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A showroom “running on all eight,” is how President of Miami, Florida based Lion Plumbing Supply Paul Gentile describes its twenty-year-old showroom The Kitchen + Bath Design Center. Located across the street from its wholesale counter — known for its 95-98% fill rate and often same-day delivery — Lion’s recently remodeled showroom has earned the 2024 Supply House Times Showroom of the Year award.

Gentile says the showroom arm started as sort of a hobby for Lion Plumbing Supply as the company realized it needed to get into the decorative and residential markets in order to earn the business of more lines and compete on larger scale jobs.

Lion Plumbing Supply’s footprint sits on a four-acre lot in Miami with a 40,000 square-foot warehouse and office building, the luxury showroom and a pipe yard. The wholesale side is focused on commercial work while the showroom is mostly residential, but both sides of the business dabble in both markets, sharing customers along the way. According to Gentile, the two segments are able to help each other out whenever needed, but are sure to not interfere with each other. “The showroom does their thing while we do ours,” he says.

The Kitchen + Bath Design Studio by Lion Plumbing Supply showing a row of toilets on the left and bathroom vanities on the right.

Lion Plumbing Supply was originally founded as Leo’s Plumbing Service by Leo Ouellette and Charles R. Steele Jr. in 1956 as a plumbing contracting that focused on service and new residential construction projects. A decade later, the company added a retail counter that offered repair parts and irrigation sales.

As construction in Miami slowed during the 1970s, many plumbers decided to stop making such a big investment in keeping inventory on hand and instead began buying products from Leo’s as needed. To serve that increased demand, Leo’s moved into a 15- x 84-foot storefront so they could significantly expand inventory.

Gentile was instrumental in developing a strong contractor customer base. Gentile had gotten a plumbing contractor license while still in high school and his father, who worked for another wholesaler in the area, had suggested he approach Lion’s owners about a job. He was hired to work on the counter in 1972 and never left.

In 1982, company leaders decided it was time to cease the contracting and service business to focus solely on the wholesale side. They rolled out a new name — Lion Plumbing Supply Inc. — and unveiled a new logo, which became immediately recognizable and is still in use today. Gentile bought into the business in 1990, becoming a partner with Steele.

In 2020, Lion Plumbing Supply became an ESOP, allowing for each of its 42 employees to become an owner and providing a seamless succession plan for Gentile and Steele. Many of these employee-owners have been with the company more than two decades. For example, Office Manager Joyce Birth has held that role for 42 years. Her daughter, Sheri Newman, started her career at Lion pricing tickets at 17-years-old and grew within the company to become its vice president.

“It’s vital for us to remain an independent wholesaler and not sell to a national company,” Newman says. “Deciding to become an ESOP reinforces that commitment and ensure the company can have a lasting legacy.”

An upgraded experience

The Kitchen + Bath Design Studio underwent a complete remodel in 2020, bringing the original showroom, designed in the early 2000s, up to date.

“In 2004 we jumped into the showroom business without knowing much about it,” Gentile says. “We learned our way through. We knew it was time for a total remodel in order to stay competitive in today’s marketplace.”

According to Berna Blanco, showroom manager, the goal is to have customers walk in and think they can find anything they’re looking for.

Coming from the luxury retail market at Nordstrom, Blanco has been with Lion for five years and has implemented a handful of tactics that are making the showroom succeed.

“We know we offer the best customer service possible,” she says. “But in today’s market where online sales are taking over, I know earning business has to go beyond just great service.”

Blanco takes pricing seriously, checking on the price of product at the showroom’s competitors and making sure The Kitchen + Bath Design Studio can match that price of be even lower.

According to Blanco, earning business is all about listening to the needs of your customer. “We’re very in tune with our customer needs,” she says. “We listen intently and ask for feedback.”

Lion Plumbing also makes speed-of-service a top priority on both sides of its business. The company is able to deliver many orders same-day and most others within 24-48 hours.

