For 90+ years, consumers in the New York City area have trusted their kitchen and bath renovations to the team of experts at Klaff’s.
“Klaff’s is a one-stop shop and a destination for luxury home goods for a reason. There are a lot of different trades involved in today’s projects as well as the need for diverse products and a strong knowledge base,” explains Nick Geragi, CKD, CBD, ASID, and general manager of kitchen business at the Norwalk showroom. “Doing a kitchen or bath these days involves so many categories ‒ lighting, tile, plumbing, countertops, cabinetry, and door hardware – that it takes a team to make sure each area is serviced properly between the trades, builders, designers, and homeowners. That is why we are truly a project store.”
The family-run New England retailer has evolved from a plumbing retailer in the 1920s to become a major force in kitchen and bath design. The flagship South Norwalk, Conn. store presents 7,000 lighting fixtures on two floors as well as 3,000 bath products. There are five distinct walk-through gallery showrooms: Lighting, Kitchens, Bath, Decorative Hardware, and Tile & Stone. However, it is the tradition of full service that has brought Klaff’s to the forefront in kitchen and bath design.
By offering top-of-line products, the retailer has also attracted a highly professional staff. “We have designers staffing every department from lighting and plumbing to cabinetry. They are coordinated by an overall team leader who liaisons with the builder, the homeowner, and the designer in each of our departments,” Geragi explains.
With so many specialists involved, organization is essential. Geragi points out that an overall storyboard for each project is developed before work begins. The team takes into account the budget for each job, works with an overall color scheme, and narrows the choices of surfaces and products for the project to styles that will work with the house as a whole.
“No matter what the economy, we rise to the challenge of offering the homeowner huge options in pricing,” he asserts. Since 2010, one of those options has meant the store’s own line of mid-range custom cabinetry with wood construction and dovetailed, soft-close drawers.
Despite the increase in Internet surfing, Geragi finds that consumers still want to examine the products up-close that will be used in their homes. “The reality is the Internet is the great equalizer and has changed the approach of every business. We find that consumers still want to touch, and when we can show them stylish products at competitive price points, they are pleasantly surprised.”
Geragi notes that it is the DIY shopper armed with mobile devices and more information than ever who can become easily confused about comparisons in quality versus price – and this is where Klaff’s professionals step in.
“These shoppers know the terminology and know what questions to ask, but do not understand the nuances and details that create a similar look. For example, they may see a popular style of hardware online and it looks comparable to a higher-priced product. The first product may be made of zinc and not brass. They don’t understand why brass is more expensive, but it starts a conversation for us on quality and longevity.”
Klaff’s has parlayed its expertise in cabinetry and lighting design into other areas of the home. “We have been commissioned to do libraries and home offices, and are now doing his and hers closets and dressing rooms plus walk-in pantries for kitchens,” he says.
Beyond the special projects, Geragi has noticed that consumers have a new perspective. “It seems that since 9/11 people look at their homes in a different way. They are gravitating toward more simple design. We still have some customers who desire elaborate Baroque details, but for most they want a simpler, transitional approach to design and finishes.”
That said, plans are hardly simple – especially when it comes to the lighting. Geragi prefers to incorporate new lighting technology, but sees LEDs as a double-edged sword. “There is a lot of confusion about LEDs among consumers, and with regulations and wattages,” he explains. “There is also the question of quality – especially in color consistency – and there is a definite need for high-quality LED fixtures.”
The kitchens and baths are still a fashion industry, Geragi notes, “and it’s our challenge to create a design that is stunning, but at a price point the customer wants.”
Three Generations of Family
The success of Klaff’s all-encompassing kitchen and bath design center is a model that has been emulated across the country. Most of the time design centers evolve, as new categories are added over time. The progression of Klaff’s has such a history.
Begun by the husband-and-wife team of Joe and Mary Klaff in 1921, the company started as a wholesale plumbing supply resource that targeted builders. With superior service as the overriding principle, the Klaffs would even seek out products they didn’t carry in order to assist a client.
As World War II affected every business in the country, the Klaffs responded as availability of certain key products vanished. They introduced lighting fixtures and simple hardware to supplement their smaller assortment of plumbing fixtures.
The housing boom after the war changed the model again, with Klaff’s adding lumber to feed the building frenzy. It didn’t take long for Joe Klaff to see the opportunity in complete home packages. Their K Homes included plumbing, lumber, electrical supplies, and lighting fixtures as well as the building plans. Soon the store was also offering cabinetry, tile, flooring, and stylish lighting fixtures – all with the goal of remaining a full-service resource.
The story of adaptation continued with the second generation – daughters Debbie Klaff Katz and Mollie Klaff Passero – who took the enterprise in a new fashion direction, enabling the business to stand apart from local competition. In the 1960s, they grew the lighting category with a major emphasis on interior and exterior fixtures as well as decorative floor and table lamps. The same attention was applied to hardware as the more practical items were replaced with decorative models. The lumber business was closed as well.
The ’70s saw the growth of high-end lines and the store’s emphasis on merchandising. As the trend toward fashion grew through the 1980s, so did Klaff’s with the addition of exclusive and high-end lines in bath, lighting, and hardware, as well as the introduction of interior and exterior lighting labs to better show customers and designers the effects of new light sources, namely CFLs and low-voltage rail fixtures.
The 54 vignettes serve the store well with all categories integrated regardless of the department where the vignette is located. The next step for the three-generation enterprise (grandson Joe Klaff Passero is now chairman and coo) in the 1990s was professional design services for lighting as well as kitchens and baths.
Today, a fully operational kitchen which hosts guest chefs and a refrigerated wine cellar can be found in the 33,000-sq.-ft. Norwalk showroom. A full-size computer monitor allows customers to view life-sized, 3D renderings of kitchen plans.
Selection and service remain the foundation for this retailer, but it is an astute, honest approach to changing economic and consumer trends that has kept Klaff’s a vital part of the surrounding design community.