When John Buller moved to Calgary in 1977, he was excited to be part of this emerging economic centre. His brother’s Winnipeg-based company Kitchen Craft was expanding west and John was overseeing the new operation.
“We opened a store called the Kitchen Craft Connection in Calgary in 1978. We developed a concept of retail kitchen stores, which was sort of an unknown thing in Canada in those days,” says John Buller, past CEO and board chair for Legacy Kitchens.
Kitchen Craft Connection stores were opened in Edmonton, Red Deer, Vancouver and Winnipeg. Alberta was booming until the national energy program all but brought the province’s economy to a halt. The downturn greatly impacted the construction industry, and many big-name homebuilder clients went out of business. Despite the economic situation, John and the sales manager at the time, Russel Dyck, were given the option to buy the Alberta locations from Kitchen Craft in 1984, and the duo jumped at the chance.
“We were young and excited about the opportunities, even though it was the worst time to start something like that. But we managed to survive and prosper,” he says.
Red Deer, however, couldn’t sustain a store through 1984 and it was soon closed while Edmonton struggled and the partners sold it back to Kitchen Craft in the late 1980s. John and Russel focused their attention on Calgary and grew the business exponentially over the years.
Kitchen Craft Connection was renamed Legacy Kitchens in 1999 and the business has seen great expansion since it set up shop. In 1994, it entered the U.S. market with a Kitchen Craft Arizona branch (which later became Affinity Kitchens) in Phoenix, and in 2010, added a Cabinet Solutions USA store in Scottsdale, Arizona. Another Affinity location is opening in Tucson next month. The U.S. operations have been headed up since their opening by transplanted Calgarian and business partner Stephen Klassen.
North of the border, Legacy has three corporate brands that accommodate any budget. Cabinet Solutions is a do-it-yourself and small contractor store offering a similar experience to Ikea or Home Depot but with dedicated design professionals and in-stock cabinets: Bellasera Kitchen Design Studio is a high-end boutique and Legacy Kitchens caters to individual homeowners, large builders and renovators in the mid-range to high-end market. There is also a small boutique store in Kelowna that opened last year and a shared-space location with a small display in Canmore where they have been operating since 2002.
“Just prior to the latest recession in 2015, we bought out my partner and then I turned over day-to-day operations to my sons. Stephen was already CEO and Andrew became director of operations in 2018,” he says.
Legacy has become a thriving business despite the industry challenges. The company has grown to around 150 team members, many of them long term, and the management team strives to keep employees engaged, happy and invested in the success of the company.
Employees are proud to create well-designed kitchens for homeowners who are renovating their space and homebuilders who are creating a space from scratch. Of the company’s total sales, 40 per cent comes from production builders while the remainder is from retail, custom builders and renovations.
“We’re one of the larger suppliers to the builders in Calgary and have been for a long time. We’re a major player in the building industry with a number of blue-chip accounts,” John says.
Large or small, every account is treated like a blue-chip account. This explains why nearly 75 per cent of the company’s retail business comes from referrals or repeat customers. Just as the leadership is second generation, so is some of their clientele. The team at Legacy is thrilled when someone comes to them for a kitchen design because their parents loved the job Legacy did 20 years earlier.
Since the beginning, Legacy Kitchens’ team has been dedicated to making the process of designing a new kitchen as stress-free as possible. Their first step is to meet with clients and figure out how they see themselves using the space.
“Our designers spend a lot of time trying to understand what a customer wants to achieve with their renovation,” says Stephen Buller, CEO of Legacy Kitchens. “And they want to get a good idea of what clients want it to look like when it’s finished. It’s a very involved process.”
The designers then take careful measurements before sitting down to design a dream space. Legacy pairs them with an appropriate supplier to provide the cabinets and finishings for the kitchen they want. Decor Cabinets, Cabico Custom Cabinetry and of course Kitchen Craft have been longtime partners and ensure clients have an incredible selection that fits their tastes and budget.
The talented team takes care of all the details, from ordering products to the delivery schedule, installation and trades. A field supervisor inspects every project to ensure the installation and products meet the company’s high standards.
“Our supervisors and inspectors make sure the install quality is what it needs to be and if there are any deficiencies, we take care of it. We never walk away from problems. We work with customers to find a solution that works for them. Sometimes that hurts our profitability but it’s the right thing to do and it’s part of our values as a company,” says Andrew Buller, director of operations at Legacy Kitchens.
The company’s three core values are important to the family and have been part of Legacy’s culture since its inception. The first is understanding; the team strives to get to know clients to understand what they want and expect in order to deliver the best possible product. Legacy hires a third-party company to conduct interviews with most clients after completion to measure customer satisfaction so they can see how the team is doing and identify any issues.
“We’re committed to doing excellent work and having happy customers at the end,” says Stephen. “We learn if things aren’t going very well and we’re able to adjust and bring in improvements and tweak the process.”
The second core value is relationships. The company’s focus on its relationships with suppliers, clients and staff is evident in their longevity and repeat nature.
The third value is hospitality. Every member of the team strives to treat suppliers, clients and each other with respect. When customers visit the office, the team makes them feel welcome and when they visit or work in a client’s home, they are honoured to be invited and respect their space.
Along with these established core values is the overriding purpose statement under which they operate: “Legacy exists to facilitate the transformation of people and spaces.” The spaces component is straightforward. The team takes something that is dated or unattractive and creates something that is beautiful, well designed and functional. They transform clients’ kitchens into a space where they can build and nurture relationships with their family and friends.
The transformation of people is a bit more complicated but no less important to the Bullers. They want to impact and help transform the people they work for and work with, and be transformed by them as well.
“We want employees to be better people through their experience working with us. And it’s a symbiotic relationship. Through what they’re doing and learning, they are growing and we want to provide an environment where that can happen. In the same ways, the employees are helping us become a better company,” says Stephen.
Legacy Kitchens further achieves this transformation element through their charitable giving. The family supports organizations that are all involved in transformation, whether it’s a local organization like the Calgary Dream Centre, Habitat for Humanity, Children’s Cottage Society or Inn from the Cold helping those suffering with addiction and homelessness or a global organization like Opportunity International, which is the world’s largest faith-based microfinance organization.
Opportunity International Canada (OIC) is especially dear to the Bullers. The organization provides small business loans, savings, insurance and training to people in the developing world to help them lift themselves out of poverty. Legacy is directly involved in the work being done in Colombia and supports the organization’s efforts through their Legacy Charitable Foundation and with their time. The Investing Hope Foundation, a partner of Opportunity International with John as board chair, helps low-income youth and adults in Colombia battle poverty by increasing their financial awareness, providing savings programs and through experiential entrepreneurship training.
“Through OIC programs such as business loans, small renovation loans to put in concrete floors and roofs that don’t leak or kitchens and toilets in the homes of families, training of youth in entrepreneurship and teaching people how to save, we can bring actual change to communities and a country,” says John.
While the Legacy team works at transforming the people and spaces around them today, they are always looking ahead at how they can improve. They continue to diversify their products and markets. Legacy is currently adding closets to its offerings and commercializing the software program they developed to guide designers and clients through the process of building a quality kitchen. With the help of the six-person executive team and the advisory board headed by John, the company is on the path to continued success and growth in the Calgary market and beyond.
“Over the last decade alone, as a family company we have installed about 30,000 kitchens across all locations. So we’re leaving a bit of a legacy out there,” says Stephen.
For 35 years, Legacy Kitchens has built on the foundations established by John Buller and Russel Dyck, and Stephen and Andrew are proud to carry on the impressive legacy of Legacy Kitchens.