Good things may come in small packages, but two remodeling companies have found that good designers come from big boxes.

Julia Spence, vice president of human resources and communication at Neil Kelly Co. says although most of their designers come from Oregon State University, a few have experience at big box stores such as The Home Depot. Several of their current designers worked at The Home Depot while in school. The number one advantage, she says, is that the designers have worked directly with customers. “They meet with clients and help them to figure things out,” Spence says. “It is a more intense experience than working for a K&B dealer.”

The designer's skills depend on the training received at the individual retail store. “Some managers allow them to work with clients all the way through the process. Others, you work with them for one shift, and then someone on another shift orders the cabinets,” Spence says. When that happens, she adds, “they don't get feedback after the job is done to see what didn't work or what worked brilliantly.”

Susan Pierce (left) of Commonwealth Home Remodelers hired Sharon Smith to design kitchens at her company. Smith previously worked at The Home Depot.
Susan Pierce (left) of Commonwealth Home Remodelers hired Sharon Smith to design kitchens at her company. Smith previously worked at The Home Depot.

Also, most are not familiar with working through all project details. “They work with clients on design but don't estimate labor or deal with the trade contract portion or structural or mechanical details,” she says.

Spence says many retail store employees are eager to work regular Monday through Friday hours at Neil Kelly.

Susan C. Pierce of CommonWealth Home Remodelers in Vienna, Va., says she too found a kitchen designer from a retail store through her project manager, who had also worked at The Home Depot. The designer spent 20 years as a manager at a New England company. When she relocated, she began working at The Home Depot. In her eight months at the store, she learned the basics of the kitchen industry, but she did not have an opportunity to apply her management and organizational skills to the job. “You are in a set program no matter how good you are,” Pierce says. Pierce hired her because she was capable and decided she could teach her the finer points of kitchen design. “She is gaining design skills on the job with me,” Pierce says.