Appliances play a major role in any Kitchen Design.

With the chaos of choice in appliances I am often asked:

What influences you when specifying appliances for your client?

Influences are many, including features, finishes, size, aesthetics, availability and the client’s budget.

But when it comes down to it, what influences me the most is how much I know about the appliance.

This comes down to how well educated am I on a particular brand.

Read on to see how certain manufactures really excelled on educating me and in turn, giving me the knowledge and confidence to specify their appliances.

What a handful manufactures did was invite me to join one of their Designer Tours.

These tours are trips to the manufactures facility where the Kitchen Designer is trained and educated on specific brands by the people who are developing, testing, and manufacturing the products.

You could not get better knowledge than this!

I have been fortunate to have been invited on four different designer tours to major North American appliance manufactures in the past 15 years.

This target-marketing has played a major influence on my specifications of appliances to my clients.

It wasn’t just the free trip, but the behind the scenes knowledge I gained on each tour that influenced me in recommending these manufacturers.

Let’s look at the Designer Tours I have attended and what I took away from them.

Dacor: Diamond Bar, California

A newly installed training Kitchen for the Dacor Brand

This was my first trip to an appliance manufactures facility.

It was quite a few years ago and this facility is now closed, but I remember it well.

I landed in sunny California and was whisked away by limo to a Pasadena hotel.

It was early afternoon so I took a walk to get a feel for the area.

Just being in California made me think of innovation, youthfulness and entertaining. 

That evening about 20 designers and regional representatives met for dinner at a chic outdoor restaurant. This was the beginning of a very friendly, casual experience.

The tour of the manufacturing facility focused on how the then family owned Dacor, developed their products based on consumer needs.

At the time they felt their appliances were more user-friendly than the competitors, and not as “heavy” looking as other products on the market.

On day two as part of the training, we were brought to their cooking facility where a chef demonstrated Dacor products.

This is where I first learned about true convection and how to cook with it. Up until then it just meant air moving around to me.

There was great dialogue with the executives of the company and the designers in attendance. They truly wanted to know what we thought and wanted from their products.

The trip was not all work and no play.

The Gamble House by Green & Green

We were offered some site seeing excursions on the last day and I took advantage of a tour to the Gamble House by Architect’s Green & Green.

This opened my eyes to the world of Arts and Crafts design. It was incredible to see how a whole room could be designed around a single piece of pottery.

Dacor not only introduced me to their product, they expanded my design knowledge.

I often recommended the Dacor product to clients looking for user-friendly products that work with medium sized homes.

At the time, they were one of the first manufacturers that produced all appliance categories for the kitchen.

A real plus when trying to design a cohesive look in the Kitchen.

The Dacor brand has now been bought out by a global manufacturer but it is still one of my go-to products when designing a Kitchen.

Theramdor, Gaggenau & Bosch: Chicago, Illinois

BSH Home Appliance Training Center

This trip was more “business” than any of the other Designer Tours I have attended.

It began with a dinner at an upscale Italian restaurant in the suburbs near the training facility with the other Designers attending along with the executives from the company.

The next day we headed to the BSH Home Appliance training facility.

We spend two full days in a classroom environment, where we were given a lot of product knowledge, but it did start to all blend together.

It was hard to take in all that product information, but I did grasp the rebuilding of the Thermador brand from this trip.

In the early 90’s I had worked for the Thermador distributor in Vancouver, and the product seemed to have disappeared. I was glad to see that it was back.

One of the highlights of the training was cooking with the products.

We were set up in their test kitchen and supplied with all the ingredients.

I loved the Gaggenau steam cooktop. It made a fabulous risotto with no stirring!

Unfortunately, there was not much free time on this trip. I am a walker and missed not getting out.

We did however, venture outside of the classroom to the Chicago Merchandise Mart for a tour and we were taken as a group to a great Jazz bar in Chicago one night.

After that trip I was the first designer in my area to specify the Thermador “Freedom” refrigerator and I have used many of the unique Gaggenau pieces in my designs.

I also will recommend Bosch dishwashers because of their good price point.

Thinking back, a little less information would have left me with more product knowledge in the long run.

Sub-Zero & Wolf: Madison, Wisconsin

Sub Zero and Wolf Training Theater at the Bakke Center

Luxury is what really comes to mind when I think of this manufacturer and this trip.

It is a bit out of the way to get to, but well worth it.

I arrived mid afternoon and was installed in a great hotel within walking distance the Madison, Wisconsin college town’s hot spots.

