Pushing Forward Through The Downturn
Family-owned Lee Supply Corp. has not allowed the economic downturn to interfere with its showroom merchandising efforts or force cutbacks. In fact, during this recessionary period, the Indianapolis-based wholesaler has opened a new showroom and remodeled another; expanded its product mix; stepped up its training; and increased its advertising and merchandising of the showrooms.
“We are looking for lines outside of the traditional ones found in most plumbing showrooms,” says Jennifer Lee, who oversees showroom marketing and development. “We are looking for products that make Lee Supply unique in our market.”
To that end, the wholesaler has developed and grown partnerships with vendors, contractors and even showroom consultant (and Supply House Times’ columnist) Hank Darlington.
Training Is A Win-WinLee Supply partners with vendors on training events for both its customers and employees. Weekly vendor-sponsored product training sessions are conducted in its showrooms, scheduled as early morning, lunch-and-learns or dinner events. Recent training sessions have focused on custom shower planning, tankless water heaters, “green” and aging-in-place products, in addition to vendor-specific training.
“Training makes our contractors better prepared when they go to the client’s home and also when they quote jobs,” Lee says. These partnerships and the expanded training efforts have created a win-win situation for the vendor, contractor, homeowner and showroom.
Showroom employees are sent to K/BIS and other industry shows to further expand their product knowledge.
New showroom consultants are required to spend time outside the showroom during the first month of employment, working in other departments within the company and learning how the wholesaling side of the business can team with the showroom operation. New employees are also presented with a Best Practices book that includes guidelines and customer service expectations and they are required to study an ASA book about showroom sales.
The company also trains outside sales staff and branch managers so they can assist in the showroom when needed.
Hank Darlington is one of the outside consultants who has partnered with the wholesaler on training efforts. He recently conducted an all-day training seminar for all of Lee’s showroom consultants that focused on customer service.
“Motivating our showroom consultants is a high priority,” Lee says. “Instead of making them follow a long list of policies and guidelines, we empower our employees to do what they believe is best for achieving our goals - we call it the ‘use your best judgment’ rule. This system has worked well for us because our consultants feel that they can make judgment calls when needed, and our customers appreciate that.”
The Importance Of Advertising And PromotionIn response to the troubled economy, Lee Supply has focused on expanding its target market and market penetration. It plans to spend more advertising dollars, promoting its showrooms on television, radio and in local high-end magazines, as well as with direct mail and via the hosting of educational seminars. In addition, the company will participate in every home show and trade show that enters its market, Lee notes.
“We have increased our participation in local builder associations, as well as designer and remodeler associations,” she says. “This should improve our brand awareness and also enable us to meet new people in our industry.”
Providing Outstanding Customer ServiceLee Supply’s showrooms add value by offering expanded customer service. For example, its customer service department handles all warranty repair work for acrylic, fiberglass and whirlpools that Lee Supply sells. The company has a shower door installation department to further support its showrooms.
“We know that our customers can purchase their products from another wholesaler, online or at a big box store,” Lee notes. “We are adding value to our services to differentiate ourselves. While we strive to be competitive in our showrooms, we do not focus on having the lowest prices but rather on providing outstanding customer service, the best showrooms and the highest quality products.”
Two people on its staff carry a CAPS designation (Certified Aging-in-Place Specialists) and two have earned CGP certification as Certified Green Professionals. Recently the company set a policy whereby showroom managers are expected to achieve certification in either CAPS or CGP every two years.
In addition, a one-year plan calls for its kitchen cabinet specialists to become designated as an NKBA kitchen or bath designer.
“Our goal is to become the ‘go to’ place for all questions and products in those categories,” Lee says. “We are expanding into these markets that will only grow with time. By becoming a resource for our customers in these areas, we add value to our partnerships with them.”
Expansion In A Down EconomyIn the past two years during the economic downturn, Lee Supply opened a new showroom and remodeled another one.
“We believe that we must be prepared for when the economy turns around,” Lee says. “We can’t let our showrooms become out-of-date. We continuously focus on improving ourselves. Our sales team has not pulled back, but pushed forward, really making an effort to promote our showrooms and also our wholesale side. Our outside sales team is one of our best advertising tools.”
One of the company’s goals this year is to increase its point-of-purchase sales by expanding its product mix, Lee notes.
“By the end of this year we hope to be selling wellness products (lotions, salts, bath oils), high end soft goods (towels and robes), more accessories, and specialized cleaning products (cast iron cleaner, stainless steel cleaner),” Lee says. “Our goal is to have these items displayed in all of our showrooms and available for immediate purchase by the homeowners.”
About Lee SupplyLee Supply was founded by Herbert P. Lee in 1949 as a plumbing specialty supply house.
Its executive staff includes Bob Lee, president; Bill Lee, vice president/sales and marketing; Chip Lee, vice president/operations; and Jeff Beeson, general manager.
The wholesaler’s first showroom, located in Carmel, IN, was built in 2003. Since then seven showrooms have been opened, the most recent one in New Albany, IN.
The New Albany and Carmel “Design Studio By Lee” showrooms are each more than 6,000 sq. ft. The Carmel location features a Kohler Premier showroom area, a Kallista boutique, and a Brizo boutique that includes two working shower walls and seven working whirlpools and airbaths. Six full-time consultants are on staff. Two of the public restrooms in the showroom are remodeled every six months to feature the latest products.
The New Albany location has sections allocated for Kohler and Brizo. A customer relaxation area features comfortable chairs, a coffee bar and a large television that shows DVDs about new products. More than six televisions are positioned in the showroom to play product DVDs. The showroom has five working kitchen displays including appliances, and fresh cookies are baked every morning.
“We took all of the best features from our other showrooms and combined them into this new one,” says Jennifer Lee, who oversees showroom marketing and development.