Raising The Bar
That is the philosophy you have to adopt if you are operating in a mature industry today, Newman says. “Our customers can buy what we sell at any wholesaler,” he notes. “Home Depot and Lowe's also carry a lot of the same products. We can't change that. So we have to make sure our deliveries are complete and on time. We want to be nice to our customers and see that they get the right stuff.”
The home centers and big box stores have not had a big impact on Falk's business, Newman says. “Contractors and plumbers still want to deal with wholesalers because we can take care of their problems.”
When the big box retailers entered the market there was concern that wholesalers would go out of business, but actually, they have benefited because it has created more interest and demand, Newman says. Consumers are perceiving the kitchen and bath as more romantic and personal.
The products in a designer showroom are more accessible than in a warehouse setting, he explains. People can touch the faucets, feel the depth of the sink.
Newman initially was hired as a consultant to the company by Louis Kleinman, CEO/chairman, then three years ago he was invited to join the firm as president.
“We have a strategy when we go to market,” Newman says. “We try to approach the business as a game. If everyone is pumped up and ready to play, they will do better. We operate on a mostly open book basis. Each branch has its own profit and loss statement and budget. The branch managers get a monthly score card that shows how they did. I set projections or goals for the branches which I review with the managers. If you have 50 people, but 30 are pulling the sled while 20 are riding, those 30 are working really hard. I'm trying to get everybody involved in pulling the sled.”
Each quarter Falk schedules a one-day sales meeting on a Saturday for branch managers and counter people. The company is also conducting sales training sessions to further enhance customer service.
At the time of this writing, the new showroom was not open on Saturdays, but that was under consideration. “Demand will tell us if we should open on weekends,” Newman says.
Falk built the facility that houses the North Little Rock showroom, a counter sales area and warehouse, and opened it in December 2003. Newman says this is the only wholesaler-owned showroom currently operating in the North Little Rock area, although some plumbing contractors have showrooms.
To encourage traffic into the showroom, Falk held a grand opening party in January. Also, the wholesaler is cooperating with State Water Heater in a promotion that will continue through Sept. 30.
The new showroom was designed by David Hawkins, ASID, of Design Management, Akron, Ohio.
“The showroom is very modular, so it's easy to switch out displays,” Hawkins says. “Fixed vignettes would be expensive to change. The key is to keep the showroom looking like it's up and running at all times. A void can be filled easily. The lighting is product focused. All the drama is in the product.”
The North Little Rock showroom was designed with customer service in mind. A conference room in the center of the showroom can be used for sales training or closing a sale. It has windows overlooking the showroom so that sales meetings can be conducted during business hours without any loss of customer service. Similarly, windows in the branch manager's office enable him to keep an eye on the showroom, the counter area, the loading dock and the trade entrance.
The reception desk also is equipped as a workstation so the receptionist can perform various functions from one location.
The showroom has partnered with a local stone and cabinet manufacturer. The stone supplier donated a stone countertop that serves as the reception desk. Countertops are displayed with the sinks.
The anchor manufacturer is Kohler, with a Premier Showroom layout which features a working Sok tub as its centerpiece.
The product displays do not identify brands or prices, so that customers will have to ask a salesperson for the information. The salespeople are instructed to quote manufacturer's list price to consumers.
One of the few vignettes in the showroom is at the front entrance, to set an upscale tone.
“We wanted a wow factor, so we placed a high-end suite for people to see immediately as they enter the showroom,” Hawkins says. “This lets them know they are not working with a handyman, but with a consultant who knows the industry. It's like walking into a high-end jewelry store. You recognize from the displays what type of operation it is. This is jewelry for the home.”
Sidebar: Company ProfileHeadquarters: Hot Springs, Ark.
Locations: Branches in Hot Springs and North Little Rock, Ark.; one-to-two person satellite facilities in Benton, El Dorado, Malvern, Mena, and Arkadelphia, Ark. Showrooms in Hot Springs (3,000 sq. ft.) and North Little Rock (5,000 sq. ft.).
Inventory: The North Little Rock showroom is supported by a 13,500-sq.-ft warehouse, with two docks and a drive-through door.
Employees: 50 full time, company-wide. Three salespeople assigned to North Little Rock showroom.
Showroom Hours: Monday to Friday 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Management: Louis Kleinman, CEO/chairman; John Newman, president; Dennis Larson, manager, North Little Rock branch; Sharon Henry, manager, North Little Rock showroom.
Vendors: Kohler Co.; Jason International; Delta Faucet; Vitra USA; Newport Brass; Hansgrohe; Watermark; Aqua Glass; ThermaSol (steam generators); In-Sink-Erator disposers and dispensers; Whirlpool and KitchenAid appliances; State Water Heaters; Intec and Alnor hardware/knobs.