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Fined Tuned Fortune

[ 0 ] Jan. 1, 2007 | SBO Editor

The home improvement industry is a male-dominated arena. Heidi Morrissey realized that when she made the decision to join the corporate staff of Kitchen Tune-Up, the home improvement franchise system founded in 1988 by her father, Dave Haglund.

All four of Morrissey’s siblings had worked at the family business. Morrissey joined the Aberdeen, S.D.-based franchisor in May 2003, having previously worked as a preschool and kindergarten teacher after graduating from college and later becoming extremely successful in the direct-sales keepsake album industry while being a stay-at-home mother to three young daughters.

Admitting she knew “nothing about the business whatsoever,” Morrissey was joining the largest custom cabinet company in the franchising industry. She knew she would be given no preferential treatment and that she would have to earn her stripes quickly.

Starting initially by answering phones, reading manuals and “bothering everybody in the office everyday with questions,” Morrissey immersed herself in her father’s business. She soon began to see where her skills could be put to use and jumped in without hesitation.

Today, Morrissey is vice president of marketing and sales, the only female among Kitchen Tune-Up’s upper-management team and the likely successor to her father in assuming a leadership role within the company.

“Just because you come in under the namesake of ‘Haglund’ doesn’t mean you get automatic respect—you probably get less. People wonder if you’re here only because of your birthright,” Morrissey said. “At first, being the only woman on the upper management team was a huge barrier for me. It probably brought out the ‘tougher’ side of me quite quickly. I had to prove I could learn things and do them well.”

Kitchen Tune-Up originated when Haglund first recognized a niche market for cabinet reconditioning in 1986. The successful owner of a cabinet distributorship, Haglund noticed the wear-and-tear on a customer’s six-year-old cabinets and offered to touch up the worn areas using a combination of stains and oils. The homeowner was thrilled with the result and Haglund spent several years perfecting the process before selling the first Kitchen Tune-Up franchise in December 1988.

By December 1989, Kitchen Tune-Up had grown to 54 franchises, aided in part by a small article in Family Circle magazine touting the cabinet reconditioning service. It generated 10,000 calls the world over from individuals interested in either having the service done or buying a franchise.

The company has maintained its robust start, growing to 165 franchise owners who operate 310 territories in 39 states. Kitchen Tune-Up has never had an unprofitable year, with systemwide revenue increasing 25 percent in 2005 and 35 percent in 2004. Its services have expanded to include cabinet refacing; custom cabinetry and countertops; complete interior wood restoration, including no-sand wood floor restoration; tub and shower lining systems; closet organization systems and cabinet accessories.

“We have really become a home remodeling company,” said Haglund, president of Kitchen Tune-Up.”
As Kitchen Tune-Up has evolved and prospered, so has Morrissey, whose title of vice president of marketing and sales is somewhat misleading since she seems to almost run out of breath in describing her numerous responsibilities. While she loved teaching, Morrissey also possessed sharp business acumen, as evidenced by her direct-sales success in the keepsake album industry, where she had more than 50 consultants reporting to her.

Morrissey learned an early lesson when she joined Kitchen Tune-Up: Men and women communicate very differently. While Morrissey liked to discuss decisions, she found that men were inclined to make them quickly, so she instituted 30-minute weekly staff meetings in an effort to improve communication. The results were beneficial.

“I feel that I am often the emotional connection in the organization,” Morrissey said. “Having run a home-based business and since many of our franchise owners are home-based, I can empathize with people and read them well. I think people appreciate that I try to get everyone on board with decisions before they are made. When I have to be tough, I can do it, but I think my strength is that I truly care about our owners and I tend to mother them and their business.”

Continuing the success of Kitchen Tune-Up is paramount to Haglund, who has also recognized the need and importance of succession planning – though he’s not planning on slowing down anytime soon. An avid golfer and racquetball player, Haglund says he’d like to stay active in the company until he’s 70.

But questions on the subject occasionally arise, especially from prospective franchisees who come to Kitchen Tune-Up’s Discovery Days. Many come from corporate America, where their jobs have either been downsized or outsourced. They are looking for an escape from such instability.

“People would ask the question quite often,” Haglund said. “So I said if we’re going to have a goal and a plan, we’re going to do it together as a family.”

About 14 years ago, Haglund—along with son, Tony, a Lutheran minister and former executive vice president with Kitchen Tune-Up—became part of a grass-roots group of family business owners who formed the South Dakota Family Business Association, funded in part by the University of South Dakota. Heidi joined the Association one year ago.

Succession planning is an important consideration for any family-owned business, especially since 90 percent of U.S. businesses are either family-owned or family-controlled, according to the United States Small Business Administra-tion. Yet only 30 percent of family-run companies today succeed into the second generation. An even smaller 15 percent survive into the third. According to many experts, the main reason is lack of an orderly succession plan.

“Our franchisees are doing the same type of planning for their sons and daughters who might be coming into theirbusinesses,” Haglund said. “It was important that they know Kitchen Tune-Up was going to be around to help their future generations.”
Haglund even admits that if Morrissey had not shown any interest in cultivating a leadership role in Kitchen Tune-Up, he would have considered selling the company.

All of the Haglund children have ties to the company. Tony (41) spent nine years with Kitchen Tune-Up before leaving for the ministry. Brian (36) is a former franchisee who is now a musician and songwriter in Minneapolis, while Mark (32) has been with the company 10 years and is a vice president for customer service. Heather (28) is also a longtime employee, but is working part-time as she cares for her two young children.

Haglund said that Morrissey’s personality is similar to his own. He’s always considered himself a salesman, even though such traits aren’t supposed to translate into making strong managers.

“I think I’m a little bit of a mold breaker, I’m a pretty good manager and a good salesman,” Haglund said. “Heidi is the same way and she has gained the respect of our franchisees and corporate staff. That’s the first thing you have to do. You have to show that you know how to do things, not just that you are filling a position.”

With a firm succession plan already in place for Kitchen Tune-Up’s second generation, Haglund will soon be turninghis attention to the third generation.

“Our franchisees are starting to see that this is an organization that relies on multiple people,” Morrissey said. “That’s a healthy environment for a company. My father is still at the helm and providing leadership, but it’s also important that other capable people have plans for the future of the company, too. A company should not be based upon just one person.” •

Heidi Morrissey worked as a preschool and kindergarten teacher before joining the corporate staff of Kitchen Tune-Up founded in 1988 by her father, Dave Haglund.

Kitchen Tune-Up has never had an unprofitable year with systemwide revenue increasing 25 percent in 2005 and 35 percent in 2004. Services have expanded to include cabinet refacing, custom cabinetry and countertops, complete interior wood floor restoration and more.

Category: Magazine, Start Your Own Business, Start Your Own Business Winter 2007