Imagine gorgeous models sashaying along a catwalk, carrying faucets or vessels in their arms. The catwalk was actually a counter located in a newly opened high-end bath and kitchen showroom operated by Central Arizona Supply in Scottsdale, Ariz.
“The fashion show was to kick off our new showroom,” says Jeremy Smith, showroom director. “It was in a very intimate setting. More than 300 people were packed into our store. It was incredible.”
Smith and his brother, Brandon, who is operations manager, are the third generation of brothers now working in the business. Their grandfather and great-uncle founded the business 36 years ago. It is currently owned by their father and their father's brothers, Don, David and Dan Smith.
In the Scottsdale showroom event, held in August, models showcased the latest in bath design while wearing clothing from Max Studio's 2004 fall collection.
“The faucets act as an accessory to the outfit as the faucet should be the ultimate accessory in your home,” says Jeremy Smith.
The first event featured an 80-foot runway inside of a 40,000-sq.-ft. space. Complimentary martinis were served, a silent auction was held, music was provided by a local deejay and the fashion on the runway was by St. John. Glamorous female models from Ford modeling agency carried faucets, while attractive men wearing torn T-shirts and denim jeans pushed toilets down the same runway. That show drew 650 attendees and raised $7,500 for the charity. Participating vendors included TOTO, Jacuzzi Whirlpool Bath and Hansgrohe.
Central Arizona Supply, which has nine branches, operates five showrooms: Las Vegas, Flagstaff, Mesa, Surprise and Scottsdale, Ariz. They range in size from 2,500 sq. ft. to Scottsdale's 5,500 sq. ft.
“For me the size of the showroom is inconsequential to your staff, the creative way to display and your product mix,” Smith says. “A small, intimate, beautifully displayed showroom with knowledgeable salespeople is better than some big warehouse 'showroom' any day.”
Most of the wholesaler's showrooms are or will become modular, Smith says. Displays can be changed regularly because nothing is attached to the floor.
The Scottsdale showroom, which Smith describes as “eclectic, sleek and urban,” has a stained blue concrete floor and white walls with a touch of fluorescent green, designed to contrast with the heat of the desert.
“You walk into the showroom and immediately feel refreshed,” Smith says. The new showroom also has a sitting area furnished with a contemporary couch and coffee table where customers can wait for an appointment or consult with a salesperson.
“The inspiration for a lot of my ideas comes from current retail spaces like the Prada store in Beverly Hills and New York or the Armani store in Milan, as well as clubs and restaurants,” Smith says. Design in the Southwest incorporates both traditional and contemporary looks, he says. “We want to show people how to extend the look of their dream home beyond walls and furniture and into the sanctuary of their bathroom and kitchen,” he notes.
Central Arizona Supply began as a plumbing installer business that grew into wholesale because the plumbing side did not have a quality supplier, Smith says. Over the years the company changed its focus to strictly the wholesale and retail business. Today it has 110 employees.
The customer base varies by location, according to Smith. “Each store has a strong plumber base - the plumber is the customer that has been there from the beginning. In Scottsdale, many custom homes are now being purchased and picked out by the builder, so we have a strong builder base. In our Surprise, Ariz., store we are across from Lowe's and Home Depot, so we have a strong retail customer base.”
Central Arizona Supply functions as both a bath-and-kitchen showroom and a wholesale distributor that deals with contractors. “Scottsdale is the best example of how we do business,” Smith points out. “We have one entrance to the showroom and an entrance to the parts and product counter in the back. We cater to both.”
Competition has changed over the years, expanding beyond other wholesalers to include hardware stores, big boxes, plumbing dealers and even cabinet companies, he notes.
“Competition is not as simple and narrow as it used to be,” he says. “We compete by being the first. We are the first company in an area, first to bring on a new line, first to bring in fresh ideas. We also feel it is our job to not just take a piece of the pie, but instead help to make the pie bigger. The Faucet Fashion Show was created to help everyone by exposing consumers to more products and more ideas.”
Since Smith joined the business two years ago, showroom sales have doubled. Showroom sales continue to grow, he says.
“We were able to double showroom sales because my family gave me the opportunity to hire incredible people to work in the showroom and after our sales began growing, they allowed me to update and create showrooms that were creative and competitive. We joined Fort´e Buying Group. That expanded my mind beyond just the showrooms in Arizona, providing ideas from all over the country. It also changed the way I think about product and what is and isn't needed in a showroom. What is needed are high profit product lines; what isn't needed are low margin, easily available lines.”
The initial challenges the company faced with its showrooms were internal. Smith says he had to convince the owners that the showrooms were a worthwhile investment for a wholesale firm. After the investment produced positive results, the challenge became establishing in people's minds that the showroom and the wholesale business are two separate entities.
“That includes manufacturers that do a lot with the wholesale company, but may not be a priority in the showroom,” Smith explains.
“My proudest moments have been watching our salespeople become incredible at what they do,” Smith says. “I typically hire outside of the industry and it has been great to watch them become proud of their work and their designs and watch their client base grow. I am also proud of the local newspaper articles that have been written about my family and where this company has come from and where it is going.”
At first, Smith says, he wanted nothing to do with the family plumbing wholesale business. After graduating from Arizona State where he studied marketing and communication, he moved to Los Angeles where he worked for Limited Inc., the fashion brand, working on store display and learning management skills. Then he returned to Phoenix for a sales position.
“In that time I realized that I could do all of the things that I wanted with design and creativity and sales within plumbing,” Smith says. “Ever since then, I have been trying to convince my friends that what I do is fabulous.” <<
Sidebar: Central Arizona Supply, Scottsdale, Ariz.Branch Locations: Apache Junction, Casa Grande, Flagstaff, Mesa, Phoenix, Payson, Scottsdale, Show Low and Surprise, Ariz.; Las Vegas.
Company Management: Don Smith, David Smith, Dan Smith - owners; Brandon Smith, operations manager; Jeremy Smith, showroom director.
Total Employees: 110
Showroom Locations: Las Vegas, Flagstaff, Mesa, Surprise and Scottsdale, Ariz.
Showroom Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Showroom Employees: 13 total.
Lines Represented (Vendors): TOTO, Hansgrohe, Jacuzzi Whirlpool Bath, Jado, Sigma, Grohe, Franke, Lefroy Brooks, Duravit.