A. Lee Parron doesn't mince words when describing his role as a remodeler. The road has been rough at times, he says, but the bumps and bruises he's gotten along the way have been well worth it. “Just like anyone else, we've had our ups and downs,” says Parron, president of The Kitchen Center in Miami.
For example, take the time four years ago when Parron fell in love with the European showroom concept and invested $500,000 with a New York company that promised to make him the first remodeler in the nation to open Italian kitchen, closet, bathroom, and furniture showrooms.
“It was a great idea, so I jumped in full-steam ahead and lost a half a million dollars because the infrastructure wasn't in place. It just didn't work out,” says Parron, who in the aftermath of the bad investment had to “pick up the pieces” of The Kitchen Center and press on.
Instead of packing it in, Parron set out to rebuild the company — which he purchased from his father, Al Parron, in 1996 — from a small office location to a Miami headquarters that includes a showroom packed with $180,000 worth of product. “We withstood it, and were able to come back,” Parron says.
Working on jobs that range in price from $50,000 to $250,000, The Kitchen Center has designed and installed high-end kitchen cabinets and related products in luxury homes and condominiums throughout Florida, New York, and the Caribbean.
COMPANY EVOLUTION Parron is quick to point out that the reins to the family business weren't just handed to him, nor did he initially want them. “I remember seeing my dad working constantly, and I never wanted to be like that,” says Parron, who started working for the four-employee company as a receptionist in 1986. Company sales were around $1 million at the time.
Like many offspring of entrepreneurial parents, Parron gradually succumbed. “I asked the sales manager to teach me how to sell, and I slowly moved up the ladder to become president,” he says. But not without a fight from his father, who sold his son the company. “He has a deal in place that if I miss three monthly payments in a row, he gets it back,” says Parron, who handles the company's sales and marketing.
As The Kitchen Center has evolved, so too has its product line. During the construction boom of the 1970s, for example, the company was the first in the area to use Italian cabinet machinery to manufacture frameless cabinets. In the 1980s, with Al Parron at the helm, the company opened one of the few custom-kitchen retail showrooms in Miami.
“Things were simple back then: one crown molding, one kitchen, and one basic color,” Parron says. “Now customers want time periods and detailed moldings. Everything is exponential in terms of detail work.”
Competition has also stiffened, forcing small remodelers such as The Kitchen Center to chase a smaller pool of high-end customers. Parron says corporate-direct and factory-owned showrooms have taken some of the pie, but adds that he's managed to maintain a niche by morphing into a boutique-type remodeling company.