Immerse showroom proves trades-only concept can be a success
The St. Louis-based Immerse showroom proves trades-only concept can be a smash hit.
From time to time, I like to profile a cutting-edge showroom that incorporates all the world-class components needed to succeed in our industry.
I introduce you to Immerse, a wholly owned subsidiary of St. Louis, Mo.-based Atlas Supply Co. Brothers Fred and Ben Suffian started Atlas in 1937 and in the late 1950s and early 1960s, sons Mike and Bob, started work there and grew the firm into a commercially-focused wholesale-distribution company.
In the late 1970s they moved their location one block to a 95,000-square-foot warehouse and office building. The third generation of owners, Leigh Suffian (who is a partner in the company), Brent (Leigh’s cousin) and Joel (Leigh’s brother), joined in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Immerse, an offsite to-the-trades only showroom, opened in 2011. The showroom is located in a central residential corridor of St. Louis County in a business park next to a major lighting-fixture showroom. The showroom is 4,400 square feet in size.
Immerse sells the product and Atlas does all the inventory, delivery and financial support work. Since Immerse caterers only to the residential tradespeople (residential builders, remodel contractors, designers and architects) and Atlas specializes in the commercial side, there is little conflict on who gets credit for showroom sales.
Leigh Suffian and Anne Kelleher, the first showroom sales consultant hired at Immerse, traveled around the country visiting a number of showrooms doing market research on what the new showroom should look like. The economy had tanked in 2008-2009 and many vendors we’re excited to have a new outlet for their products. The firm hired local architect Alan Nehring to design the space. He had been designing “white” showrooms before they had become popular, so the new Immerse showroom was ahead of its time right from the beginning. Nehring’s vision included backlit toilets, stamped concrete floors and an uncluttered space where products would pop. He wanted clients to have to move through the space to experience it. The showroom has giant nesting lavatory tables where faucets could be paired with bowls.
There are a number of working displays that help enhance the all-important customer experience. Some of these include a working shower display with 30-plus showerheads, body sprays and handheld showers. There’s a working steam shower, a dry-heat sauna, a working kitchen faucet trough and a number of working lav faucets. There are several working tubs showing different hydrotherapies and the public restrooms have working Toto and DXV washlet/water closets.
Atlas employs 40 people and Immerse has seven people on its team. The team is made up of a general manager, three inside salespeople, 2 1/2 outside salespeople and a sales assistant. Currently they are actively looking for one salesperson and another assistant. Compensation for the sales consultants is a combination of salary, bonuses for hitting monthly goals, plus shared bonuses for the whole team.
Vendor spiffs also are pooled and distributed according to productivity. Suffian was reluctant to share sales consultants’ total annual compensation but she did share that each sales consultant sales are in excess of $1 million a year.
As with most wholesaler showrooms, the price point of product varies dramatically from the Delta and Moen traditional products to Watermark, Waterworks, Rohl, etc. A few of the other featured products include American Standard, Toto, Waterstone, Bain Ultra and Brizo.
Because Immerse is located next to a lighting-fixture business, I was interested in what other related products it might carry. Immerse shows and sells cabinet hardware, bathroom furniture and tile.
I would encourage you to visit the Immerse website at www.ImmerseSTL.com. It’s one of the better ones I have viewed in our DPH industry. Suffian uses an outside professional marketing company to develop and keep this up-to-date. It must work because one of the top answers it gets to the question “How did you hear about us?” is “From doing an online search.” The second answer is “Saw you in our local neighborhood weekly publication.“ This is the only print advertising they’re doing for 2018.
I also was impressed by the number and kinds of events that are done in the showroom. Most are directed at the trade’s community and many offer CEUs for attendance. They have a 60-inch television monitor that is used for these educational events. They are known for having great food, beverages, entertainment (live music) and the showroom offers valet parking. A number of charitable events have been hosted in the showroom as well. Immerse is active on Facebook and Instagram and utilizes an outside source to do these social-media endeavors.
Immerse has built a team of professionals who work hard, listen to each other, respect each other and are there to help the clients and each other. To perpetuate this culture mindset, Immerse does two different personality tests with new perspective employees. One is the pretty well-known DISC personality assessment test, and the other is a specific sales skills assessment. Once hired, Immerse has a training program that includes the all-familiar vendor rep one-on-one training, plus they all participate in the DPHA educational courses. Brand-new sales consultants sit at a desk next to the general manager who is responsible for all the initial training, which includes shadowing the general manager and other sales consultants while working with clients.
Since the showroom is trades only, their showroom hours of operation are 8:30 a.m.- 5 p.m.; Monday through Friday.
The company belongs to the Omni (soon to be IMARK Group) and Luxury Products Group buying groups and the DPHA and ASID trade associations. Suffian shared that these affiliations are invaluable — both from a financial, educational and relationship point of view.
So what makes sets Immerse apart from the pack? “Immerse is made up of a special group of people,” Suffian says. “Multiple people, including my general manager (who came from the furniture industry), have told me they have never seen a group function so well. We are cooperative, dedicated, determined and serious about what we do and we also have fun!
“I think this shows both internally and externally and makes the people and the organization work! Our trade-only business model is very unique and intentional and we have been told since day one that it couldn’t succeed. We love that it is working!
“We aren’t afraid to try things or make adjustments as necessary. We have become known for going after and pioneering new lines that were maybe only on the coasts and being on the cutting edge of the industry. We owe quite a bit to the vendors who took a risk on us, often giving us exclusives. Some worked, others didn’t. This business model of offering something different in our market is really what propelled our business.
“We started with a few loyal Atlas residential contractors and have worked incredibly hard — sometimes pursuing clients for four or more years before they give us a shot over a competitor. We are starting to earn a great reputation, which we will never take for granted, but which is so gratifying to see because for so long we were playing catchup. We are grateful for every customer’s business we’ve earned and we will keep working to get more. This loyalty we have and that I have for my employees is something I think is quite special.”
This article was originally titled "Gateway to bath & kitchen success" in the November 2018 print edition of Supply House Times.