The daily schedule of General Plumbing Supply's Claus deRond serves as a job description for a showroom manager.

Claus deRond says that his job as a showroom manager helps him turn his customers' dreams into reality.
Meet Claus deRond, the manager of General Plumbing Supply's recently remodeled 2,000-sq.-ft. showroom in Auburn, Calif., about 25 miles from Sacramento.

DeRond is one of about 4,000 decorative plumbing and hardware showroom managers in the United States. According to a 1997 Supply House Times survey of plumbing wholesalers with showrooms, the average showroom is about 2,500 sq. ft., has a manager, and employs one or two salespeople. General Plumbing's Auburn showroom fits this profile exactly.

While deRond has been with General Plumbing only since April, his background in the decorative plumbing industry goes back much farther and spans two continents. I got to know Claus myself in 1986 when I employed him in the Dublin, Calif., showroom of The Plumbery, which I owned at the time.

At our request, Claus put together a running log of what a showroom manager has to do on a day-to-day basis to run a successful operation. It's a long "to-do" list - but it's the work life that showroom managers across America are living each and every day.

We chose Claus for this story not only because of his experience in the industry but also because of the immediate impact he has had on General Plumbing's Auburn showroom. The facility was in need of an overhaul, says Rich Amaro Jr., vice president/operations and one of the owners of General Plumbing.

"When Claus knocked on my door, I knew how we could correct the situation and add a strong sales-oriented manager at the same time," Amaro says. "Claus immediately went to work with our two salespeople, Karla Garofalo and Carol Pereyna. Together, they designed an all-new showroom."

"We worked many evenings and quite a few weekends to put it all together," deRond adds, "but the overall team effort made the end result all the more rewarding."

Several months later the Auburn showroom is a bright space with appealing openness. The displays feature a nice mix of traditional wholesaler products and stylish domestic and European decorative offerings.

Showroom saleswoman Carol Pereyna (left) works on a set of plans with customer Sally Kriz-Convis of Grass Valley, Calif.

From Amsterdam to Auburn

Before we get to the list, a little bit about deRond's background. He immigrated to the United States from Holland, arriving here in 1980.

"When I came to this country," he recalls, "all I had with me were a backpack and my Army books."

His first job was working for a decorative hardware and plumbing dealer in Stockton, Calif. After several years of learning his trade, he went to work as a direct factory rep for a major faucet/door hardware manufacturer. He was good - so good, in fact, that I enticed him to be the first manager of The Plumbery's Dublin showroom.

DeRond's entrepreneurial spirit led him to start his own rep agency selling high-end European faucet and fixture lines in Northern California, Oregon and Washington. He returned to Holland in 1993 and opened his own showroom in Amsterdam.

It was a wonderful showroom, copied after the American model: big, wide open, a few vignettes, great product selection and service, service, service. Unfortunately, he suffered from the same ailment that affects the longevity of so many small businesses in this country - a lack of working capital. He was forced to close the business and returned to the Northern California area that he loves.

Auburn is a community that sits in the Sierra Mountain foothills. The showroom's target clientele is a mix of baby-boomer commuters, new retirees and longtime Auburnites who value the scenic, historic and slower-paced environment.

The two salespeople in the showroom have a combined 20 years of experience with the company. Garofalo is a 16-year employee, and Pereyna has been with General for four years.

The following list of what a showroom manager does day-in and day-out is based on deRond's experiences as well as my 17 years of running The Plumbery. If any wholesaler needs a job description for a showroom manager, this would be an excellent start.

Because not everything is done everyday, we have broken out the activities by their suggested frequency: everyday, most days and some days.

Everyday activities:

  • Unlock the doors and turn on the lights. (Yes, the showroom manager is usually the first one there!)
  • Walk the showroom. Make sure there are no holes (robbed product) in displays and that no books, brochures or other papers are lying around.
  • Plan and organize the new day. Review and prioritize calls to make, quotes to do, appointments to keep.
  • Be sure the coffee is brewing for employees and clients.
  • Make return calls and do follow-ups regarding problems, orders, quotes, deliveries.
  • Meet with clients - both walk-ins and those with appointments.
  • Help clients to select product.
  • Prepare quotes. (This is being done by hand at General but with an eye toward computer-generated quotations.)
  • Manage and motivate sales employees. When necessary, help them with discounting, technical questions, situations, follow-up and personal issues.
  • Work with plumbers and general contractors on upcoming, existing and past jobs.
  • Write orders for sold product - everything from a replacement part to fixtures for a 10-bathroom house.
  • Do purchase orders on products for special-order jobs handled by the manager. At General, Karla and Carol do regular stock purchasing on showroom products for the branch. Some decorative-type products are stocked at other branches (hubs) and delivered on a regular schedule.
  • Develop long-term relationships with designers, architects, builders, remodelers and plumbers. Repeat business is key to success.
  • Continually learn to work with interruptions and the unexpected!

