"We don't really have much serious competition," Mayan Metzler, founder and CEO of German Kitchen Center, told Startup Savant about his company, the largest multi-brand chain of showrooms for European-style kitchen designs in the US. "We operate with the knowledge that GKC can lose an opportunity to a local contractor, so it's important to focus on educating the client that no one can match what we offer in design expertise, premium products, and a track record of delivering on what is promised. We know from a lot of experience and feedback that without our guidance, customers will embark on projects at very high risk."
The demand for kitchen and living space upgrades skyrocketed in 2020, with so many spending much more time at home due to the pandemic. Sales of housewares jumped 22% over 2019, according to the International Housewares Association (IHA). Installation has lagged, it said in January 2021, "because of manufacturing shutdowns and shipping delays in the first half of the year...and many factories are still operating at limited capacity." While it predicts that housewares sales will slow down in the second half of this year (which means they might get back under the speed limit), the lag in delivery, increasing desire for better living spaces, and shift to more remote working will continue to drive remodeling.
"People want more comfort and convenience, as well as tools and appliances that are more functional and durable, and they are able to make that long-term investment because they have been saving on travel, restaurants, and entertainment," said Metzler, who has been named one of the country's leading innovators in the field. "I've never seen anything like this in my 22 years in this industry."
Other kitchen remodelers and showrooms run into a roadblock to expansion because of the lack of qualified designers, but GKC can bring in extra help as needed through its global connections, he notes. While it currently has 17 showrooms across the nation, from Seattle to Miami, an increasing amount of business is coming from cities where they are not located.
"Frankly, for a variety of reasons, European designers have been several decades ahead of the Americans, but high-speed Internet connections have allowed people everywhere to compare offerings and that has made them aware of the highest quality options," Metzler noted. "We're getting a lot of calls from places like Boise, Idaho and Lincoln, Nebraska because 10% to 20% of the population anywhere in the country wants more sophisticated services and prior to the pandemic, we invested in a great system which enables customers to go through the entire design process online. Our sales leads in February 2021 were 50% more than our pre-pandemic average."
The Steep Climb to Success
Metzler had some middle years on the rocky road of entrepreneurship. Born in 1976 near Tel Aviv, Israel, he started his mandatory three-year army service at 18, working as a dog trainer.
"It taught me some good management lessons on how to work and communicate with many types of dog owners and their dogs, as well as other trainers and army leaders, because each has a different personality," Metzler said, laughing. "You learn that it's more of an art than a science, and you have to be able to observe carefully and quickly adapt."
In 1998, he moved to New York City and worked in sales for a flooring contractor while studying at a business school. Two years later, he and two partners started MyHome, a full-service home remodeling contractor with a showroom. They grew from their original Manhattan location to Mt. Kisco north of New York City and Bergen County, New Jersey. One day while at Mt. Kisco, Metzler was surprised when Hillary Clinton dropped in for some help with the Clintons' Chappaqua home.
MyHome thrived until late 2008, when the subprime mortgage crisis began to dramatically reduce their opportunities, fully impacting the business by the middle of 2009. The partners wanted to try to continue to survive, but Metzler had enough and dropped any ownership claims to walk away.
"I was completely broke and had not been able to make much money for two years, using up all my savings to support my family," Metzler explained. "But my industry connections produced a miracle in 2012.” He was running his own bath and kitchen showroom when the opportunity to get the exclusive license to Leicht in Manhattan presented itself. Next, in 2012, he opened the first German Kitchen Center showroom in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn.
The first showroom outside of New York was in Miami in 2014. By 2016, he had decided to launch a national chain and leased six more locations: Seattle, Denver, Dallas, Atlanta, Chicago, and Washington D.C. He had thus far funded the expansion from "remodeling one kitchen at a time, creatively managing our cash flow, and a $500,000 credit line from our bank, which was almost nothing for what we were planning."
The keys to his success, he says, have been:
- Emphasizing that every GKC kitchen is a one-of-a-kind design, a unique combination of whatever the customer wants, with a seven-year warranty. They can consider each aspect online, at a showroom, or by browsing a printed catalog, such as the one from Leicht.
- Representing only the best in each category. TEAM 7 from Austria, for example, provides the world's highest-quality solid wood furniture, which is free from chemicals found in laminates, has antibacterial properties, is anti-static (reducing household dust), and easy to maintain. Charles Yorke in Britain handcrafts cabinetry using traditional techniques, assisted by cutting-edge technology. Other key brands include the Italian firms Pianca and Stosa Cucine.
- "Hiring the best people I can find, giving them the best training possible, and providing all the support and motivation they need."
- "Part of that support means that when we have a particularly difficult or angry customer, I take over. This relieves the employees of the burden and disconnects the customer from the person they were working with. I set an example of how to stay calm, even though some of these cases seem impossible to resolve. But I look at it as a game to turn them around, and I can say that every customer at least ends up satisfied."
As if meeting the ever-growing demand for renovation upgrades and adding to his current 17 locations were not enough, Metzler is working on other ambitious plans.
One is a potential private label relationship with Kathy Ireland, founder and CEO of kathy ireland Worldwide (aka kiWW), one of the world's top branding licensors. Details are still being worked out, but the results of a collaboration would be featured at GKC, which could include hundreds of innovative "kitchen hacks," upgrades with more practical and aesthetic appeal, and the latest technology. Some things that have been discussed are compartmentalized trash bins for easy recycling, silicone pot covers, utility shelves, improved storage containers, finely-crafted plate holders, backsplash racks, and cutting boards for the dedicated home chef.
"Everything that Kathy and her team do is with a kind heart, running the organization like a family, caring about improving the quality of life of her customers, and helping specialty retailers, which carry her branded products, get through the pandemic," said Metzler. "Those priorities and values really resonate with me."
Already in launch mode is Metzler's My Planet Living Center, one-location showrooms for homeowners and trade professionals, displaying all the latest and greatest options in higher-end and more sophisticated product selections for home design and remodeling (see also the press release). As an arm of Metzler's nonprofit organization MyPlanet, profits will be donated to community groups that help the needy. The first has already been opened in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn, and space has been leased for the second in Louisville, Kentucky.
"My Planet brings everything together into a one-stop shop that is above Home Depot quality," Metzler said. "These include vendors in green energy, home automation, exterior options, and suppliers of advanced and higher-quality products, from plumbing to roofing. We will also show customers how to build using a revolutionary energy-efficient method that will make homes more durable to resist damage from storms, fires, and earthquakes. Instead of people having to go to lots of stores in different cities or only researching options online, they can bring in their families for a few hours, since each MPLC will have a food court."
Mayan Metzler has clearly just begun his plans for world domination.
About the Author
Scott S. Smith has had over 2,000 articles and interviews published in nearly 200 media, including Los Angeles Magazine, American Airlines’ American Way, and Investor’s Business Daily. His interview subjects have included Bill Gates, Richard Branson, Meg Whitman, Reed Hastings, Howard Schultz, Larry Ellison, Kathy Ireland, and Quincy Jones.