How Katonah Architectural Hardware Thrives in a Competitive Niche Market

Luxurious products, detailed customer service, and smart expansion are the keys to this local fixture of success.

When interior designers need high-end, exotic fixtures for pricey homes — like sink handles decorated with horsehair (yes, that’s a thing!) or solid-gold-plated faucets — many turn to Katonah Architectural Hardware for a private showing.

Andrew Hall Baren’s Katonah-based company has grown to about 20 employees since he incorporated it in 1999 by catering to the passions of affluent homeowners who want the details of their homes to be customized to their exacting tastes. “They want what looks good,” Baren says simply. The company now has showrooms in Katonah, New York City, and Chicago’s Merchandise Mart. Sales are more than $5 million annually, and the company is profitable.

Katonah Architectural Hardware’s history goes back 37 years, when Baren’s father, Paul — now 93 and no longer active in the business — decided to leave his job as an architect at renowned New York City firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill to buy a rundown hardware store in Katonah.

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“He wanted a career change,” recalls Baren, president and CEO of the firm.

Baren, now 53, started working in the store while still in high school, at age 15. In 1987, at age 23, he purchased the store, then known as Katonah Paint & Hardware, from his father. Already married with a family, which includes two children, Baren found running the store required a strong commitment. “It instilled in me the work ethic of getting up at 4 a.m.,” he recalls.

Baren eventually branched out to a second store, Lewisboro Paint & Hardware, about two decades ago. In the early ’90s, Baren discovered a new revenue stream while his crew was installing hardware in local upscale homes. As he brought products to job sites, Baren would knock on the doors of the construction teams’ trailers and ask if he could sell them some hardware. Many developers, he found, had given little thought to things like doorknobs and were happy to buy his products.

That side business became Katonah Architectural Hardware. Initially, the company started out outfitting condos, but it steadily went more upscale. Baren expanded the company’s reach by establishing his showroom in the Chicago Merchandise Mart in 2000. Then, six years ago, he opened the showroom in New York City.

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“It was a key maneuver to open the new operation and facility and build during the recession,” says Baren. “It’s probably one of the best things I’ve ever done. It exposed us to the breadth of world-renowned architects and interior designers in New York City. It was instrumental in helping us through the recession, enabling us to work on projects around the world.”

The company’s Katonah showroom, located at 13 Valley Road, occupies 2,500 square feet of the building — a second-floor suite, as well as a basement area for shipping and receiving. It is where his team makes private appointments with interior designers, architects, builders, and clients, so they can offer their full attention. The building has two first-floor tenants, real-estate firm Houlihan Lawrence and the stationery store Fine Lines of Katonah. The showroom, which opened in 2003, was originally located in Katonah Paint & Hardware until it outgrew the space and motivated Baren to buy the building around the corner.

Many of the projects Katonah Architectural Hardware takes on are large-scale and long-term, which also helped the company maintain stability during the last recession.

However, Baren doesn’t take success for granted. “There are no guarantees in life,” he says. “We’re constantly being challenged.”

“Service is the number-one thing for us…. We have an open policy of doing whatever clients want.”

—Andrew Hall Baren, President, Katonah Architectural Hardware

Baren sold the two hardware stores to a new owner in 2015, to focus more on the fast-growing, high-end architectural-hardware market. Today, the company — which also includes Baren’s older brother Ian as vice president — sells a mix of hardware for doors, cabinets, and windows, as well as grilles, lighting, and furniture.

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Baren is quick to point out that the company does not manufacture the products it sells. It places custom orders commissioned for each client, an increasing number of which are filled by manufacturers throughout the continental US, as well as in Italy, Germany, and the UK. “Manufacturing has come back to the US,” he says.

Some of the products his clients order are standard, predesigned models shown on the company’s website. Others are based on sketches from a client’s interior designer. As for the volume of products the company offers, the sky seems to be the limit.

As Katonah Architectural Hardware has built its reputation with interior designers, its products have found their way into homes everywhere from the Bahamas to Kuwait. Ninety percent, by Baren’s estimate, are in super-luxe residential properties. Other clients are boutiques and other businesses. For instance, the firm outfitted the Paris headquarters of the famed auction house Christie’s last year. It also outfitted Christie’s New York City location.

The true differentiating factor for the firm seems to be the hand-holding it offers. “Service is the number-one thing for us,” Baren says. The company welcomes special requests for fixtures and questions like, “Can you make it bigger?” Willingness to customize is a competitive advantage, he finds.

“We have an open policy of doing whatever clients want,” he says.

Given that many of Baren’s orders are custom, there is some built-in risk to these sales. Although he’s never had a customer fail to complete a purchase, he follows the industry-standard practice of requiring a 50 percent advance payment from customers, the balance to be paid upon shipping, he says.

There are no price tags anywhere in the company’s showrooms or on its website, and that’s by design. “It’s like going into a fine restaurant where there is no menu,” says Baren. Fixtures may range from $10 for a basic solid brass or bronze cabinet nob to a $30,000 rock-crystal chandelier from Paris. “You can buy doorknobs from A to Z as far as quality and price, just like a car,” explains Baren.

One project the firm is currently completing is providing the fixtures for the high-end condo complex 20 East End Avenue in Manhattan, a project designed by renowned architect Robert A. M. Stern. It has about 1,000 doors, and Baren’s firm did the hardware.

Many clients know of Katonah Architectural Hardware through word of mouth, but the company makes an effort to spread the word itself, too. It has placements in Architectural Digest, Elle Decor, and LUX magazine, he says. Last year, the company invested heavily in upgrading its website.

Baren relishes mastering new areas of his business — the things no one teaches you in business-school courses, like the benefits of using solar energy. The building that houses his Katonah showroom has 47 solar panels on the roof of the building, which were added during a renovation three years ago.

Continued innovation is a sure thing for Baren, who knows the value of an in-demand product. “We all have doorknobs,” says Baren. “It’s definitely a niche.”

Frequent 914INC. contributor Elaine Pofeldt is author of The  Million-Dollar, One-Person Business.

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