As one of the younger brands in the luxury appliance space, Signature Kitchen Suite is in prime position to disrupt the market. Director of Sales Mike O’Keefe chats about the ways the brand is innovating the luxury game and what excites him about working with Nationwide dealers.
Rob Stott: All right. We are back on the Independent Thinking Podcast and get to dive into a real fun episode this week on the podcast. If you were with us in Orlando at PrimeTime and you happen to walk by the luxury sort of area that we have set up, or you’re a luxury appliance dealer, or just a member that happened to be there with us in Orlando, you might have seen the team from Signature Kitchen Suite down there within the LG booth. Obviously a brand of LG, but making their PrimeTime debut and excited to have this week on the podcast Mike O’Keefe, the director of sales for SKS as it’s casually known, the Signature Kitchen Suite brand. But Mike, appreciate you taking the time and jumping into your first podcast with us.
Mike O’Keefe: My first podcast with you. Absolutely. And Rob, pleasure to be here. So thank you for letting me join the show today and taking the time.
Rob Stott: Yeah, well I say with us, your first podcast ever. So that’s really what I mean to say. So how you feeling about doing a podcast?
Mike O’Keefe: I’m ready to roll. We’ll see how it goes.
Rob Stott: Awesome. I’ll take it easy on you. No, but we appreciate it and obviously appreciate having you guys as part of the Nationwide family now. So before we dive into everything that you saw down there in Orlando and what PrimeTime was like, I want to give you a chance to kind of set the table. Tell us a little bit about yourself, about your background and kind of path to SKS.
Mike O’Keefe: Well, I consider myself an appliance veteran at this point in my career. I’ve been doing this now for over 25 years in this appliance industry. I think it’s actually probably officially 27. And then recently or earlier this spring, I joined the LG family and was brought on board to lead the sales effort as well as the brand in general as part of a team, but specifically to lead the sales effort for the Signature Kitchen Suite brand or SKS as we refer to it often across the country. So that’s my role here at LG.
Rob Stott: Awesome. And the partnership with Nationwide, we know just a few weeks old, which is awesome. Got you guys signed up, I think it was what, the beginning of August and then just two weeks later you’re there with us in Orlando. And we’ll get to Orlando, like I said in a second, but being a part of the Nationwide family now with SKS, what excites you about working with our dealers in this luxury appliance space?
Mike O’Keefe: Well, the timing worked out perfectly, the way I saw it. It had been the first opportunity that I had been involved in a show for a number of years. And so the short term excitement for me was literally just attending the show and getting a chance to see some familiar faces that I hadn’t seen for a while and get a chance to meet some new faces and just talk business. And it’s a very, I enjoy it. Obviously I’ve been doing it a long time. I love business, I love the appliance side of the business, so it was great to experience those conversations with a lot of the members there. But that was the short term excitement.
But the long term benefit and excitement for me is just the idea of a partnership. The way that I go about doing my job and working with my customers is it’s truly got to be a partnership Rob, something that will benefit both the dealer and the manufacturer and work at it together. And so the idea of planning their business activities, everything from marketing to in-store merchandising, to training and to customer service and service if there’s a problem, just all aspects of the business. So that’s what I like the idea of having this true partnership moving forward.
Rob Stott: And well kind of, I think answer this in both ways, but talking about your time at PrimeTime gives you a chance to sort of, people, especially in the luxury space, know the SKS name and what you guys bring to the table. But to be able to kind of start telling that story to our Nationwide family and our Nationwide dealers, what was sort of that message? How are you explaining the SKS brand and sort of what it brings to the table for those dealers, whether that’s just in general or down there at PrimeTime specifically?
Mike O’Keefe: Yeah. Well SKS is a newer brand. We are about six years old roughly. And it’s a brand that has been built from the ground up. And so we’re getting our name out there more and more every day. But the message behind the SKS brand to the members is innovation and quality, precision and being authentic. We have a tagline that we use that we want to be true to food. And so we talk about all different kinds of aspects with the SKS brand.
