Kolson's Long Island showroom focuses on offering an extensive inventory supported by expert product knowledge.

(Left to right) Sandy Lamberg, John Landy, Dale Landy, Davida Baron.
The showroom operated by Kolson in Great Neck (Long Island), N.Y., has an old-fashioned, homey atmosphere. It retains the look and feel of a mom-and-pop neighborhood store. That is intentional. When current President John Landy, his late wife, Ruth, and his late father, Louis Landy, acquired the business in 1960, it was a traditional general hardware store, the kind that carries cans of paint and pounds of nails. Over a period of years, John Landy worked on evolving the business into a high-end decorative hardware and plumbing product source with goods imported from Europe. But part of his vision was to retain the warm, hometown feeling, focused on customer service. Some orders for custom products are still written by hand. Every phone call is answered by a live person - there is no voice mail. There is even an on-premise locksmith.

As part of this evolution, John Landy traveled to France, Italy, Germany and Spain and attended European trade shows - including ISH in Frankfurt - to see what products were available for importing to his showrooms.

“The European manufacturers needed exports,” John Landy says. “They knew Americans did not have high-end decorative hardware. At that time the currency exchange rate was opposite of what it is now. It was four deutsche marks to one U.S. dollar. The reps from those European manufacturers came to the United States and approached operations like ours. Kolson was one of the pioneers in bringing high-end decorative hardware to the United States.”

This strategy involved a leap of faith. No one knew if the European products would sell. Beyond that concern, these goods had to be special ordered and purchased in volume, even in pallet loads.

“This was a way we distinguished our company,” John Landy admits. “No one else on Long Island had what we had.”

By 1980 most of the traditional hardware sundries that had been carried, including paint and lightbulbs, had been discontinued.

“Shelf space is very expensive,” says Sandy Lamberg, operations manager. “Do you want to see a pound of nails or a pound of knobs? The look of the showroom changed completely.”

While the 5,000-sq.-ft. downstairs showroom retained its focus on decorative hardware, in 1981 the 5,000-sq.-ft. apartment space upstairs was converted into a bath and kitchen showroom.

“We are in a very affluent neighborhood,” Lamberg says. “Some of our customers have three or four homes. They may own a place in Manhattan, in Florida and in California. Some of them have 11 bathrooms to furnish.”

Today the first floor showroom displays decorative exterior and interior door hardware, cabinet and window hardware including knobs, handles, hinges, latches, switch plates, register covers and mail box slots, all in a wide array of styles and finishes. The second floor bath and kitchen showroom features a large selection of faucets, sinks, toilets, mirrors, medicine cabinets and bathroom accessories. The company also offers tubs, whirlpools, shower enclosures, toilets, bidets, and more recently, vanities.

Customers can visit the showroom or view products on the company's Web site at www.kolson.com.

“Our bath and kitchen inventory ranges from the very ornate to the very simple,” says Davida Baron, advertising manager. “We carry elusive items. Our motto is if you can't find it at Kolson, it does not exist.”

John Landy estimates that the showroom currently displays 400 to 500 faucets.

His daughter, Dale Landy, vice president, joined the family business in 1985 after an internship with the Brooklyn District Attorney's office. She is being groomed to succeed her father as president, the third generation of the family to run the business.

In the 1990s she oversaw the renovation of the showroom inside and out. The exterior was redone in 1995; the downstairs showroom was remodeled in 1996 and the upstairs was redone in 1997.

“I wanted everything to look very sleek and professional,” Dale Landy says. She discontinued the practice of using different vendor-supplied boards for product displays and instead mounted all items on a black background for a more elegant look.

Light-colored floors were installed to contrast with the dark background of the displays. “We wanted the type of floor that looked like it was from someone's home,” Dale Landy says. The company also invested in new lighting for the showroom. “We wanted the showroom to be well-lit but with no glare - just tasteful,” she says.

“Dale redecorated the showrooms so they would have a more luxurious look but still retain a sense of family and the warm feeling of being part of the neighborhood,” Baron explains.

Vignettes were removed from the display floor to allow more space for individual products to be shown. “Vignettes can get old and tired quickly and they take up a lot of room,” Dale Landy says.

All of the displays are set up so they are easy to change, Lamberg points out. A board of bathroom accessories can be created in just one hour. All of the faucets are on portable mounts so each one can be compared with and matched up with a sink or coordinating accessories.

Just as important as offering a wide selection of products is providing excellent customer service, Dale Landy says.

“We have knowledgeable salespeople who have been here 10 to 20 years,” Baron says. “They know the stock and they can help guide the customer into making the right decision.”

At least once a month Kolson asks different manufacturers reps to visit and train its staff. “We want everyone here to be equally knowledgeable,” Lamberg says.

That is particularly important when everyone is expected to be able to answer the phone and assist customers. As part of its customer service creed, Kolson does not have voice mail.

“No one is above answering the phone,” Baron says.

“We try to maintain a good rapport with our customers, keep the personal touch,” says Dale Landy. “There are times when someone needs something right away and if it's on the way home for me or one of our sales associates, we will go to the customer's house and drop it off. This is just a sample of the courtesy we give to our customers.”

While Lamberg makes himself available to help customers with hardware specifications, all of Kolson's sales associates are experienced in their related fields, whether it's hardware or plumbing. Kolson's upstairs showroom staff has the expertise and knowledge to assist each customer with his or her plumbing specifications, John Landy says.

“When you are doing a house with multiple baths, you want as few problems as possible,” Lamberg says. “If something doesn't sound right, I'll contact the contractor or even go to the site.”

Showroom customers include homeowners, designers, architects, contractors and builders. The showrooms attract customers by word-of-mouth and with trade advertising.

Also, the company hosts vendor parties, sending invitations to local architects, designers and builders.

Recently Kolson started sending out a monthly newsletter: Bright Ideas from Kolson. It informs customers about new products.

Looking to the future, Kolson intends to work on maintaining its reputation and continuing to thrive, Baron says. “We want people to know that at Kolson they can be assured of getting service, expertise about the product, the right guidance.” <<


Kolson's mission statement is posted on the walls of the showrooms:

We at Kolson want to make shopping for your home a pleasant experience. We are dedicated to giving each customer the best selection of products in a relaxed and luxurious atmosphere … guided by the most professional and knowledgeable salespeople in the business.

Your satisfaction is our gratification.

Sidebar: Kolson Wholesale

Kolson opened its wholesale division, Kolson Wholesale, in Farmingdale (Long Island), N.Y., in 1985. The division is about a half hour's drive from the company's Great Neck showroom. It occupies a 20,000-sq.-ft. building on a one-acre lot, with offices, a warehouse and shipping area.

“Customers of the wholesale division must have a showroom,” explains Davida Baron, advertising manager. “Our wholesale division is totally separate from our retail. Other showrooms will come to Kolson Wholesale to buy their goods. If you think of Kolson like a tree, the Farmingdale wholesale division is the major branch. It extends out to dealers.”

If a product is in stock and the order is received by 3 p.m., it is shipped out the same day, according to Dale Landy, vice president.

To spur sales, Kolson Wholesale offers various promotions and incentives.

The Great Neck showrooms (both floors) have 21 employees. Hours are 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday; 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday; closed Sunday.

The Farmingdale warehouse has seven employees.

It is open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.