Wholesalers are starting to understand what showrooms are about.

Kenny Bath and Kitchen Showroom, Jackson, TN (a division of Kenny Pipe and Supply).

It’s 11:45 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 6, and we’ve just completed the judging ofSupply House Times’ first annual Showroom of the Year competition. I’m exhausted, exhilarated, excited, thrilled and proud!

Yours truly had the idea of doing a Showroom of the Year competition for several months. I worked on how to present the idea to our readers and how the competition might be put together. Next I ran the idea by my incredible bosses atSupply House Times. They endorsed the idea enthusiastically. Because it was not on the 2008 editorial calendar, we announced the competition in an article in the July 2008 issue and promoted it in theBath & Kitchen Pro eNewsand onSupply House Times’ Web site. The winners would be announced in an article to appear in the October 2008 issue. The deadline for nominations was mid to late August. Judging had to be completed by Sept. 1, and the winning article done by Sept. 6. This didn’t leave much time for the participating showrooms to pull together all of the information, pictures and materials needed to back up their nomination.

We thought we’d be doing well to attract 15+/- nominations. Well, we received 35. Wow! What a tremendous response in the short time allotted! Next came the logistics of how the judges could review the mass of information - and I’m talking about two feet of material, dozens of e-mails and stacks of CDs. Reed Fry of Fry Communications arrived at my home early one morning and we put in 12 straight hours reviewing entries. My wife, Carol, helped load CDs, made copies of pertinent information and put food in front of us to keep us on track. We started again at 6:15 the next morning and by 10 a.m. had agreed upon the finalists for each category. Managing Editor Pat Lenius, Editor Jim Olsztynski and Publisher Scott Franz ofSupply House Timesalso contributed to the process.

So why do I feel exhausted, exhilarated, excited, thrilled and proud? First: The tremendous response to the idea of a Showroom of the Year. Second: The incredible, first-rate, beautifully done nomination forms and information. (I know how much work each and every entry involved). Third: Seeing pictures of some of the most beautiful plumbing wholesaler showrooms in America. And finally, after preaching, teaching, writing and waving the flag for showrooms for the past 15 years, I was able to see a lot of wholesalers not only embracing the idea of doing a showroom, but coming to the table with a bunch of money to build out first class, creative, spectacular facilities. Wow! I’m overwhelmed. Congratulations and a heartfelt thank you!

Okay, have I kept you in suspense long enough? The contest rules stated there would be two winners for the two different size showroom categories: 2,500 sq. ft. and larger and under 2,500 sq. ft. However, there were a number of 10,000 sq. ft. and larger showrooms among the 35 nominations, in addition to the many that fell in the range of 2,500 to 10,000 sq. ft. and a half dozen that were 2,500 sq. ft. or smaller. After much discussion, we decided to name three winners based on the three size categories. So here are the 2008 Showroom of the Year winners:
  • Morrison Supply in Houston, TX - 10,000 sq. ft. and larger category;
  • Salon Blue Ridge, Flat Rock, NC (a division of Wilkinson Supply) - 2,500 sq. ft. to 10,000 sq. ft. category;
  • Kenny Bath and Kitchen Showroom in Jackson, TN (a division of Kenny Pipe and Supply) - under 2,500 sq. ft. category.

Congratulations to these winners! I will be writing detailed articles on each of these wonderful companies in future issues ofSupply House Times. In the meantime, let me whet your appetite with just a few of the highlights that influenced the judging in their direction.

Morrison Supply's New Orleans-style showroom in Houston, TX.

Morrison Supply, Houston, TX

Morrison’s showroom in Houston, TX, is a whopping 17,000-sq.-ft. facility. The showroom’s design theme is based on New Orleans streets and shops. Each product category has its own store name. For example, The Kohler Store, Jewelry for the Home (cabinet hardware and bath accessories), Knobs and More (door hardware), Vessels Galore, Fixture Factory (two stories of tubs, sinks, water closets and faucets), The General Store (water heaters, water fillers, softeners, garbage disposals, supplies etc.), Great Wall of China (a unique wall display of products) and several more very creative store names.

The wholesaler has a detailed training program. They presented a long list of unique and different customer service ideas (which I’ll save for a future article). Their marketing programs and merchandising methods are extensive and exceptional. They treat the showroom as a separate profit center and have budgets and written goals. And they display a wide range of kitchen and bath products.

Salon Blue Ridge, Flat Rock, NC (a division of Wilkinson Supply).

Salon Blue Ridge, Flat Rock, NC

Salon Blue Ridge opened the doors of their 7500-sq.-ft. showroom in May 2007. It is truly one of the most unique, beautifully built-out plumbing wholesaler showrooms in America. Operated by Wilkinson Supply Co., Salon Blue Ridge epitomizes the slogan “one-stop shopping” for kitchen and bath products by showing and selling finish plumbing products, door and cabinet hardware, tile, flooring, lighting, kitchen cabinets, countertops, appliances and more.  A visit to this showroom is an experience unlike what is offered by any other showroom I’m aware of. There’s a “decompression zone” - an area just inside the front door where a receptionist meets and greets clients, then leads them to a couple of comfortable couches, serves them a beverage and invites them to watch a video presentation on a flat screen/DVD that tells them what to expect when visiting the showroom. I will save the really neat and unique things about this business for the feature article in November. Trust me, you’ll agree that what Salon Blue Ridge is doing is very special.

Kenny Bath and Kitchen Showroom, Jackson, TN

This is a new showroom. It opened for business in early 2008. They started a marketing campaign to tradespeople six months prior to the opening. This effort culminated with a hugely successful open house. The showroom is beautifully built out and truly feels like a home. The lighting is spectacular. Kenny has an in-depth training program and a detailed marketing program. They are proof that big things can come in small packages. More on them in a month or so also.

A Rewarding Experience

Being one of the judges for this competition was one of the most difficult (and fun) projects I’ve worked on in a long time. Of the 35 entries there were a dozen that were so close it was difficult to decide. Literally every one could/should be given an honorable mention.

And yes, there will be a competition next year. It will be announced in the spring. The deadline for nominations will be the end of August. This will allow everyone several months to prepare their entries. We learned a few things this first time around and will incorporate a few changes in the competition next year.

I learned a lot in going through this process. It just goes to show that an old dog can learn new tricks - and I’ll be sharing some of these “tricks” in future articles.

I would be remiss if I didn’t say a huge thank you to Reed Fry for giving up two days from his busy schedule to help with the judging. Reed is the principal of Fry Communications. His firm is a leading advertising/public relations agency specializing in the kitchen and bath industry. Also, a huge thanks to Pat Lenius, Jim Olsztynski and Scott Franz, my bosses atSupply House Times, for endorsing the idea and helping to make it such a huge success.

Finally, I can honestly say that you wholesalers are really starting to understand what showrooms are about: how to build them out and how they need to be managed. You’ve made me very happy and very proud. But don’t stop now! There’s still a long way to go. Together we’ll make it happen! Thank you very much!