By Anthony Castrovince
In John Tisdel’s memories from childhood, the kitchen is concealed. His mother is there, preparing dinner, and that evening’s guests are gathered in the living and dining room areas. In moments like this, it would have been unconventional—perhaps even rude—for someone to step into that separated space and offer to help.
That is no longer the case. In the present day, dinner parties are more free-form affairs. The kitchen is quite often not a room under wraps but an open space where people congregate, communicate and even cooperate in the making of a meal.
“Today kitchens aren’t workrooms. They’re a continuation of the living space,” says Tisdel, owner and CEO of John Tisdel Distributing, Inc.
Owning the niche
When customers visit Tisdel Distributing’s 49,000-square-foot, experiential showroom in Mason, Ohio, they are introduced to the latest in high-end appliances. Along with more than 100 dealers in six states—Ohio, Kentucky, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Indiana and Tennessee—Tisdel Distributing and its 34 employees help their customers build a kitchen concept that captivates.
“The purchase cycle for the products we sell is measured in decades,” Tisdel says. “Our products perform extremely well and are built to a 20-year life expectancy. It’s a niche piece of the business, and so, understanding the volume presented by that finite opportunity, you’ve got to deliver on the expected ownership experience that consumers desire.”
(Photo by Jeremy Kramer)
Taking a risk
When he was 32 years old, Tisdel reached a life-changing moment. It was 1986, and he had an offer for a job with a hospital supply corporation in Valencia, California. But with one visit to that city 40 miles north of Los Angeles, Tisdel knew he wasn’t ready to leave Cincinnati for the West Coast.
Then fate stepped in. The president of a major appliance company was looking for a distributor in the Cincinnati area, and Tisdel took on the challenge. He did so knowing that, at that point in time—when television programs were not yet inspiring viewers to reimagine their home interiors and cooking shows were not a staple—his client base would be limited. Extremely limited.
“Back in 1986, the sales potential and actual volume of the brands I represented was negligible,” Tisdel says. “Only in the last 20 years have customers and homeowners decided that their home is their sanctuary, and they want to have it as nice as they possibly can.”
Over the last decade, low interest rates and a rising stock market have created more investment in high-end homes. New construction projects are an important piece of Tisdel’s business, but he also has customers splurging on a kitchen update.
“In really affluent communities, where homes are 40 and 50 years old, kitchens are tired,” Tisdel says. “And when you’re just doing an isolated room, you feel much more comfortable embracing higher-quality, more expensive furnishings than you possibly would otherwise.”
When making a major purchase, consumers want to see what’s available in the marketplace and do hands-on testing to see what appeals. But the type of products Tisdel Distributing offers can’t be found at big-box retailers. That’s why, as the company began to gather momentum in the marketplace in the late 1990s, it needed a more expansive showroom.
A source of pride
In the three years leading up to the turn of the century, Tisdel Distributing’s business doubled, and its 7,000-square-foot building housing its products could not keep up with the increase in interest.
So in September 2000, Tisdel moved his company into a popular business park in Mason. In the years ahead, he faced challenges; a business whose sales trends largely parallel the Dow Jones Industrial Average experienced leaner times in the bear market of 2007-09, although its exclusivity and small staff helped minimize the risk. And in the years since then, business has doubled yet again.
Through all the market ups and downs, one thing that hasn’t wavered is the thrill customers get from stepping into the Tisdel Distributing showroom and seeing the most sophisticated state-of-the-art appliances.
Clients come not only from the Cincinnati area, but from Columbus, Lexington and Indianapolis. They come because, in many cases, they are working with an architect or a kitchen design professional, and appliances must be selected and sized before the layout of a new home can be finalized.
“If you’re a surgeon or an attorney or you travel, you’re very busy during the week,” Tisdel says. “Then Saturday comes, and you’ve got to go look at appliances at your local appliance store. That’s the day when you get the new kid who has only been there 30 days and can’t tell you anything. You’ve totally wasted your time.
“When people come to our showroom, we don’t have 50 brands that we represent. We only have three or four, allowing us to be in-depth in our presentation.”
Both from a function and aesthetic standpoint, the demonstrations at Tisdel Distributing help customers understand the modern appliances available for their kitchens, including the popular custom cabinet panels that hide bulky appliances. But Tisdel has had customers specifically request that, for example, the logo of a high-end company be affixed to the panel concealing the fridge, because of the pride associated with the purchase.
“It’s one of the few products in the entire home that the brand badge is readily visible,” Tisdel says. “There is a representation with these brands. It speaks to the quality of your home.”
And it speaks to the changed role of the kitchen in modern home design. No longer is it a room that is concealed from view when guests come for dinner. Today’s kitchen might very well be the occasion’s stage, and Tisdel Distributing helps make that stage shine.
“We entertain far more informally than we did years and years ago,” Tisdel says. “So it’s even more important for that space to reflect your personality.”
(Photo by Jeremy Kramer)
Cementing a relationship
Making a delicious meal from scratch can be a satisfying experience. Starting a business banking relationship from scratch is a little different.
If a bank lacks a deep understanding of how the company operates, the decision-making process can be exponentially more complex than when it takes the time to get to know the business operations. So for high-end kitchen appliance supplier Tisdel Distributing, Inc., its relationship with Huntington—which stretches back nearly two decades—is vital.
“The beauty of a longer-term relationship where there’s continuity is they get to know you as a person,” says Owner and CEO John Tisdel. “They understand the industry you serve. That’s really important so that you’re not reinventing the wheel every six to nine months.”
Because his business serves an affluent customer base and is therefore susceptible to broader stock market trends, Tisdel has benefited from Huntington’s understanding of his industry.