Most days:

  • Meet with vendors. Always encourage appointments.
  • Make decisions on product. Out with the old, in with the new!
  • Negotiate buys and special terms on display product and place the order with the vendors.
  • Train the salespeople both in product and professional selling skills. Learning is done via demonstration and on-the-job experience.
  • Pull product for clients. The warehouse crew can handle larger, heavier product.
  • Write the invoice for product going out the door.
  • Follow up manufacturer leads.
  • Look for new leads via building permits, contractor newsletters and word-of-mouth from tradespeople.
  • Keep price books, catalogues and brochures up-to-date. At General, this now is being done manually.
  • Oversee stock ordering and levels on display product.
  • Read trade magazines (Supply House Times should be first, of course!). Keep up-to-date on what's new in the marketplace.
  • Mark in newly received product on the customer's invoice.
  • Coordinate with branch ware-house and office people on anything and everything that pertains to the showroom.
  • Work with the accounts receivable manager on all showroom accounts receivable situations.

Some days:

  • Plan advertising and promotions.
  • Place ads. General is starting to promote its showrooms to the public.
  • Organize open houses. To announce the grand opening of its new showroom, General Plumbing did two open houses, one for the trades and one for the public.
  • Install most display product.
  • Visit jobsites looking for new business, cementing relationships and handling situations.
  • Do customer credits.
  • Arrange return goods author-zation to or with vendors.
  • Work hard to "resell" the new showroom. Sometimes it's harder to convince people of the wonderfulness of your products and services the second time around.
  • Implement new products and discount structures to improve gross profit margins. At General Plumbing, margins are in the low- to mid-30s range. The goal is to increase the gross profit on sell by 5%. Teaching the salespeople how to sell for margin is a big part of the program.
  • Use the Internet. General has a Web page, but presently it's only informative. Claus would like to turn it into a selling tool!
  • Take "manager calls." These are calls from clients who only want to speak to the manager. When done well, they should result in happy, satisfied clients.
  • Do programs for model homes. Be selective and make sure it will be a win-win scenario for all concerned.
  • Make "emergency" deliveries yourself. It's good public relations.
  • Exploit public relations oppor-tunities with local media and the community. An article about your showroom in a newspaper may be the best advertisement you can generate - and it's free!
  • Always be on the lookout for the new and different products your competition doesn't have.
  • Price product. General uses manufacturer's suggested list price.
  • Establish sales and gross profit goals for showroom salespeople.
  • Plan, organize and execute a tent sale. At General this is a once-a-year event to sell both the old and the new to the trades and the public.
  • Attend appropriate trade and community events.
  • Work with manufacturers reps in all areas that enable you to help each other.

These are long lists of activities for a showroom manager. Yet I'll bet we overlooked quite a few more items that could and should be added.

"The showroom manager's job is multifaceted and dictates the wearing of many hats," deRond says. "It's challenging and often frustrating, but it's also very rewarding.

"Working with high-end clients and products allows you to be creative, professional and innovative. You're selling dreams and helping turn them into reality. I wouldn't want to be doing anything else."

Rich Amaro Jr.

Sidebar: General Plumbing Supply emphasizes diversification

Rich Amaro Sr. started General Plumbing Supply Co. in 1966 in Walnut Creek, Calif. The business has grown to eight locations, all in Northern California. Six locations are plumbing supply outlets and two are electrical supply stores. Annual sales exceed $30 million. The company employs more than 100 people.

Three sons are active in the business: Rich Amaro Jr. is vice president/operations; Austin Amaro heads the plumbing branch in Sonora, Calif.; and Mark Amaro is in charge of the electrical store in Sonora.

"Plumbing accounts for about 75% of the total revenues and electrical 25%," Rich Amaro Jr. says. "Contractors - plumbing, electrical, remodel and general - are the core of the business, rendering about 85% of our total sales, with consumers and kitchen-and-bath dealers making up the balance."

The company has six outside salesmen calling on the trades, but the bulk of the business is will-call. Counter business is incredible. Almost 60% of the wholesaler's total revenue is done over the counter.

Competitive strategy

"Over the years we have developed our competitive edge," Amaro says. Here's how the company does it:

1. General has the most complete inventory in its areas.
2. If General doesn't have it, the wholesaler will get it!
3. The company has developed personal relationships with its customers. Customers like doing business with General.
4. Hustle - flat-out good service!
5. The company has diversified into showrooms and decorative products.

Also, Amaro says, too many people render lip service to that all-important term, service. General walks its talk!

"General Plumbing was one of the first wholesalers in the West to open our doors to the consumer and general contractors," Amaro says. "Trade contractors are still the foundation of our business, but by having an open door sales policy we have seen both sales and margins grow."

Another unique strategy has been General's focus on the medium and smaller contractor, he says. Big doesn't necessarily mean better. This philosophy also allows the company to enjoy better than average margins on sell.

Decorative plumbing products

General recognized the opportunities of showing and selling higher-end products and opened its first showroom in 1983 at its Walnut Creek headquarters. The original showroom was about 1,800 sq. ft. and featured both domestic and European products. The showroom has always marketed products to both the trades and the consumer.

Today, the Walnut Creek showroom is comprised of 3,500 sq. ft. and employs five salespeople. The newly remodeled showroom at the company's Auburn branch is about 2,000 sq. ft. The Brentwood branch has a smaller combination counter-showroom area.

In 1989 a separate Decorative Plumbing Division was created with the idea of not only selling these products through General's own showrooms but also developing a wholesale business to sell to kitchen-and-bath dealers and other decorative plumbing showrooms. This division is located in Livermore, Calif., and headed by Brian McDonald. Eight employees work in this area, generating about $5 million in sales.

Amaro says, "This diversification has allowed the company to increase revenues and enhance margins by growing buying power with vendors on these specialty products."