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Pictures Plus expands into furnishings

  • FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARADVERTISER.COM
    Kent Untermann, top, shows off his Picture Plus Home store in Kahala Mall. The new venture is an expansion of the Pictures Plus store he founded almost 25 years ago.
  • COURTESY SUB-ZERO / WOLF
    Untermann also took over the Sub-Zero/Wolf showroom, above, at the corner of Piikoi and King streets.
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Kent Untermann has launched a plan to greatly expand the "plus" in Pictures Plus, the local art and framing store chain he established nearly 25 years ago.

Untermann recently became a dealer of luxury Sub-Zero and Wolf appliances, acquired a franchise for storage system retailer California Closets, broadened home furnishing merchandise and expanded custom cabinetry work.

The new lines of business have been arranged in an experimental Pictures Plus Home store, which opened at Kahala Mall last month and was connected internally to an adjacent California Closets store that Untermann opened earlier this month.

Compared with an older Pictures Plus store at Kahala Mall that’s slated to close next month, the new store still features art and picture frames, though they appear more as accessories to other furnishings such as koa rockers, entertainment centers, dining tables and a kitchen display at the back of the store showing off custom cabinetry and Sub-Zero/Wolf appliances that can sell for $600 to $15,000.

Untermann also took over a free-standing Sub-Zero/Wolf showroom at the corner of Piikoi and King streets that he reopened last month under the name Design Studio.

Between Design Studio and Pictures Plus Home, Untermann said his staff can undertake complete kitchen remodel jobs from design to construction.

If the new areas of business prosper, other Pictures Plus stores could be converted into Pictures Plus Home stores.

"It’s a huge endeavor we’re taking on," Untermann said. "If it performs well, we’d like to roll this out to our other locations."

Untermann said the economic slowdown had put him in a position where he felt compelled to either reduce the size of his six Pictures Plus stores or broaden what they had to offer.

The competitive risk-taker in him opted for the latter, extending a streak of entrepreneurship that led Untermann to establish his first Pictures Plus store in 1987 after selling framed art at the Aloha Stadium swap meet.

Pictures Plus had experimented with various diversified products such as rugs, koa furniture and cabinets over the last three years. But Untermann said the mix appeared somewhat confusing to customers who knew Pictures Plus as an art and frame store.

To keep the brand value of Pictures Plus and expand the business, Untermann decided to tweak the name and add more home furnishings, cabinetry and the California Closets connection.

To help deliver cabinets, Pictures Plus is working with Washington-based manufacturer Hertco, which has a production facility on Oahu. Pictures Plus also makes its own cabinets from locally grown wood at its Kapolei production facility.

Initially, a Sub-Zero/Wolf dealership wasn’t part of the expansion plan. But then Untermann learned about such an opportunity after the appliance manufacturer’s Hawaii distributor closed a snazzy, two-story showroom at 938 Piikoi St. five months ago.

Riggs Distributing opened the facility in 2004 after building the eye-catching building for close to $1 million, and used it to promote the appliances as a public showroom and venue for cooking demonstrations, TV productions and other events. Riggs didn’t sell merchandise out of the showroom, but referred interested buyers to local retail dealers.

Jean Nakanishi, Riggs branch manager in Hawaii, said the facility helped grow the Sub-Zero/Wolf brand locally during the last home construction boom, which included several luxury condominium towers. But when such projects dried up, it put a strain on operating the showroom, and it was closed Aug. 1.

Nakanishi said Riggs was thrilled to gain a new dealer and showroom operator in Untermann after existing local dealers declined to take over the showroom.

"We’re happy to have Kent as a retailer," she said. "It worked out perfectly. We’re excited."

Untermann is leasing the showroom, and as a dealer will sell appliances out of the site and the new Pictures Plus Home store.

"I felt it tied in nicely," he said. "It was a purely opportunistic addition" to the Pictures Plus expansion plan.

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