When the D.C./Baltimore-area audio-video specialists at Gramophone acquired a kitchen and bath design center last year, the company was already well on its way to offering more complete design-build services to complement its three other brick-and-mortar AV showrooms.
Led by Brian Hudkins, who founded the company over 40 years ago, and CEO Andrew Davis, the company had hired a 30-year veteran of the custom-building trade to design finished basements and dedicated home theaters in a turn-key fashion. That led to sales relationships with high-end appliance brands like Wolf, Viking, Jenn Air, and Subzero. Acquiring a kitchen and bath showroom seemed like a natural next step.
“It’s a ‘vehicle’ that we are using to get in front of architects and designers and homebuilders to talk about lighting and automation,” Davis explained. “Typically, when customers come to our AV showrooms, the biggest challenge is… the paint’s drying on the wall and they end up with wireless products that are really not what their core vision was or what they wanted. So I saw this as an opportunity to be part of the design earlier in the process so we can educate.”
As Davis described it, rather than a typical AV showroom featuring a “wall of TVs” or AV-centric vignettes, the new Kitchen Design Center of Maryland (KDC), located in the Baltimore suburbs of Hunt Valley/Cockeysville, features a full assortment of contemporary cabinets, countertops, furniture, bathroom fixtures, and flooring, as well as voice control technology, invisible speakers, hidden televisions on lifts, and Séura TVs in backsplashes or in the bathroom.
“It’s a way to disguise the AV but keep it at an important point of discussion throughout the process,” Davis added. “And all of a sudden, the barriers come down. Then, the person in the family with the design flare says, ‘OK, we can have this, because it doesn’t take over the space.’”
Gramophone also opened the area’s first lighting laboratory in the space, featuring technology from Lutron, Ketra, DMF, and others. “Someone can come into our showroom and in 10 minutes get a whole education and understanding of lighting that they’re too embarrassed to say they really don’t understand,” Davis added. “What does Kelvin mean? What is color temperature and beam spread? They’re all really important things, but we find that most of our clients just nod their head and act like they get it. This is a way of truly seeing it and understanding it.”
The goal is still to direct clients toward more technology purchases through the Trojan horse of kitchen and bath. “People start there, and then if they want to get into a custom theater or basement, they can go down the road to one of our other stores and see more offerings. It’s a major growth strategy for us.”
Gramophone hopes to use the momentum generated by its kitchen and bath showroom to open two more AV locations within the next two years. But for now, Davis says, the company can’t hire enough designers and team members fast enough at its kitchen and bath design center. “We do all the work internally, subcontracting little to nothing. We have electricians on staff, carpenters, tile people… everything. It’s pretty neat.”