Kempton & Self's 6,100-sq.-ft. kitchen and bath showroom has performed beyond projections since it opened in August 2000.

The single Kempton & Self showroom in Gainesville, Fla., is certainly not average. The 6,100-sq.-ft. facility is owned and operated by Jeff Kempton, a state-certified Master Plumber and builder, and his wife, Shari. This is unusally large based on Supply House Times' showroom survey, published in April and May, 2000, which found that 80% of respondents' showrooms were 5,000 sq. ft. or smaller. Nearly 30% were less than 1,000 sq. ft.

"We have created the largest showroom in the state, possibly the largest in the Southeast," says Jeff Kempton.

Annual sales from the single showroom are also extraordinary, exceeding $2 million at year-end 2001. Nearly 50% of wholesalers responding to Supply House Times' 2000 showroom survey said they generated annual sales ranging from $360,000 to $1.2 million for all showrooms operated, which averaged 2.7 locations.

Kempton & Self Kitchen & Bath was incorporated in March 1999. "We worked out of our garage from May 1999 to August 2000 while our showroom store was being built," Shari Kempton says.

The Kemptons expect to achieve payback on their investment in the showroom in three to five years. They designed the showroom themselves. They wanted to create something new and different for their market and customer base.

"There is no other showroom like ours anywhere," Jeff Kempton says. "Before we opened, the builders, plumbing contractors and designers all sent their clients to Orlando."

The target customer for the showroom is the person who wants to build a custom home. Customers are drawn locally from Georgia to Miami. Gainesville is a university and medical town with a large number of young professionals, he says.

The showroom has 17 bath vignettes, including 14 fully equipped and functional bathroom displays. One bathroom display is child-friendly with appropriate-size fixtures; another is equipped with fixtures that address special needs. Three of the bath vignettes double as actual restrooms for customer use.

Another two vignettes in the showroom are functioning kitchens. Two more are being added that will display a variety of high-end appliances.

There are dozens of working showerheads and dozens of functioning faucets encircling a working moat. Displays are continually updated. No prices are listed.

"We wanted to give homeowners the opportunity to try out their plumbing products before they buy them," Jeff Kempton says. "No one else in our community was doing that."

In addition to traditional plumbing products, the showroom carries cabinetry, appliances, lighting, solid surface countertops, central vacuums and smart house systems.

"Today every custom house that is built needs residential structured wiring in order to be in touch with the future," says Jeff Kempton.

The appliances carried include refrigerators and wine cellars; dishwashers; washing machines; gas and electric ranges, ovens and cooktops; and grills, fryers, woks and steamers. Appliance brands carried include Amana, Bosch, Fisher-Payker, Gaggenau, In-Sink-Erator, Jenn-Air, KitchenAid, Sub-Zero, Thermador, Viking, W.C. Wood, Whirlpool and Wolf Gourmet.

"Our niche in the market is to be a one-stop shop," Shari Kempton says. "We try to buy from as many vendors as possible to accommodate our clientele. We're interested in anything that is not your ordinary plumbing product. If a product has a high-end look, we like to display it."

Showroom Staffing And Support

The four-person showroom staff is complemented by two outside salespeople and three inside salespeople. The company employs a total of 13 people.

"We need to expand staff now," Jeff Kempton says. "We keep adding staff as we need them."

Its experienced sales staff and unique product mix provide the wholesaler with its competitive edge, he says. Three members of its staff have 80 years of combined plumbing experience.

"We look for a showroom salesperson with the right attitude, someone who is a team player and has sales experience," Shari Kempton says.

Training is on-the-job and includes educational tapes from the wholesaler's distribution management software provider, Eclipse. "We could not run without them," Jeff Kempton says. "From sale to delivery, Eclipse helps with every aspect of our work day."

The company owns five trucks that bear the company name and make daily deliveries. Until February, the showroom was open Saturdays; now it is closed but makes appointments for after hours and Saturdays. "We attracted mainly window shoppers on Saturdays," Shari Kempton says.

"We offer our contractor customers no-hassle service," Jeff Kempton says. "We order the right products the first time and on time so they are here when needed." Also, rebate programs and training are available for contractors.

The building that houses the showroom also has a 3,000-sq.-ft. counter sales area with a separate entrance and extended hours of service (7 a.m. to 5 p.m. vs. 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. for the showroom); an 11,000-sq.-ft. warehouse and a 1,000-sq.-ft. lounge where employees can have lunch or watch training tapes.

Three offices are incorporated into the showroom. In addition salespeople can conduct business on two 12-foot long solid-surface tables.

Kempton & Self also has a 22,000-sq.-ft. warehouse in High Springs, Fla., and is building a 28,000-sq.-ft. warehouse in Newberry, Fla., that will become its principal distribution center.

The company promotes its showroom with ads on TV and radio, in newspapers and magazines, and by participating in home shows. Twice Kempton & Self has been featured on the cover with editorial coverage in Gainesville Today, a local magazine that provides community information and entertainment news and functions as a visitors' guide. The magazine will feature Kempton & Self's showroom on its cover again in its April Parade of Homes issue.

The showroom is also supported by the company's Web site at The site shows and sells the wholesaler's products. In the future, the site may be expanded to offer parts online.

Kempton & Self, which views itself as strictly a wholesaler, recently submitted a membership application to the Southern Wholesalers Association.

Looking to the future, the Kemptons have developed a five-year plan for the business. They expect to add another location and may branch out to other cities. Meanwhile, their Web site is attracting customers worldwide.