I’ve been honored to write this column for more than 12 years, and I can honestly say this new Showroom of the Year project has been the most fun, most rewarding and most educational project I’ve worked on in all those years.
Morrison, Houston, TX -
10,000 sq. ft. and larger
Salon Blue Ridge, Flat Rock, NC - 2,500 to 10,000 sq. ft.
Kenny Bath and Kitchen Showcase, Jackson, TN - 2,500 sq. ft. and smaller
There were some very unique things about each business - and a number of similarities.
Here are some of the similarities:
Now let’s take a look at each of the companies.
MORRISON, Houston, TXMorrison is headquartered in Ft. Worth, TX, and was founded in 1917. They operate over 80 branches in Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas and Louisiana. They have grown their showroom business to more than 30 locations. Scott Sangalli is chairman and CEO and Darrell Hawkins is president. Morrison employs more than 1,100 associates. Joel Selzer is national showroom sales manager, Jackie Hager is the Houston showroom operations manager and Greg Meyer is the regional manager and Houston Central branch manager.
Morrison’s showrooms have come a long way in the past 10 years due to a concentrated effort on showroom growth. Morrison developed a design theme of a leisurely stroll through a New Orleans street - which is meant to help produce a soothing, enjoyable experience for customers who are frequently overwhelmed by the vast selection of fixtures, appliances and decorative plumbing.
The 16,500-sq.-ft. showroom in Houston uses this innovative presentation of products to tell their story. Meandering streets and shop scenes help create an unforgettable experience. There are live showerhead, whirlpool and steam displays. Morrison shows and sells both indoor and outdoor kitchens that allow for clients to actually use appliances before purchasing them and for “celebrity chefs” to put on cooking demonstrations.
Products are grouped together under such clever store names as “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 “Kallista Store,” “Kohler Store” and even the “General Store” (water heaters, water filters, softeners, disposals, supplies, etc.). This unique venue of product displays makes it fun and easy for the clients and sales consultants alike.
Morrison’s Houston showroom has 10 lead sales consultants, four assistants and three quotation specialists. The strategy here is to have experienced, strong sales consultants doing the bulk of the work with the clients, supported by people who do a lot of the very important administrative work. This frees up the lead salespeople to achieve more productive sales numbers.
The Houston showroom operates with an “appointment appreciated” policy. About 98% of all the folks coming through the doors have appointments.
They market the showroom strongly to and through the trades, with plumbers accounting for 55% of their sales, builders 30%, designers 15% and direct sales to the homeowners the balance. Morrison has a flexible selling policy which varies by showroom location. For instance, in some locations it is trades driven and in others it’s homeowner driven. Demographics and competition dictate what the strategy will be in each area.
Showrooms are treated as important profit centers and have their own financial statements.
Products in the Houston location are broken out by plumbing, appliances and hardware, with a department manager and quotation department for each segment.
There is a professional receptionist/greeter at the front entrance who helps qualify the clients and head them in the right direction.
Clients are provided with a picture and spec package on all jobs. When products are delivered to the job site, each product has a label identifying the room location, quantity and product code.
Working desks are not on the showroom floor. Sales consultants use “selection stations” which are scattered throughout the showroom. These stations are equipped with computers and printers. Plus, there is a mini-conference room available for appointments and designer personnel use.
Morrison has an internal training program that all sales consultants and assistants participate in. They use the Decorative Plumbing & Hardware Association’s product training manual and also have an ongoing vendor product knowledge training program.
In Houston, 100% of the marketing is done to the trades. They offer a number of in-house educational programs to these people. They do monthly product demonstrations and have in-house luncheons for tradespeople at which they offer CEU training credits for participating.
Morrison is very active in their community, supporting a number of charitable and industry organizations.
They are proof that you can be both big and good!
SALON BLUE RIDGE, Flat Rock, NCThe Salon Blue Ridge opened their doors in May of 2007 and is one of the most unique and beautifully built out showrooms I’m aware of. Andy Wilkinson, the owner and CEO of Wilkinson Supply, the parent company of Salon Blue Ridge, stated that they wanted to do a showroom “unlike any other in the USA.” In our opinion, they’ve accomplished that goal.
Wilkinson Supply is a 40-year-old plumbing wholesale business headquartered in Raleigh, NC, that operates three wholesale branches. The company employs 80 associates. Andy told me they entered the showroom business 18 years ago and that “it is a very important segment of our overall business.” I asked him why showrooms are important. He said, “They’re more challenging than just selling PVC pipe, plus they bring in additional revenues at higher margins.”
The uniqueness of the showroom starts the minute you grab the grand, classic brass door handle and open the heavy solid white oak doors and enter the showroom. You are not immediately overwhelmed with walls of faucets and rows of fixtures. Rather, you get the feeling of entering a very nice home of a friend. You are quick to notice the reclaimed antique oak floors, leather couches, HDTVs and handcrafted wall tiles.
