Over the summer, Kellee Hansen was thinking of ways to enhance Pulte’s next product review. As a big fan of The Food Network and a chili cookoff competitor, Hansen is no stranger to kitchen throwdowns – cooking competitions where entrants’ dishes are judged to determine a winner. That’s when an idea hit her, and it had nothing to do with making chili.

“The first thing I thought about was having a kitchen throwdown,” Hansen says. “I hope Bobby Flay doesn’t sue me or anything.” This throwdown, though, was a bit different from the chef's popular Food Network show.

Through her extensive contact list as Pulte Group’s national purchasing director, she brought together unaffiliated manufactures to design kitchen vignettes and compete against one another in the process. Pulte's "kitchen innovation project" featured six supplier teams--consisting of manufacturers of cabinets, counters, flooring, appliances, lighting, detailing, and plumbing--that each built a kitchen vignette based on three consumer segments.

As someone who’s been working in the home building industry since 1990, Hansen has heard suggestions from manufacturers for years. “I kind of just thought, let’s put them to the test,” she recalls. “Let’s see what we really should be doing. The kitchen is the absolute heart of the home and if we can get that part right, we can get a lot things right.”

An idea is born, now what?
Sure, the concept of bringing 36 manufacturers together for one event is a good idea on paper, but how does one convince those busy professionals to donate their time, focus, and talents for a friendly competition?

Hansen started with Pulte’s marketing team by saying, “I kind of have a crazy idea…” and they were soon on board. She then reached out to some of Pulte’s key suppliers to gauge their interests and, much to her surprise, “Nobody hung up on me.”

Kamlin Nedved, a strategic account manager from Moen, heard Hansen’s pitch and liked the concept, but it took some further explanation before she signed on. “At first blush it seemed like an extensive undertaking,” she says, “but it was Kellee’s vision, confidence, and encouragement that helped me see the possibility throughout the process.”

Once the commitments were secured, Hansen matched up the 36 manufacturers and sent them their assignments. Two teams would build a vignette based on one of three “avatars,” each with a unique spin. The first design was for a multitasking family chef. The second was for a food enthusiast who likes to experiment in the kitchen and often cooks alone. The final vignette was for a homeowner who enjoys entertaining and wants space for guests. Participating manufacturers got their teams and assignments in July and off they went.

Design, then build
The teams were not assigned leaders and did all of their coordinating by phone and email. Moen was a part of three projects and Nedved had to coordinate schedules with other participants in four time zones. “We pulled together and learned that the successful installation of our products would affect, and are affected by, the installation and timing of the others,” Nedved says. “Our individual and collective success was just as dependent on each other as it was on our individual solutions for the consumers’ needs.”

After weeks of back and forth and trading ideas, construction of the vignettes started on Oct. 12 at Pulte’s warehouse in Norcross, Ga. On the final day nearly a week later, panic set in for Hansen, although it didn’t last long. “On the last hour of the last day of the build [I looked around] thinking, ‘Oh my God, are we going to be able to finish on time and deliver exactly what we wanted?’ she recalls. “Our manufacturers brought it. They knocked it out of the ball park.”

Each team had about 15 minutes to present their vignettes to an audience of roughly 100 people on Oct. 19. Since the event coincided with a product review, it gave Pulte executives the chance to gather consumer input and seek internal opinions on the vignettes. The company is currently mulling over which concepts or designs it may adopt and build in its future homes.

“In our industry, I think we lack some collaboration, historically,” Hansen says. “Listening to our suppliers just makes us better and it makes us better as an industry. I think it raises the level for all our peers as well when we listen to our manufacturers.”

Nedved is eager to hear the design feedback and says participating in the event was of great value for everyone. “Pulte proved that innovative ideas can be accomplished through collaboration,” she says. 

 For Hansen, this endeavor was the largest undertaking of career and she’s happy with how it turned out. “Any time we can get our manufacturers to collaborate and innovate, I think we’ll take advantage of it,” she says.” A lot of other industries have manufacturers collaborate all the time. People are changing and homes are changing – how do we all keep up on where we should be today? I look forward to the next throwdown, whatever it may be.”