Joining a trade association or buying group can improve your showroom business.

The ASA Showroom Managers Council held round-table discussions at a 2008 meeting. Photo by Pat Lenius

Starting and operating a showroom is not easy, especially if your history has been purely wholesale. There’s a lot to it!  Running a showroom is very different than running a wholesale business. Many of you have learned and continue to learn this.

When we started our showroom business in the early ’80s there were no business models. We started from scratch with no guidelines. Today there’s a lot of help out there. The showroom business model has been developed and is being improved almost every day.

Unfortunately for us, there was no industry association available when we started our business. Today various trade associations and buying groups exist that offer educational and networking opportunities.

Among these is the Decorative Plumbing and Hardware Association (DPHA). I was one of the early “founding fathers” back in the mid-1980s, so let me share a little history on the DPHA organization. 

Around 1985 several showroom owner/operators (including me) served on an advisory council for one of the leading decorative faucet manufacturers.  After brainstorming for two days, we were enjoying a relaxing dinner when someone said, “How come every day I get up to go to work and have to try to figure out how to grow my business?  I feel all alone out there. Why don’t all of us start to network – sharing successes, failures, problems and ideas?” All eight owners agreed with the concept. The seed was planted to start an industry organization.

Several of us worked very hard for about a year, and our numbers grew to about 30. We came up with the name DPHA. But we were all small business owners struggling with the daily chore of running a business, with no time or energy to get our fledgling organization off the ground.  In retrospect, we had a bunch of chiefs and no Indians.

In 1986 I approached the National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA) and asked if they’d take us into their already well-established organization. They did, and we became the DPH Council - one of many arms of NKBA.  We grew to about 125 member companies.  We accomplished a little in the area of education and a lot in networking. But after 15 years and much frustration, a small group broke away from NKBA and started their own independently run organization. That was in 2001 and today it is known as the Decorative Plumbing and Hardware Association.

Things really began to happen. Both membership and member benefits grew dramatically. Today’s membership stands at 349 broken out into three main segments: Dealer Members (131), Manufacturers (148), Reps (59) and Others (11). 

I feel strongly that the return on investment as a member of a trade association or buying group is terrific. I know how much DPHA helped my business and I’ve seen how much it’s helping a number of my consulting clients.

Just before I wrote this, I called a dozen DPHA members and asked what they perceived as the main features and benefits of membership. The response was unanimous: “DPHA has been great for our business.”

Here are some of the benefits of membership in this group:

  • A basic training manual with 19 chapters of generic product knowledge that every sales associate should study - online or via a printed copy. Call this 101.
  • Currently DPHA is working on a more advanced training manual (201).
  • The group is also developing a formal, in-depth sales training package.
  • DPHA holds an annual conference (usually mid-October) with at least six to eight outstanding educational workshops.
  • A showroom consultant “certification” program is in the works that should provide credibility and marketing advantages.
  • The group is also working to establish important benchmarks in the areas of finance and compensation for the member companies. You can compare your results to others in the industry.

  • Current members said this was the number one benefit - being able to communicate with other members about everything and anything! This communication is done at the annual conference, regional meetings, on the DPHA Web site and in daily conversations. Everyone I talked with had a story to tell on how networking had helped solve a problem or find a product. They were able to share human resource experiences and compare notes on vendors.

    Annual Conference and Showcase
  • Three days (Friday – Sunday) in mid-October dealers, manufacturers and reps come together to network and learn. This year educational sessions focused on universal design, social networking, building customer relationships, luxury in the new economy, and effectively using representatives to increase market share. One session featured an expert panel that included an architect, designer and builder. Products were displayed by 80 exhibitors. This may not be as big as some shows, but its intimate atmosphere helps attendees zero in on what is most pertinent to their business.

    Credit Card Processing
  • DPHA has engaged an outside service (Solvers as Payment Solutions) to help members leverage their credit card transactions. Credit cards are big in the showrooms. Since offering this service more than 86% of the member participants are saving money on the cost of credit card fees. Several companies are saving dollars in the five figures!

    UPS Fees
  • DPHA has brought the leverage of its quantity in members to obtain better rates from UPS.

    Bi-Monthly Newsletter
  • All members receive a bi-monthly newsletter that includes news and current events, educational pieces, new products and more.

    Message Brochures
  • DPHA has developed a series of a dozen or so handout brochures that showrooms can buy and then give to their clients with information on various products, care and maintenance.

    Monthly Electronic Publication
  • This provides all the latest news and enables members to get online and participate.

    Members-Only Web Site
  • Document exchange is a big part of this site. For example, if you don’t have an employee handbook but another member does, you can get it. Or if you have a quote form that works great and another member hears about it, you can share it!

    Annual Awards Program
  • At the annual conference various awards are presented to recognize outstanding achievement.

    College Scholarship Fund
  • DPHA offers an annual scholarship to any member, member child or grandchild. Last year I rode my bicycle across the United States and raised $27,500 for the fund. In September/October 2011 I hope to ride from Maine to Florida raising money again.  If you’re a bike rider, please join me in a great cause.

    Don’t just join the group - get active! Like everything else in life, you only get out of it what you’re willing to put into it.

    For more information on DPHA, visit or e-mail me.

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