Rob Stott: So honing in a little more specifically on PrimeTime, you guys were part of the luxury, let me get it right, the craft cocktail tour that went on down there. And I mean aside from the iconic LG, the big ball of ice that was in your drinks, you had some really good times that were had in that booth as part of the cocktail tour. That was just one aspect of PrimeTime. So just how in general was the show for you guys and did anything specifically stand out about being there with us in Orlando?
Mike O’Keefe: Well, the thing that caught my attention first and foremost was the attendance. I think there was over 3000 people that attended the show. So at first I was just impressed by the mass amount of attendees and support that was given by the members and the vendors for that matter. So that was fantastic, but it was a great opportunity to meet some potential new customers, work with some current customers, and again, just kind of talk business in general. We did have the cocktail two hour, I think our drink was called a dark and stormy, and we had the craft ice as part of that offering without question.
Rob Stott: Yeah, that drink, I forget what specifically was in it, but it was a take on a mojito, what is it, a mojito or a certain type of a mule.
Mike O’Keefe: It had rum in it. It’s like a, I can’t remember the name of the drink.
Rob Stott: It was like a dirty Moscow mule or something like that but with rums instead of, yeah.
Mike O’Keefe: Rum in the drink instead of another liquor, I can’t remember what it is.
Rob Stott: But it was good. And like you said, aside from just being able to have that drink and be in the booth, it was a chance to kind of start telling that story to the members that were there. And you get to do it in front of the product as well, which I’m sure is a nice added benefit as well to be able to have that be a stop of the tour. But you guys showed us some, that was part of it. Right. You get to show off some new product and highlight some of the things that are going on. I know talking to Johnny O’Halloran specifically, one of the things that he’s excited about is the new refrigerator. Right. Is that something that you guys were showing off at this show?
Mike O’Keefe: Yeah, we’ve got a couple of different things that we show there. Some of the recent products we have, under counter refrigerator, freezer drawers that are convertible, those were there. We also have a new 42 inch traditional built in side by side refrigerator that is launching as we speak. And then probably the hit for us is a refrigerator that is new to the category, first one out there of its type that’ll launch in January of next year, but it’s a 48 inch built in French door refrigerator but it has some convertible drawers down below as well too. So it’s unique to its size and the offering in that 48 inch space. And at the same time, as new as it is, it also has the dimensions that will fit as a great replacement piece for someone that may have a traditional 48 inch side by side out there currently.
Rob Stott: No, it’s a really cool product and I just think the thing across the luxury category is that attention to detail and seeing things like handles as you open ranges that adjust so they’re easier to grab as you close them and things like that. I mean, kind of goes to the certain type of client and the things they look for, but it’s also those things that just sort of speaking like a salesman, I’m not a trained salesman, but you think of the details that you don’t expect to have in a product, but that just kind of bring an added benefit of whether it’s simplicity or innovation as something that you guys are big proponents of. It’s just cool to see sort of the new things you’re able to work into this category that a traditional customer, traditional luxury customer might not necessarily think of, but it just elevates that experience of the product.
Mike O’Keefe: Well, I’ll give you two quick examples on that refrigerator that we just talked about. The refrigeration drawers itself, when you look across the height of those, the cut between the refrigerator and the freezer compartment, that line is at the direct height of your kitchen countertop and that’s designed specifically on purpose. So it has the design lines and there’s a flow to it. Another thing that we have done with traditional cooking, your stainless steel runs horizontal, the sheen of the stainless steel runs that way. And refrigeration, it’s very rare that something like that happens.
But at the SKS brand, we have our stainless steel sheen running horizontal as well on our refrigerators to match our cooking products. So just even the little nuances like that are something that we think about. If you take a look at our ranges and wall ovens, you’ll look at the fit and the feel and the finish of it and you’ll look for screws and things like that. And you’re not going to find those in spaces and areas where they shouldn’t be to have those great design lines and the look and the feel of that quality product that it is.
