooring, and then their dishwasher won’t slide in under the countertop because the flooring’s too thick. We see doors that hinge in the wrong direction, so it’s inconvenient to get in.
On the design side, people forget to take their height into account, so cabinets are too short or too tall. Or they haven’t designed in enough storage space. Not enough lighting is another common problem.
RSVPstyle: How is John Cook Kitchens different from its competitors?
Olson: I don’t like to make other people look bad. But we have integrity. We’re going to tell the customer the truth, even if it loses us a sale. People come in all the time wanting a particular item, and I tell them that’s not really recommended in your part of the island because it’s too wet. They say another supplier says it’s fine. It’s not. We tell them the truth when it’s good and when it’s bad.
We do bend over backwards to make customers happy because we live and die by our reputation. We have a fabulous reputation, so we do things maybe other companies wouldn’t because we want to keep that reputation.
Sometimes we fix things that we didn’t break. Sometimes we correct things that the customer has done wrong. Sometimes we do things we don’t have to because it’s the right thing to do.
I want the customer to leave us with a very good taste in their mouth. Every project starts out wonderful, but I want the last dealing we have with our customer to be just as good as the day we make the sale.
RSVPstyle: What’s your philosophy about what you do?
Olson: Our customers are going to live with their kitchen for many years. Every time they walk in there, I want them to think of us in a good way. When people ask, Who did your kitchen? I want them to be proud and happy to say John Cook Kitchens did it.