People Solutions for the Decorative Building Products Industry

Designer Dream Job Survey Insights

What Designers Really, Really Want


As recruiters specializing in the decorative building products industry, Keercutter & Associates receives a lot of input and insight from clients and candidates alike. One of the most challenging positions we fill today is that of the kitchen and bath designer/salesperson. “There are strong expectations both ways,” notes Lynn Kirchgatter, owner of Keercutter & Associates. “Kitchen and bath designers/salespeople want to be well compensated, recognized for extra effort, and be a part of a supportive, well-organized work team.”

Kirchgatter continues, “And dealers who seek designers for their showroom want experienced and engaging salespeople who can close the deal, as well as a thorough, creative designer who completely satisfies the clients’ needs.”

According to the National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA), “Kitchen and bath designers are going to keep busy. One reason is demographics; aging baby boomers have the financial wherewithal to remodel their kitchens, and many will need to redo their baths to accommodate some physical limitations. And more than 36% of empty nesters today are opting for kitchen projects.”

The NKBA goes on to state, “From 2006 to 2016, there will be five million new professional services positions, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. And the kitchen and bath industry is one area of professional services that can’t be automated or outsourced.”

So, we thought we would solicit the confidential input of over 1,200 kitchen and bath designers in our contact list and see what they want… what they really, really want. From an array of 11 choices, surveyed designers force-ranked the importance of various job features. Respondents listed base salary, commission structure and location as the three most important features in a design job. Interestingly, the more socially-current features such as selling American-made products and volunteer paid time-off were at the bottom of the list.

Question asked of surveyed designers: Please rank the importance of the following job features.

Their responses:

1. Base salary–9.29 (weighted score)
2. Commission structure–7.39
3. Location–7.24
4. Benefits program (e.g. health, dental, vision insurance; 401K plan, etc.)–7.10
5. Flexible schedule–7.0
6. Working directly with clients in the sales process–5.93
7. Vacation time-off (paid)–5.88
8. Brands sold in showroom–5.41
9. Vendor SPIFF/rewards program opportunities–4.12
10. Sells American-made products–3.88
11. Volunteer time-off (paid)–2.76

An NKBA-certified kitchen and bath designer earns an average of $87,000 a year, owners of kitchen and bath design firms earn an average of $114,000 a year, and employees of kitchen and bath distributors earn an average of $76,000 a year, per the NKBA website.

However, according to the National Salary Trend, published by, the average kitchen and bath designer in the U.S. earns $61,000 per year. As a point of comparison, the same National Salary Trend data states that an interior designer in the U.S. earns only $24,000 per year.

“We know that a kitchen and bath designer/salesperson can potentially make or break the business,” remarks Kirchgatter. “Our clients tell us that there’s a lot of anxiety about hiring the right candidate.”

We also asked survey participants about their pain points. Far and away the top pain point for surveyed designers is base salary (10.67 weighted response score out of 11). The following four pain points were closely grouped: benefits program (7.87), commission structure (7.74), location (7.26), and vacation time-off (7.00).

“We find these pain points particularly interesting,” comments Kirchgatter. “The survey respondents were largely composed of kitchen and bath designers who’ve been in the industry either 11-20 years (37%) or over 21 years (47%), and their more seasoned perspectives are noteworthy.”

Kirchgatter continues, “We know this survey is directional only; however, when such a large pool of responses from experienced designers/salespeople indicates that the top three pain points revolve around financial concerns, it gives us pause about the approach our showroom owners are taking to acquire, compensate and support these candidates.”

According to a Kitchen & Bath Design News (KBDN) magazine 2013 survey, “While pre-recession, ‘bigger is better’ is what everyone seemed to aspire to, today kitchen and bath dealers are more cautious about expansion or any perceived waste. Many large showrooms either scaled back or went out of business due to high overhead costs during the recession and, as a result, ‘lean and mean’ has become the new hot trend.

“Dealers surveyed were also asked about how they see the showroom evolving over the next three years, and what key challenges they expect to be faced with. Still, most remained positive about the recovery, and several respondents say their biggest challenge soon may be finding qualified staff to handle all of the increased business.”

“Well, I believe we’re there now,” states Brian Kirchgatter, recruiter with Keercutter & Associates. “I know there are qualified designers and salespeople out there; however, there is a gap in expectations between dealers and kitchen designers.”

The fear-factor for dealers: finding qualified salespeople who go above and beyond.
“Although it would seem like there’s much more information available for consumers via the Internet, we’re finding that the more they know, the greater the need to spend time with them to provide further education and clarification of all the information out there,” comments one of the KBDN surveyed dealers. “I believe in the next few years, designers will have to go above and beyond and get even more involved than ever before to get the sale.”

We believe that kitchen and bath dealers need to reconsider their compensation packages for that experienced designer/salesperson who goes above and beyond, and invest in their staff with training available from the NKBA, local colleges, or online courses in topics such as creative design solutions and closing sales in today’s complex, information-rich climate.

We feel dealers should be open to leveraging the unique skills each candidate brings to the table, and allow a greater level of contribution in more ways, probably non-traditional ways, such as social media outreach for the business, networking events for the business, and more. By allowing and fostering greater employee engagement by all staff members, dealers will create a culture of inclusion and collaboration.

We also feel that designer/salesperson candidates need to shore-up their portfolios and resumes to more accurately deliver the information dealers are looking for. Be specific about creative design solutions, budget compliance, closing ratios, and more. Be a better salesperson for yourself – go in knowing what you need and a plan on how to get it.

We thank all the designers/salespeople who graciously shared their feedback in our “Designer Dream Job” survey! And, we congratulate Rick B., CKD from Indiana who is the winner of our $100 Visa Giftcard.

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