Rob Stott: You talk about the age of the brand or relatively what it’s just in, if it’s six, it would be just entering first grade, is that right? So still a young brand, but some of those things that you’re talking about is as you sort of get more involved and see sort of the capabilities and things that are being produced, is there something, anything that surprises you or is an untold story of what SKS brings to the table that you think a dealer should know as they’re talking to their clients?
Mike O’Keefe: Well, I mean it’s a brand. We have a tagline that we use called Technicurean. And basically what we describe that as is the home chef situation that combines their passion for food along with their appreciation for technology. Right. So it’s not your traditional appliance that’s been around for years and years and years. Like we said, we’ve developed this from the ground level, the ground up. It’s been a brand to your point for six years. So it would be in first grade about now. I make that joke or that reference often as well too.
So we’re a little bit of a unique brand, is how we view ourselves and we want to be true to food. So we want the food to be as much as it can be, basically is one thing I say. And we’ve got some innovative products in our ranges where we offer sous vide cooking in addition to gas and induction all on the same range for lack of a better term. And that’s pretty easy to use, that sous vide cooking, it’s very precise, it’s a very unique thing and nobody else has that in this industry. So we like to think we’re a little bit unique and different as far as some of the offerings we have as well too. In addition to the technology and the quality.
Rob Stott: It might be another way of asking that same question, but is there a benefit to being a young brand in this space? I mean there’s others out there of course, that have been around longer, but being that still relatively young brand, does it bring any added benefit to, whether it’s on the product side or just how you kind of tell your story from a brand perspective?
Mike O’Keefe: Rob, I think the answer to that is yes, I really feel that way. It’s almost like you’ve got a blank canvas. For brands that have been out there for a lot of years and there’s a ton of great brands that are out there, but they kind of have their path and their destination and their journey already scheduled, if you will, where at SKS, it’s still new, it’s fresh, that board is fairly clean. There’s some things written on it, but we are in the mode of skew edition and we’re going to expand into other categories and there’s a roadmap as far as products that we’ll have over the next year to five years to 10 years. A lot of other manufacturers in this industry in general, they’re always worried about skew reduction. Right. We’re not in that mode. We’re growing still and we get to pick and develop and design whatever it is going to be new and trendy that the consumer wants. We have a blank canvas to try to create that moving forward. And I really like that idea.
Rob Stott: And it kind of gets to, you mentioned the journey, right, and that’s something that has been, I think for the last couple of PrimeTime shows, wasn’t necessarily a specific theme of this most recent show in Orlando, but we’ve had a lot of discussion around the shopper journey and what that looks like across all categories, whether that’s the furniture and bedding or the CE side, obviously the appliance side. And more specifically, I know I mentioned him already, but Mr. O’Halloran has really zeroed in on that luxury shopping experience and how that’s evolved over time, especially these last couple of years with the pandemic and how more customers are doing shopping online, or at least a high majority of them are starting that process online and then coming in store with the luxury category, kind of leading that way of driving the in-store traffic from the online experience. So from your seat, how has that shopping experience evolved specific to the luxury category?
Mike O’Keefe: Well over the last couple years the luxury category and the appliance category in general, the sales cycle has definitely changed. It’s evolved to some degree. The sell cycle or the process cycle to complete from the time that Rob, you decide you want to remodel your house or you’re going to build a house, you’ve got to plan in advance for everything that’s going to go in there. And appliances is one of those. And it used to be a situation where you could go in and get your appliance in a very short period of time, but over the last couple of years, this industry in general as a totality, has really slowed down that cycle. And sometimes you’re waiting a year for your products to show up. And so it’s very hard to schedule things.
One of the great things that we’ve had the fortune of being able to do at Signature Kitchen Suite is increase the amount of production that we need over time. So our lead time has stayed relatively short and so we’ve got product. We’re not in a situation where you’re going to wait a long period of time for your products. We have the ability to increase and decrease production based on our needs and we’ve stayed ahead of that curve. And so for us it hasn’t changed as much as far as the timing of it goes, but is a general rule in this industry, the cycle time has gotten drastically longer to get your appliances without question.