Clients are greeted by a receptionist who takes coats, provides refreshments and politely inquires about the client and their needs. In previous articles I have talked about creating a “decompression zone” for your busy clients. Salon Blue Ridge has accomplished this in a beautiful way.
The 8,000-sq.-ft. showroom is divided into four separate showroom areas. The company displays and sells nine categories of products: finish plumbing, door and cabinet hardware, lighting, tile, kitchen cabinets, countertops, appliances, flooring and millwork. Andy stated that they “wanted to offer one-stop shopping for our clients and make as many products as possible available to home builders.” The concept and showroom are too new to judge the results just yet. But I for one endorse the strategy.
The showroom has multiple live displays. Appliances are on wheels so they can be moved to a place to hook up for live demonstrations.
Tile displays are on hanging batiks and each faucet is mounted on its own lighted box modeled after high-end fashion boutiques.
The whole showroom is “smart.” All the lighting, climate control and audio and visuals are controlled by the touch of a button. They have used products such as Liteware and Life Touch in conjunction with multiple media hubs placed strategically around the showroom.
There are four sales and design consultants. Each specializes in a specific area, but everyone can “talk” all the products. Training is done by visiting key manufacturers and bringing manufacturers into the showroom on a regular basis.
The showroom is also something of an art gallery. They bring in the works of local artists and show and sell these. This adds a nice flavor to the space and helps the artists. These are changed out every four to six months.
The company hosts events for non-profit organizations with the hope of raising awareness of the showroom and creating word-of-mouth advertising. It also helps the organization involved.
Everything you see in the showroom is for sale - including the couches, stools, TVs, desks, etc.
Salon Blue Ridge has already been recognized in a number of national trade magazines, including being named the “Best in Show” for innovative showroom design by Kitchen and Bath Design News.
KENNY BATH AND KITCHEN SHOWCASE, Jackson, TNThese folks just made it under the wire with a 2,490- sq.- ft. showroom. This beautiful showroom was opened in May of this year. The Kenny Bath and Kitchen Showcase is a division of Kenny Pipe and Supply, which is headquartered in Nashville, TN. In 1993 Bill Kenny, the current owner and president, purchased five branches from Westburne Supply. They’ve grown it to eight branches operating in Tennessee, Kentucky, North Carolina and Alabama. They employ 236 people and operate three divisions: wholesale plumbing, industrial PVF and showrooms. Mike Cottingham, marketing manager, told me that Kenny Pipe has plans to continue to expand in all three areas. The Nashville Business Journal pegged Kenny Pipe and Supply as the 5th fastest growing business in the area.
Showrooms are relatively new for the company, but have quickly become an important part of its long-range strategy. The Jackson, TN, showroom currently has two sales consultants. Ashley Shelby is the showroom manager and does both inside and outside sales. Jessica Morgan is the second consultant and concentrates 100% on inside sales.
Kenny hired “1220 Displays” in Nashville to design the Jackson showroom. It is very open, clean and crisp. The lighting is fantastic. Vendor brands are not prominently displayed - Kenny Bath and Kitchen Showcase is the brand. The ultimate goal was to provide a unique shopping experience. The new showroom design will be the template for future showrooms.
The showroom location is several miles from the wholesale facility and is in a high-traffic retail area. This showroom sells plumbing products only. They want their customers to know that they are experts in one area only and that they won’t be distracted by other related products.
The Kenny showroom displays a nice mix of traditional wholesale and decorative plumbing products.
As the showroom concept expands, Kenny wants to achieve a standardization of 75% of products shown and sold while allowing 25% flexibility for the local market demand. There are a number of “hands-on” working displays including whirlpool tubs, showerheads, water closets, lav faucets, instant hot water and water filtration. Products are grouped together by like item.
Prior to opening the showroom the manager toured facilities and attended intensive training sessions at a number of their vendor partners. Every manufacturer has held, and will continue to hold, product knowledge meetings in the showroom. Both associates are active in the local Builders Association and Chamber of Commerce. Ashley has attended an 8-week course on “Managing a Successful Business” and has been nominated to attend a “Leadership Jackson” course for community leaders.
Their marketing emphasis encompasses both trade and consumers. They encourage appointments. Currently the showroom hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, but they will do evening and Saturday appointments.
The folks at Kenny have proven that big things can come in small packages!
I cannot express how rewarding and how much fun doing this Showroom of the Year competition has been. We have learned a lot. We have come away impressed by what a great job many of you are doing with your showrooms. We just wish there was space to share more of some of the wonderful things many of you are doing. I will select “some of the best from the rest” for future articles - it’s too good not to share. Thanks to ALL of you who sent in nominations. This is going to be a yearly feature - so start pulling together your information now. I promise we’ll give you more time to react in 2009. Keep up the great work. Plumbing wholesalers are, and will continue to be, “the source” for finish plumbing products and more!