Wholesaler of the Year: Building business
"Everybody who runs a showroom, no matter how small, wants to attract someone willing to buy top-of-the-line product in a boutique environment," says Joel Becker, CEO. "The question is, what do you have to do to move from selling spec housing white toilets, drop-in lavatories and low-end faucets to selling upscale products to the higher-end customer?"
Focusing marketing strictly on contractors hasn't proven to be an effective strategy for growth, Becker says. "We get to be known for what the contractors think we are, and we become static. That's a problem."
Contractors tend to down-sell products, selling what they know, says Nancy Becker, vice president, who oversees Torrington's two showrooms.
In response, the wholesaler has taken several steps to attract more high-end business and at the same time minimize low-end business. These include changing the showroom hours; trying to establish relationships with builders, even though sales continue to be made through plumbing contractors; and zeroing in on key lines to streamline product selection.
Its two showrooms — in Waterbury and New Haven, Conn. — are closed on Saturdays, but open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursdays. Extended hours are available by appointment only.
"If they are serious, people will make the time in their schedule to visit us during our regular hours," Nancy Becker says.
Saturday closings also address a quality of life issue for the showroom employees who worked Saturdays and often felt they had lost the weekend.
Management looked at the number of Saturday appointments before deciding to be closed that day. "The appointment is a good measurement of a serious consumer," Joel Becker says. "Most people are too embarrassed to set up an appointment if they are just browsing."
The showrooms are doing more business with the new schedule, Nancy Becker says. "We're getting more full houses with appointments than we would just being open on a Saturday morning."
Focus on the builderTorrington is trying to develop a relationship with the builder, but that does not mean bypassing the plumbing contractor, Joel Becker says. The builder may not do the actual purchasing but has influence on where customers go to select plumbing fixtures, he adds.
"In our showrooms 95% of sales go through a contractor," Joel Becker says, "but almost 99% of the showroom visits are by the homeowner.
"Occasionally we are forced to sell directly to the consumer in order to save a sale," he says.
The showrooms draw from a radius of about 30 miles but have attracted customers from as far as 50 miles.
"There is a lot of custom home construction in Connecticut," Nancy Becker says, "but the remodeling market also remains strong."
The New Haven showroom, which opened in June, is about 2,500 sq. ft. and, like the 3,000-sq.-ft. Waterbury showroom, is designed with a "suite" concept, which emphasizes vignettes of products.
"We are being more selective in our product offerings," Nancy Becker says. The number of faucet lines has been reduced and the china selection has been streamlined to focus primarily on American Standard, Porcher and Absolute, she says.
"If we concentrate on their products, vendors are more likely to help us and form a partnership with us," says company President Fred Stein.
Both showrooms have added a vignette with handicapped-accessible fixtures, Nancy Becker says. "The ADA-compliant suite is very popular. We have seen a growing demand for 5-ft. knock-down showers to replace 5-ft. bathtubs."
Internal affairsThe New Haven showroom is staffed by the showroom manager, who has a degree in interior design and designed the new facility, and a new salesperson. The Waterbury showroom has three full-time employees, including one with an interior design degree and one with technical training in the plumbing field, and two part-time employees.
A commission plan is offered to showroom salespeople based on the order size and gross margin.
The extensive product knowledge required for the job is achieved through training, including in-house presentations by manufacturers reps and attendance at trade shows.
Like the rest of the company, the showroom is highly computerized. The showroom staff can track orders from picking to delivery. Any discrepancy can be reported back to the customer almost immediately, Fred Stein says.
"For the most part our showroom customers want personalized attention and design recommendations, and are willing to pay for these services," Joel Becker says. "We now see a bolder consumer, actively involved in the contractor’s purchase. This bodes well for distributor showrooms."