“The Showroom” at Sierra Plumbing Supply pursues the American Dream.

This is the second of three articles featuring our 2009 Showroom of the Year contest winners.  This month we’re featuring “The Showroom” a division of Sierra Plumbing Supply, located in Grass Valley, CA.  They were the winner in the 2,500 sq. ft. and smaller showroom size category.

Company background

The story starts with Jason Craig, owner and president of Sierra Plumbing Supply, being asked by his dad to move from the San Francisco Bay area to the Sierra Foothills to run a small wholesale surplus building supply business. This was in 1997. The company bought surplus, overstocked, obsolete building materials and resold them to builders, remodelers and homeowners.  Over the next couple of years Jason gravitated toward the plumbing products side of the business. In 1994 he bought the plumbing products part of the surplus business from a couple of other partners and started Sierra Plumbing Supply. That’s when he first started buying products direct from manufacturers and distributors of decorative plumbing products. Based on a strategy of giving the best customer service in the area and carrying the deepest inventory of products, the business took off.

Current status

Today the business employs 10 people, of which three are showroom sales consultants.  Showroom sales constitute 35% of total company sales.  Customer sales break out as follows:  40% builder/remodeler; 50% consumer; and 10% plumber.  For a small community there are four other plumbing wholesale competitors.  Only one of these has a plumbing showroom.  Showroom sales per sq. ft. of display space are in the $375 area.  Not terrific - but certainly respectable.  I’m aware of showrooms that enjoy twice this and more.  What are your sales per sq. ft. of showroom space?  (To figure this, divide your annual showroom sales by the total display space.)  If you’re in the $600 per sq. ft. area or more, you can stick your chest out and know you’re well above average.

A brand new showroom building was completed in 2007 and 2,360 sq. ft. of “The Showroom” was opened.  Grass Valley is located in Nevada county, which has a population of approximately 75,000 and is located about 45 miles from Sacramento, the state capital. 

Showroom décor

The showroom was built in a country/woodsy style in keeping with the environment where it is located.  The building was built as “green” as possible with T24 energy efficient recessed lighting, a tankless water heater, hardy plank siding and vinyl windows.  It was also built to urban wild fire standards.  (Yes, California is famous for its wild fires, so taking all the necessary precautions is very smart.) The flooring throughout the showroom is a good-looking Somerset maple hardwood.  Display slat board was used to match the country style.

Products are displayed in like product groups.  There are no vignettes.  There are several working displays. All products are well accessorized and no “holes” exist. Every product is neatly labeled with the manufacturer name, model number, description and the Sierra Plumbing Supply price.  Most of you know that I don’t agree with this strategy, but Jason said they do it to eliminate the mystery of not showing this information and that in his opinion this is what the customer wants.  I just don’t like giving out all of this hard-earned and learned information which makes it easy to go down the street to a competitor or get on the Internet.  But “different strokes for different folks”! 

Marketing strategy

The company prides itself in having the best inventory of decorative plumbing products in their area and offering a “one-stop shopping” experience.  The sales team gives the same hustle and enthusiasm to selling a washer to fix a faucet as they do for selling a full house order.  Hey, you never know when that homeowner who bought a washer and was thrilled with your service will be back in, looking for products for a brand new home.

Jason told me that when he was in the surplus business he learned that you can make as much money in how you buy as in how you sell.  Consequently, he continues to look for bargains and opportunities.  It’s certainly one way to compete with the larger wholesalers and big boxes.

The showroom displays a nice mix of traditional wholesale products and decorative plumbing products.  Being located in a woodsy environment, the showroom features a lot of very traditional and antique-looking products, such as clawfoot tubs and the “old-time” looking fillers and accessories.  They sell shower door systems, bathroom lighting, bath furniture and even a couple of lines of kitchen appliances (even though Jason admits that these are not the most attractive GP margin items).

Showroom operations

The company utilizes an integrated Point of Sale (POS) computer system that ties the showroom into the warehouse, counter and office.  It helps them track quotes; call customers the day that the product is received; and allows all employees to know what’s happening with every order.

Sales consultants use a quote take-off form that lists all the products that might go into a kitchen and/or bath project.  Plus, there is a job binder for all customers. Again, this is valuable to all employees.

The showroom hours are 8-5 Monday through Friday and 9-4 on Saturdays.  Appointments are encouraged.  The company distributes a bi-weekly “Pipeline” newsletter that talks about products, specials, events, etc.

Jason owns the building. When it was redone in 2007 he paid particular attention to the outside look of the building and landscaping. 

Most of the training is done in-house by manufacturers reps, but the showroom staff also attends different manufacturing training schools.

The company is involved in a number of community charitable efforts and donates product to schools, churches, Habitat for Humanity and local youth organizations.  Grass Valley is well known for winning high school football teams and the company has done charitable things for them also. It’s a great way to get your name out there - especially in a small community like theirs.

Sales consultants work together as a team. They are paid an hourly wage, participate in manufacturer spiffs and receive company bonuses when monthly sales and profit goals are met.

“The Showroom” is advertised on local radio, in local newspapers, color flyers and on the company Web site.  They have supplied product to several “Street of Dreams” homes and the company has been voted by the public as the best plumbing supply company in the area.  However, Jason stated that “word of mouth from happy customers is their number one source of new business.”

Jason said he believes that “The Showroom” and Sierra Plumbing Supply is the very best in his marketing area because he has the best employees - from sales staff to delivery driver - and customers appreciate the friendliness and quality of service they receive.

Most of my consulting work has been with larger and more tenured businesses.  It’s been a pleasure to see “The American Dream” being exercised by a gutsy entrepreneur and his nine dedicated employees.  Congratulations to this fine business!