Blanco adds that the showroom team’s number one goal is to help customers walking in the door, not just close a sale. “It doesn’t matter if they’re planning to buy from us or not, we want to offer an upgraded, welcoming experience where they get any help they need,” she says. “Going the extra mile with customer service pays off in terms of referrals and conversion rates — I’d say we have about a 90% conversion rate with our customers, and we benefit all the time from happy customers referring their friends and family to us.”

The 'Before' of the Lion Plumbing Supply showroom, here showing a display of faucets on the wall and sinks.
The 'After' of the Lion Plumbing Supply showroom remodel in 2023.

Lion Plumbing Supply underwent a showroom remodel in 2023. Before (left) and after (right)

Lion Plumbing’s manufacturer partners can see the company’s commitment to standout service first-hand. Eric Dietz, global sales director, Graff, says Lion takes care of clients at the highest level. “They invest in new product displays, take care of clients at the highest level, which reflects on both of us, and communicate with us regularly on issues, opportunities and concerns,” he says. “This allows us to make improvements quickly to service Lion and their clients. There is just a great synergy working with the Lion Team that makes the relationship special.”

Blanco is also sure to keep product moving on the showroom floor. “We have to take advantage of our space by dialing into what products and displays are selling and what aren’t,” she says. “If something isn’t selling well after six months, we will give it another three months and then sell it out of the display and change it to something else.”

Updating displays goes back to listening to the customer. “We pay attention to the colors, finishes and designs our customers are asking for,” Blanco says.

According to Blanco, gunmetal and matte black finishes are dominating the market along with colors like greens, yellows and lavenders.

Think like a team

Being a family-run business transcends throughout Lion’s culture internally and with its customers and manufacturer partners.

“People like Berna and Sheri create a great working environment for the team and that bleeds through to each client, creating the ultimate experience at the showroom,” Dietz says. “This, combined with the fact that Lion is a family-owned company, means that no detail is spared in creating an ‘Ultimate Shopping Experience.’ The people at Lion offer a true collaborative working environment.”

Blanco says the company “thinks like a team.”

“Especially because we are an ESOP, we all think like a team,” she says. “We are equally invested in making the company profitable and making it is a great place to be; we’re just happy here and everyone is passionate about what they do.”

Being a newer team member, Blanco says she could feel the family values right away. “I could tell within my first few days that people here care about each other, worry about each other and never hesitate to help one another out.”

Blanco adds that the team takes pride in being a family business. “We are all proud of the history of the company and take pride in creating a lasting legacy that mirrors the family values the company was built on.”

The Lion Plumbing Supply showroom remodel showing a row of bathroom vanities and mirrors.
Lion Plumbing Supply showroom remodel showing a row of bathtubs and a wall of bathroom fixture samples.

A lasting legacy

Lion Plumbing Supply has long been extremely active in the industry, particularly with its buying group, IMARK and the showroom division Luxury Products Group (LPG). The company has benefited tremendously from being a member of the IMARK [formerly Omni] buying group, which gave them a platform to build solid relationships with vendors and their peers throughout the country.

The company is also active in The American Supply Association (ASA) where Newman has done her fair share of volunteer leadership.

When it comes to the success of the showroom, Newman gives immense credit to Blanco. “Blanco came in a truly revamped our showroom. She hired all new personnel and jumped in to the plumbing industry head first,” she says. “We know we are in great hands with her running the showroom.”

Looking ahead, Lion Plumbing has a goal to expand its footprint within the next five to 10 years. Blanco agrees, adding that the showroom would benefit from a secondary location in the busy Miami Design District.

“Expanding into that market would allow us to serve a different clientele,” she says. “Customers from all over the globe come to Miami’s Design District to see the latest designs and trends.”

Thinking about what she’s proud of the showroom for, Blanco says taking the time to be involved with LPG has been instrumental.

“I’m proud of the progress we’ve made to become a destination showroom, which can be credited to our involvement with LPG,” she says. “I’ve learned so much about how to grow as a company, how to better our sales and designs, and how to just be better as what it is we are so passionate about — being Miami’s destination, luxury showroom and serving our customers better than anyone else.”