Joni Zimmerman, Design Solutions

Pete and Rene Feather were retired and ready to build their dream house in southern Maryland. The builder they chose was more than competent but when it came down to the selections for kitchen and bath, he could see that they just weren't happy. This insightful builder introduced the couple to Joni Zimmerman of Design Solutions.

"The thing that most impressed us was our first meeting [with Zimmerman]," says Rene Feather. "She asked us a lot of questions and basically did an analysis of our lifestyle. Through very good listening [skills], she came up with a plan that translated our needs into our dream kitchen."

The Feathers' scenario is characteristic of Zimmerman, who describes her clientele as those who want individual design and attention. "They're not looking to duplicate somebody else's kitchen," she says. "Our task is to understand what the clients want and need and
give that to them. Most of the time, they cannot communicate that verbally. We build a relationship with the clients...get into their brains and their hearts. The kitchen is a very personal space with a lot of dreams. We are trying to understand what they are looking for within a buying level they are comfortable with."

Zimmerman had studied art and psychology in college and was working in the psychology field when she answered an ad in the paper for a kitchen design company in Cleveland. After 18 months in sales, she was promoted to showroom manager. Just in her early twenties, Zimmerman was eager to set out on her own, out of state and away from the shelter of family. She moved to Florida and took a job in design/sales for a kitchen business there. "It was fun to live in Florida," she recalls. "I had a great time, but business was slow because people there were doing boats and pools." Zimmerman decided that the business challenges were to be found back up north. She left Florida and moved to New Jersey.

Through her connections with German cabinet designer Poggenpohl, Zimmerman was put in touch with Stuart Kitchens in Baltimore, where she worked for more than a year. "My goal from the very beginning has been to have my own business," she says. When she got another call from a Poggenpohl representative who was putting together a group of independent people to sell and install their cabinetry, Zimmerman saw that as a major stepping stone toward her independence. She accepted the offer to work with clients in design and sales of the Poggenpohl cabinets for installation in multi-housing projects in Westchester County, N.Y. She moved to Annapolis and made that her home base, traveling to New York once a week. "After about 18 months, I got tired of traveling," she says. "I missed the kind of work I do with homeowners. I decided to start a business here that was based on referrals, working out of my house. That was in 1987."

About eight years ago, Zimmerman moved to her current office in Annapolis and started hiring employees. The company is now composed of a staff of six, and Zimmerman is looking forward to opening a second location soon in Easton. "Annapolis is great," she says. "What I love is that you can bring your dog to work; you don't have to be dressed up every day. People are comfortable. They're real."

By industry standards, most of Zimmerman's designs are unusual---"but for us, unusual is the norm," she explains. "We get to push the edge in design. We get to work in so many different types of homes. People come to us when nobody can solve their problems, and they're amazed at how quickly we do it. It's because we look at things differently."

For Zimmerman, the more difficult a project, the more enjoyable it is. "After so many years, it is fun to be challenged," she says. Being a creative designer and a business owner at the same time can be stressful. "The mental and emotional energy drain is unbelievable," she says. "Even if the body is willing, sometimes the mind isn't, especially because we are creative, not cookie cutters. When you are ripping up peoples' homes, a hundred factors can go wrong. I describe my days a couple of ways: It's a triage. You think it is going to be one thing and it [becomes something else.] At other times, it's like being behind the deli counter on a holiday weekend and saying, 'who's next?' I am building now to try to minimize those days. I have a great staff and it's not as exhausting as it used to be."

Zimmerman would like to dispel the myth that many people cannot afford her services. "It's not about money to work with us," she says. "We are not any more expensive than anyone else when it comes to selling product."

The business environment that Zimmerman has created at Design Solutions is much like a family. "If you didn't like the people you work with and didn't like your clients and have fun," she says, "it wouldn't be worth it. I'm not doing this to build my own monuments. I have achieved professionally. It's the people rewards. It seems trite, but always the greatest reward is your clients thinking you are better than mashed potatoes! You know you've done your best and they just love their finished home. That makes it all worth it."


What event in the Annapolis area are you most looking forward to in 2006?

Powerboat Show
Sailboat Show
Renaissance Festival
Seafood Festival
County Fair

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