Craig Washofsky, vice president Servco Home & Appliance Distribution
Craig Washofsky fires up the grill in his fully equipped outdoor kitchen.
A leg of lamb rests in a Pyrex dish on the countertop, smothered in whole yogurt and tabil. He gives the cooking grate a quick once-over with the grill brush before mopping it with olive oil and placing the lamb in the center of the hot grill. He closes the cover, washes his hands and grabs a bottle of pinotnoir from the wine chiller and a wine glass off the counter. “Before I got into the kitchen business, I thought the only thing wrong with my house was that the TV wasn’t big enough and the speakers weren’t loud enough,” says the Servco Home & Appliance Distribution group vice president.
“After I started at the Kitchen Distribution Center [in 1986], I realized that my stereo was just fine, but my kitchen needed a lot of help.” Home electronics were all the rage in the late 1970’s and early ’80s. Technology was rapidly evolving and new products never before available to consumers—projection TVs, surround-sound speakers, video recorders—were blowing minds.
Craig, a self-professed equipment junky, was riding the consumer electronics boom. He was in his mid-twenties, happily married and running a lucrative electronics retail business. Craig was having a great time helping people create audiovisual systems for their homes.
That all changed when the store’s majority owner decided to take the business in a new direction. The new rent-to-own business model did not interest Craig and he quickly became disillusioned with his employer. Craig was at the end of his rope when a loyal customer offered him a sales job in the appliance industry. Craig remembers going home and saying to his wife, “I’m going from big-screen TVs and stereos to refrigerators. How exciting can that be?
“She pointed out that when I’m solving a problem for somebody, it doesn’t matter what the box is that solves the problem,” he continues.
“It’s the ability to come up with a solution that’s unique.”
Craig brought his problem-solving approach to his new job at the Kitchen Distribution Center, an appliance distributor for a local kitchen design firm. The stagnant kitchen designs of the 1990’s were a far cry from the rock-star kitchens that are the norm today, but Craig enjoyed the work immensely and soon put in the financial capital to become an owning partner.
At the time, homes were being constructed with the most inexpensive kitchens possible to keep costs low. Sales were steady among remodeling contractors, but the company’s middle- to high-end appliances were not in great demand among new-home builders. Now that Craig had a financial stake in the game, he resolved to expand his client base to new-home builders in order to grow the business.
Hoping to deepen his understanding of the industry and foster new relationships, Craig joined the Aloha Chapter of the National Kitchen and Bath Association, a venue for Hawai‘i’s kitchen and bath design professionals to share resources and promote their businesses. Craig also joined the Building Industry Association of Hawaii, a nonprofit trade organization that promotes growth in the construction industry. He later served as committee chair for both organizations and on the board of the NKBA. Working in concert with insiders in the kitchen and bath and construction industries, Craig saw an opportunity to promote the industries while growing his business at the same time.
Craig’s colleagues on the board of the National Kitchen and Bath Association Aloha Chapter recognized his leadership capabilities and moved him up the ranks from secretary to treasurer and then to chapter president. He served for two years as the first non-designer president, with the intent to validate designer certification as an industry standard for quality and safety. “In those days, and even today, anyone could call themselves a designer,” Craig says. “It was important for us that consumers understand the value of working with a certified kitchen and bath designer who’s a member of the NKBA. It might cost a little more, but the results will be superior.”
To underscore the advantages of hiring a certified designer well-versed in kitchen design, Craig helped develop a design competition based on best-practice guidelines set forth by the National Kitchen and Bath Association. Soon, high-rise and single-family home builders began to see the kitchen as a way to differentiate their product. “At the end of the day, especially talking about a high-rise dwelling, a home is a rectangle with a set number of rooms,” Craig says. “What sets it apart from the other rectangles? People look at the kitchen.”
Other industry players had taken notice.
Automotive, insurance and home and commercial products distribution company Servco Pacific was looking to expand its reach into the kitchen and bath market. It acquired the Kitchen Distribution Center in 1998 and kept Craig on board as vice president. A year and a half later, Craig’s boss retired and Craig assumed responsibility for Servco’s electronics and appliance distribution.
Since then, Craig has led the division to new milestones. To service consumers and industry professionals alike, he updated Servco’s home and appliance showroom to feature 22 kitchen vignettes, complete with cabinetry and counter tops. Three of the vignettes are working kitchens, so consumers can test out various appliances while working with their builders and contractors. Craig also expanded Servco Home & Appliance Distribution to U.S. territories throughout the Pacific and expanded its presence on the neighbor islands to serve builders directly.
Meanwhile he developed the BIA Home Building & Remodeling Show and chaired the event for three years.
Craig found that the BIA, while structured as a nonprofit, employs the same strategies as a business. At a company like Servco, every decision is made in the best interest of the client. At the Building Industry Association, decisions are made in the best interest of its members and the consumers who use their services.
As a non-builder serving on the board, Craig’s agility proved an asset in working with industry professionals and consumers. “If the folks sitting around the table have the ability to run or be part of a successful enterprise, and they have the time to serve on that board, then there’s something to learn from them,” Craig says. “There’s a personal reward in doing good for the community. There can be a business reward as well. When you sit across table and get to know someone over a year or two, you’re going to benefit from those relationships.”
Last December, Craig was chosen to be the first non-builder president of the BIA of Hawaii.
He hopes that what he has learned over the past two decades at Servco will continue to translate into successful strides with the BIA and is looking forward to tackling some of Hawai‘i’s larger societal issues—such as the housing crisis—in his new capacity as president.
Craig lifts the lid from his backyard grill and sticks a meat thermometer into the leg of lamb. The scent of coriander and garlic envelops the lanai. After 30 years of working cohesively between the business community and the nonprofit sector, Craig has championed higher industry standards and helped consumers create their dream kitchens. With his state-of-the-art sound system and rock-star kitchen, it would seem that Craig has everything he could want. However, Craig is a problem solver at heart and he’s working from within the industry to find solutions that grow the builder and serve the consumer.