North Billerica, Massachusetts-based The Portland Group is no stranger to running a successful showroom.
The distributor, a member of the WIT & Co. buying group with locations in four New England states, was founded in 1930 and made its foray into showrooms in the 1980s.
“We were one of the first distributors to take the showroom off the premises,” says Howard Rose, president of The Portland Group.
In 1987, Rose and his team opened a high-end showroom in the Boston suburb of Newton. “We are on probably one of the most visible streets in the city and have access to multiple wealthy towns next to us,” he says.
The Portland Group decided to renovate the Newton showroom four or five years ago and that’s when things got interesting. “A transformer caught fire, fell onto two cars and there was a fire blazing out of control by our building,” Rose explains. “Luckily, nobody was hurt and there was no discomfort.”
Renovation plans continued and architects and contractors were hired, which led to the discovery of a 5,000-lb. oil tank buried beneath the building. “That brings in the EPA and I’m guessing we were delayed 15 weeks,” Rose says. “It was a tremendous setback.”
Not to be outdone on the craziness scale, an ice-skating rink had at one point been under the floor and the pipes from that component still were present. “We wanted the new showroom to be a working showroom, but with those ice-skating pipes there we were not able to put water through it unless the pipes were taken out. We had to redesign,” Rose says. “Right off the bat, we’re six months behind.”
After many trials and tribulations, The Portland Group opened its newly renovated Splash Newton showroom this past December and had an opening event that drew more than 700 people.
“I would put this showroom as one of the best in the country,” Rose says. “It would hold up against anybody. We have the higher-end products mixed in with some other price points. One of the criticisms still out there with showrooms is you don’t have anything for the average guy. We are speaking to everybody with this showroom without looking down on anybody’s budget.”
The Portland Group Director of Retail Operations Donna Zinckmoore adds: “We look like a high-end company because of the showroom, but we have a budget for everybody. We want to do it right for our customers and to do it nice doesn’t mean you can’t afford it.”
Director of Purchasing Mike Fox notes another key component of the showroom is having a Starbucks coffee shop next door. The two entities share a common area that has restrooms available for patrons. “The people from Starbucks flow right into the showroom,” he says. “Everybody loves the concept.”
Eighty percent of the 12,000-square-foot showroom features working products. Director of Customer Relations Ben Rose, Howard Rose’s son, adds yet another difference-maker in the showroom is its layout.
“It’s user-friendly,” he says. “The concept of the showroom is to be able to see from one end to the other.”
Ben Rose lauds Zinckmoore for coming up with the layout concept where each section has a vignette concept. “If people are unsure what they like, they can see a vision for the whole area together,” Zinckmoore says. “We find it easier to show products and have the customer understand the products that way. You walk directly down the middle of the showroom and veer off into the vignettes.”
Fox says the craziness of the showroom build-out would not have been possible without the showroom team’s mental toughness and perseverance. “We were open the entire time the renovation was going on,” he says. “Donna and her team were great. For the two-plus-years this was going on, it was an incredible feat to have revenue coming through the business while working through a difficult time.”
See here for a video of the new The Portland Group showroom.
This article was originally titled, “Big Spalsh!” in the February 2018 print edition of Supply House Times.