In business, it's all about relationships ó at least that's how the folks at North Star Surfaces look at it. Maybe that's why the distribution company's recent True Direction/Clear Choice "road show," which traveled to 10 Midwestern cities over a period two months earlier this year, seems to make so much sense.
"The primary reason for the tour was to get back to our roots, to listen to what people on the street have to say," explains Frank Kaiser, sales manager for North Star. "It was an opportunity for management and some of our inside office people to meet customers face to face ó to give them an opportunity to express their concerns and offer constructive criticism. It demonstrates our philosophy that people like to buy from people."
In a way, the whole affair was like a miniature traveling circus. During one three-day period, for example, the North Star "troupe" visited the cities of Iowa City, Omaha and Kansas City. The daylight hours were spent hosting seminars on design, fabrication and product knowledge and, of course, greeting and schmoozing visitors. Come darkness, however, tour members were busy breaking down displays, loading everything onto trucks and driving to the next city, only to do the same thing the next day.
"It was very tiring," says Kaiser, "but definitely worth the effort."
In total, approximately 500 fabricators, kitchen and bath designers and architects were drawn to the day-long events. Architects had the opportunity to gain Continuing Education Units (CEUs), which were applied toward maintaining their certification in the AIA, by attending a basic class on the properties and uses of solid surface materials. That course was immediately followed by a session oriented more to the design aspects of solid surface and the other surfacing options offered by North Star. Fabricators were treated to tool demonstrations, seminars on fabrication and repair techniques for solid surface and maintenance and repair of quartz surfacing.
And there was plenty of good food and drink on hand for everyone.
"I think all of the people who attended walked away with a pretty clear view of what we offer and who we are," Kaiser says. "They had a chance to sample some of our company culture and what is it that makes up North Star."
Currently, the company distributes LG Hi-Macs solid surface; its own line of premium solid surface colors and textures call the North Star Collection; Green River Fossil Stone; Silestone; the North Star Naturals collection of natural stone, soapstone and other exotic stone species; and Teka stainless steel sinks. The total distribution area covers all or part of 11 Midwestern states. Three distribution centers, located in St. Paul , Chicago and Detroit , insure there is plenty of product available for just about any size project a customer may come across.
The crowning event of North Star's road show was an Open House hosted at the company's St. Paul headquarters, which is housed in a complex of buildings that once served as maintenance shops for railroad cars and locomotives. In addition to the standard fare of seminars and product exhibits, visitors were treated to tours of the creatively refurbished building. No one was allowed to go hungry as platters of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies circulated continuously and which served as prelude to a feast of barbeque, hot dogs and burgers held under the big top in the parking lot. Local live entertainment did their part to contribute to the festival atmosphere.
Reflecting on the events of the previous two months, Kaiser has but one word to describe his emotions. "Gratifying," he says. "I think we accomplished the goals we set out to accomplish and we were very gratified by the response we got from our customer base. Would we do it again? I think so. We won't do it every year, but we will certainly do it again. We would probably do it better and . . . probably bigger."
Good for them. Good for us.