Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:28 pm
When Joan Shelley launched the KnobGallery showroom in Brookfield and the company’s Web site in 2000, she had little idea she was opening the door to a business that would grow to $1.5 million in sales just three years later.
"In a big-box store, there are usually 25 pieces of inventory for 25 different items, and the items are structured to be special ordered. The customer receives the hardware between a week and a month, and there are usually extra charges for the service," Shelley said. "With the Internet store, I can take orders of any size from all over the country, and I can offer smaller or lesser known company designs on a regular basis."
Shelley conceived the idea for the new business when her then 16-year-old daughter, Krissie, worked for a graphic design firm and helped her form the Web site at www.knobgallery.com
The site offers hundreds of cabinet knobs, refrigerator handles, bathroom accessories and doorknobs from designers and manufacturers big and small. The KnobGallery showroom at 18900 W. Bluemound Road has 50,000 pieces on display of the 150,000 available on the Internet site. Customers can see the knobs physically before making a decision and then order off the Internet site with the help of an employee.
"With our unlimited space, we can be more design-based than pushing a standard product or manufacturer, which is more attractive," Shelley said. "And working off of the Internet, we have built close relationships with our customers. There are so many options. We get to know them as we get to know their decorative needs."
Shelley said the KnobGallery has become the largest single resource for decorative hardware in the nation. Today, artists and builders come to her for service.
According to Shelley, the business runs smoothly because she is ordering directly from the manufacturer as soon as a customer order comes in.
Add the fact that the entire structure is Internet-based … and the business has no excess inventory, no cash registers and no warehouse to worry about. Just orders and shipping.
Shelley attends trade shows and kitchen shows to promote the business.
"The builders market is pretty closed in Wisconsin, and on top of it, as a woman, selling hardware it can be tough. Our lead in is customers," Shelley said. "It has taken a couple years to break through into the builders market, but contractors are saying they need somewhere to send their clients. If we do a good job, they are more apt to recommend us in the future."
Shelley was honored twice this year with awards for her efforts with KnobGallery. She won the Wisconsin’s Entrepreneurial Woman of the Year Award from the National Association of Women Business Owners and the 2004 Emerging Small Business Person of the Year Award from the Small Business Administration (SBA).
"What she has done with her business in such a short time is absolutely compelling," said Salli Martyniak a panel member for the SBA award. "She really did stand out above the crowd because of everything – growth, innovation, contributions to the community, response to adversity – she took all of that and made it into a successful business, which tells me it is the business under her management and leadership that was able to accomplish this."
Shelley said she is always looking for new products or new ideas for the business, and hopes to grow as much in the next three years as she did in the first three.
A second showroom for KnobGallery will open in Milwaukee’s Historic Third Ward this June. KnobGallery teamed up with CabinetWerks Design Studio, Lincolnshire, Ill., and bought retail space at 241 N. Broadway St.
CabinetWerks is a division of Orren Pickell Designers & Builders, Bannockburn, Ill.
"We think adding a showroom in the Third Ward will be a great opportunity to introduce product lines and newer design ideas," Shelley said. "The showroom will enhance both of our businesses and bring the Third Ward more credibility and a design center feel, where a customer can get almost everything needed on one block."
KnobGallery has 20 employees. Shelley will add two more to the payroll when the second showroom opens.
"I enjoy always looking to grow the business, always looking for new artists and designs, and that’s what keeps you going," Shelly said. "It is like being a buyer for a department store. You have to keep a balance between customers and vendors, you have to keep good relationships."
April 16, 2004, Small Business Times, Milwaukee, WI