Rob Stott: Sure. How about on the, you mentioned the customer and obviously lead times are one thing, just the process itself of looking for, your shopping within the luxury space, has that evolved at all because of the, not necessarily push to online, but I guess the comfort level of a consumer looking online for product? Does that impact the luxury space from your perspective?
Mike O’Keefe: It absolutely can. I think for a number of years now, consumers have been doing their research online. They’re going to get a foundation of that information digitally, if you will. They’ll have other articles that they’ll read, consumers reports, various different things. Right. But at the end of the day, I think it’s still important. And the large majority of the luxury customers, it’s still important for them to go into the local dealers location, to those regional dealers and actually look at the product because you’re not going to understand that design line that I talked about earlier on the refrigerator if you’re just looking at it online. You’re not going to notice that the sheen of the horizontal of our stainless steel refrigerators goes horizontal and it matches the cooking. You can’t get that from online. So you can do all the research you want online, but I still think that luxury consumer is going to go into the local stores to make their selections and view the products in person.
Rob Stott: And to that end, what advice would you share for the retailer? Obviously you mentioned that the customers are starting that process online or they’re comfortable doing that, but they’re still going to come in. So what’s a take? What’s a winning strategy or some advice you’d give to that local retailer to ensure that they can close that customer as they come into the store and have that good experience that sets them up as a customer for life, if you will?
Mike O’Keefe: Well, the appliance category and the luxury channel specifically, they are the appliance expert. The customer is coming into their local business because they need advice, they need input, they can do all the research, but that retail sales associate knows more about that appliance than that consumer’s ever going to want to know. Right. And so it starts with the marketing. You’ve got to have the right offering for that consumer to come into the store. But then once they’re in that store, if I’m the appliance dealership, I want to create that partnership with a manufacturer that’s going to help support my brand and be there when we need it. Offer innovative products, offer very quality products, have the service network designed where if there is an issue after the sale that you have the ability to stand behind that product and get it rolling and to have very unique type products as well too. So just something new, something different, something of quality, innovation, and then have that customer support behind it. Somebody that offers all of those aspects to really have a tight partnership.
Rob Stott: And I know in-store experience has a lot to do with it and we’ve seen some pretty unique examples of dealers having events and things like that to show off product. Just looking forward, what kind of, you talked about it a little bit earlier, but what excites you sort of moving forward to wrap this up about working with these dealers and getting more of the SKS brand out in front of the nationwide membership?
Mike O’Keefe: Well, like we’ve talked about a little bit already, Rob, it’s a new brand and so we’re still exposing it to the world. There’s a lot of Nationwide members that currently work with the Signature Kitchen Suite brand, but there’s also a decent amount of members that we still need to have those conversations with. So it’s now the time where we’re going to have our local field representatives and myself, we’ll be setting up meetings and talking with various Nationwide members and just about the opportunity that we can have together to try to grow our business. It helps both that local regional dealer and it helps LG and Signature Kitchen Suite as well too. So my biggest excitement now is to execute it and have the conversations and then move forward from planning for 23.
Rob Stott: Awesome. And I know part of that planning includes a stop in Dallas for PrimeTime in March, so we’re looking forward to that and we get the extra month of planning for it, but we know it’ll be here before we know it. So Mike, look forward to,
Mike O’Keefe: Already got the dates on the calendar.
Rob Stott: Yeah, there it is. March 25th through 28th, I believe so.
Mike O’Keefe: 25th through the 28th. That’s absolutely. Correct.
Rob Stott: Get that save the date out there and we’ll see you down there. But no Mike, this was awesome. Great to catch up with you and learn a little bit more, dive into the SKS brand and see what you guys are doing. So we look forward to seeing the partnership grow and our members take advantage of really awesome and innovative brand that we’ve added to the roster here at Nationwide. So appreciate the time.
Mike O’Keefe: Thank you Rob. Appreciate it as well.