Plumb Supply opens the first Kohler Premier showroom in Iowa.

Pictured at the opening from left are: Pat Nicholson, branch manager, Des Moines, Iowa; Bob Jamieson, operations manager, Waukee, Iowa; James Foth, vice president, information systems; John Templeton, vice president, sales and marketing, all of Plumb Supply; Dave Bielser, president of Bielser Industries; Pete Petersen, vice president, operations; Frank Curtis, manager of corporate services, both of Plumb Supply; and Sandoval Da Silva, Kohler regional manager.
Builders and contractors gathered for the grand opening of Plumb Supply's Kohler Premier showroom in Waukee, Iowa, on Nov. 11, 2004. The showroom, which is one of eight the wholesaler operates throughout Iowa, is the first in the state to reach the Kohler Premier status. The five-hour open house showcased the latest Kohler products and featured a cocktail party held both inside and out in a heated tent.

Evolving To Kohler

Plumb Supply had always sold Kohler products until 1989. After a 12-year hiatus, the wholesaler reintroduced Kohler products in its showrooms in 2001. “The first nine months or so were kind of a learning curve for Kohler and for us,” says John Templeton, vice president of sales and marketing. “The main goal from day one was to get everything up to Kohler's specifications.”

And specific Kohler is. A Premier showroom starts with a 1,500-sq.-ft. minimum and continues all the way down to the texture and color of the carpet. “It's kind of a showroom within a showroom concept,” Templeton says. The Plumb Supply showroom in Waukee is 3,400 sq. ft., and although only 1,500 of that is the Kohler Premier section, Kohler products must make up 70% of the items displayed in the entire showroom.

When Plumb Supply learned of the space requirements, it ruled out its downtown Des Moines facility. The Waukee location, about 20 minutes west of Des Moines, has been in a constant expansion status since it opened in 1996. It first opened in a strip mall across the street from its current building and outgrew the space in eight months. It has moved twice since then and finally settled into the existing 25,000-sq.-ft. site the company built from scratch. “It was designed to have a Premier showroom from the blueprint stage,” Templeton says.

The Premier showroom is a turnkey operation. Plumb Supply sent Kohler the blueprints and the manufacturer sent back a truckload of displays, fixtures, and even the pictures that hang on the wall. A crew came to set it up, and it was done in three days.

Templeton likens it to a retail space in popular Iowa department stores. “If you go to Von Maur or Younkers or Dillard's, the Ralph Lauren display is going to look the same in Des Moines, Iowa, as it does somewhere else.”

Kohler's specifications don't leave much room for play in its half of the showroom, but the rest of showroom does have 1,900 sq. ft. of space to fill. While it is still under the rule that the majority of the products displayed must be Kohler, other vendors offering high-end lines, including Moen, Hansgrohe, GROHE and Delta Faucets, are prominently displayed. This part of the showroom design is an amalgam of input from contractors, vendors and showroom personnel.

Trevor Jamieson, inside sales/showroom, and Melissa McMillen, showroom consultant, work with homeowners and builders during showroom appointments.

Rewards And Riches

Kohler offers slick benefits to the showrooms that attain its Premier status. Besides total specification planning, it offers a budget for one year of free showroom advertising, a paid grand opening of the showroom and flat screen televisions inside the showroom that continuously run Kohler footage.

Templeton points out that some of the company's most gratifying showroom moments have involved Kohler products.

One homeowner who was building a house in Spirit Lake, Iowa, spent $85,000 alone on Kohler bathroom fixtures. Another couple in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, bought not one but two top-of-the-line Sok tubs - one for him and one for her.

The Kohler Premier showroom is a new concept nationwide, and Plumb Supply's is the first in Iowa. That draws people in, Templeton says, which makes the other vendors happy.

Plumb Supply has tapped into an area of new developments on the western side of Des Moines. Templeton says it is the only wholesaler with a kitchen and bath showroom in that part of the city.

At least 75% of the people who come into the showroom are the end users looking to build or remodel. The remaining customers are plumbers, homebuilders and interior designers working with their customers. The company gives a price to the contractor who passes that price along. It only quotes list prices and doesn't do any direct selling out of the showroom.

“It's sort of a fine line we walk sometimes with the showroom,” Templeton says. “We want contractors to feel like it's their showroom and that they can bring customers in any time they like, but feel safe in the fact that we're not going to sell to them.”

The company looks at its showrooms as just another added benefit to the customer. “I think it gets a builder and a contractor comfortable working with us,” he says. “It develops some better confidence in us.”

Builders and contractors attended the event.

Challenges And Future Plans

One of the biggest challenges for Plumb Supply is keeping the showroom clean and up-to-date, says Templeton. It can take six months to redo a showroom, and two months later a new product hits the market and it's getting torn up again. “I hate to have sawdust flying every other week,” says Templeton.

One thing that helps, he says, is that the vendors are almost always willing to give a discount price on display models. Plumb Supply depends on the manufacturers representatives to keep its knowledge of products current. It also keeps in mind the product launches in the spring around the time of the Kitchen/Bath Industry Show.

Plumb Supply intends to keep evolving. It has plans to open an eighteenth branch with a Premier showroom this spring in Davenport, Iowa. <<


COMPANY: Plumb Supply

SHOWROOM NAME: Water Concepts

LOCATION: Waukee, Iowa; headquarters are in Des Moines


SHOWROOM MANAGERS: Trevor Jamieson, Melissa McMillen

HOURS: 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. Consultations by appointment.

VENDORS: Kohler, Delta Faucets, Moen, Hansgrohe, GROHE, Ultra Baths, Gerber, Crane Plumbing, Alumax, Basco, Brasstech, Chicago Faucets, Alsons, Elkay.

COMPANY BACKGROUND: Plumb Supply, which spans 17 locations, all in Iowa, was founded in 1946. The company had grown to four branches by 1965 when it was acquired by Templeton Coal Co. More branches were added in 1979 when the company purchased Chandler Co., and it continues to grow today. Scott Anshutz is the current president.