It was nice just to get out and stroll down to the center of town and get my bearings.

Early that evening we walked over to a local restaurant for dinner where we met our hosts and the rest of the Designers.

The next morning we were taken to Westye F. Bakke Training Center where we were encouraged to explore.

The facility included a corporate dining room, a private dining room, a corporate kitchen, two demonstration kitchens, a product gallery area, a private dining room, a “break room” and a demonstration theatre.

The lobby was exquisite. Hanging in the centre of the 3-story lobby was a collection of Fortuny glass chandeliers.

The architecture was like nothing I had ever seen at a manufactures facility. Once again an appliance manufacturer has presented me with design knowledge.

The program was well presented.

We spent time in the theatre, the test kitchens and two of their production plants.

The main reason for this Designer group visit, was to have a look at new refrigeration that was being introduced.

The product knowledge was focused on Sub-Zero, but we were given highlights of the Wolf products.

Something that I really enjoyed was when the heads of each department came on stage and answered questions from the group.

It made me believe that they really cared about the client’s satisfaction with their product.

Cooking with the products was a highlight and the test kitchens were beautiful.

I do specify these products a lot.

I retained a lot of the information they presented and thoroughly enjoyed my experience with Sub Zero/Wolf.

They have always been my go to refrigeration recommendation and I encourage their cooking equipment when clients are looking for that true professional experience.

In 2020 I was invited once again to this great facility but COVID had other plans for us all.

I look forward to checking them out again soon.

Viking: Greenwood, Mississippi

Viking Cooking School

All I can say is “Southern hospitality is like no other”.

If you have never been to the south you have to go.

This trip was extremely entertaining.

I landed in Memphis mid afternoon and was brought by driver to the Peabody Hotel, affectionately known as Memphis’s living room.

We had some free time so I took the opportunity to walk around and explore.

That night we were taken to BB Kings restaurant on Beal Street for our first Southern meal. After dinner we strolled onto the street for a magical evening.

(I am glad the bear claw tattoo was not permanent!)

Since we were in Memphis we could not leave with out a pilgrimage to Graceland. I have never really been a big Elvis fan, but it was fascinating.

Greenwood, Mississippi: Home of Viking Corp.

Later that afternoon we were taken to a great boutique hotel in the small town of Greenwood, Mississippi.

That evening we walked across the road to the Viking cooking school and made ourselves dinner.

The training over the next 3 days was really varied.

The presenters were very down to earth and approachable.

They covered all of their products well and I gleamed useful information from each presentation.

We toured many of their facilities, centered in and around Greenwood.

The Viking Corporation has revitalized the downtown core of this small town, by purchasing and converting many of the buildings into corporate offices.

There was a ton of eating on this trip. It seemed like food was coming out every couple of hours!

When it came time to cook with their products, I always tried to make something southern. I did blackened cat fish one afternoon and Grits one morning.

In my practice, I recommend the Viking products to clients looking to make a statement.

I love the colors available through Viking. There is nothing more stunning than a cobalt blue range as a focal point in a kitchen.

I do admit that these Designer Tours have influenced me over the years.

I feel confident recommending the appliances I learned about on them.

These facility visits have deepened my knowledge of specific products.

I also made connections that allow me to reach out when I or my clients have specific questions.

I have been to many training seminars at dealer’s showrooms, where I have learned a lot, but there is something said for going to the plant were the products are developed and made.

So, having analyzed this marketing strategy by appliance manufacturers, I have to say it works.

As a designer I am more knowledgeable in specific appliance products, general design, geography, packing light and how weather patterns affect air travel.

For the manufacturer, they are able to connect with designers that are on the front line.

They gain insights into the designer/client relationship, which cannot be tracked through conventional sales analysis.

I hope this type of experience continues to be something that appliance manufactures offer.

Even though it is a time commitment for myself, I will attend as many as I can, and will share my experience with my private clients and you the Kitchen Designer!

Have you attended a manufactures Designer Tour? I’d love to hear about it so leave me a comment below.

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Jan Rutgers B.Sc. H.Ec.

Jan Rutgers has been designing kitchens and products for over 25 years and is a recipient of Kitchen & Bath Design News’ Top Innovators in 2020 for the Kitchen & Bath Industry. She has designed more than 1000 kitchens learning valuable skills with each one! Her experience in Kitchen Design, Millwork Manufacturing and Product Development has led her to create VESTABUL SCHOOL OF DESIGN where she educates and mentors people passionate about the Kitchen Design Industry.

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