This wholesaler-owned showroom has won national awards for its designer and continues to thrive after five years.

Consistency is key to a successful showroom, says Bud Essig, co-owner of Carr Supply, based in Columbus, Ohio, with his brother, Greg Essig. That means maintaining and updating displays and keeping the showroom clean.

"People will spend a lot of money to open a showroom but then they don't work them," he says. "It's an ongoing project. You can't just finish it and walk away."

Carr Supply brings cleaning people into the showroom every night and the showroom staff continually replaces products.

The wholesaler operates a 6,000-sq.-ft. showroom at its headquarters that sells both plumbing fixtures and kitchen cabinets, and has two others: a 1,200-sq.-ft. showroom in Mount Vernon, Ohio; and one that is 500 sq. ft. in Delaware, Ohio. It plans to open a 3,500-sq.-ft. showroom in Dayton, Ohio, in June, after renovating the existing space.

It took about two years to get the 6,000-sq.-ft. Columbus showroom to where it is today, Essig says. "You crawl, walk, then run," he says, describing its evolution. It was designed by David L. Hawkins, who received First Place in Showroom Design in the 1999 Kitchen & Bath Industry Leadership Awards and First Place among showrooms in the Professional category in the 1999 Halo Lighting Awards. Hawkins used special lighting and multi-level displays to enhance the upscale look of the showroom.

The national recognition of the awards given to the designer remains one of the Columbus showroom's greatest achievements, Essig says.

"Bud Essig started this showroom with the premise that he wanted something that would have longevity and help carry on the family name," Hawkins says. "He wanted a showroom that would enable his family to extend the pride and effort they put into things. He has taken this family-owned business to a new level."

Essig took risks with the showroom, including "moving it clear across town in Columbus," Hawkins says. "You can lose business when you relocate, especially when you're a family business. Another risk was going with such a large size showroom. He more than doubled the space of his former showroom in Columbus."

In the five years since it opened, the Columbus showroom has expanded its working displays to six. The addition of kitchen cabinets to the mix was builder driven, Essig says. The showroom is open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. or by appointment on Saturdays. Computers in the showroom are used to pull manufacturers' literature off the Internet.

The large showroom is staffed by four salespeople in the plumbing area and three in the cabinet department. Carr Supply trains its showroom salespeople in weekly meetings with sales reps and company-run sales meetings. The new showroom under development in Dayton will not carry cabinets until the company can find and hire experienced salespeople who understand layout and design, Essig says.

The Columbus showroom is meeting expectations and pays for itself, he says, adding, "We're spending money on it."

The showroom is drawing builders, remodelers and interior designers from a 50-mile radius. Builders send their homeowners there. It faces competition from five other wholesalers in the area, all of which also strive for an upscale image, as well as home improvement retailers Lowe's, Home Depot and Great Indoors.

"We don't advertise very much," Essig says. "We're not geared to handle a ton of walk-in traffic. Our best advertising is by word of mouth through the trades."

That may have to change in the future, he says. "Over time, we will have to become more retail oriented," he predicts.

An Upscale Mix

Visitors to its Columbus, Ohio showroom would be surprised at the variety of brands and products offered, says Bud Essig, owner of Carr Supply. The 6,000-sq.-ft. showroom carries the following brands of plumbing products:

Brass Craft
Aqua Glass

It recently added CANAC cabinetry. Among the heating products offered are: Comfortmaker, Mitsubishi Electric HVAC Advanced Products division, Metal-Fab, Skuttle, Cozy, Hart & Cooley, Ductmate, LUKJAN Metal Products and NuTone.

Photographer: Robert Spore

The entry to Carr's Columbus, Ohio showroom sets an upscale tone.

The addition of kitchen cabinets to Carr's showroom product mix was builder driven.

The overall showroom design and lighting won awards for designer David L. Hawkins.

The showroom draws builders, remodelers and interior designers.

Special lighting and multi-level displays enhance the upscale look of the showroom.

Carr's 6,000-sq.-ft. showroom has plenty of room for vignettes.