This month we catch up with another unique and special decorative plumbing and hardware showroom. This particular company I’ve known and worked with for a number of years and have watched its showroom business evolve into one of the best around.
Salem Plumbing Supply was founded in 1945 by William Sevinor in Salem, Mass. Bill was an attorney before he ventured into the wholesale plumbing supply business. The story is told that Bill would come to work at his plumbing supply business early in the morning wearing coveralls. He would work until lunchtime, zip off his coveralls and underneath he’d be wearing a suit. Then off he’d go to Boston to work in his law firm. Don’t you just love a story like that?
Salem Plumbing Supply was started on the principle of it being a family business. It was a time when a handshake with a vendor or customer said, “OK, we’re going to do some business together and start a partnership.” When Bill’s health became an issue, his son, Ralph, came into the business in 1972. Ralph, Salem’s current president, continued working with the plumbers, but in 1980 opened one of the first high-end showrooms in New England. In 1985, Ralph moved the business 1 1/2 miles up the street to its present location in Beverly, Mass. The new home is a 30,000-sq.-ft. facility that Ralph and his team built from the ground up.
Jason Sevinor, Ralph’s son, started with Salem in 2001 and became the third generation to be active in the business. Jason is currently vice president of the overall business and is gradually taking over responsibilities from his dad. Jason’s sister, Mindy Sevinor Feinberg, recently joined the company and is currently working as a sales consultant in the showroom. Ralph’s sister, Dale Gusman, is the showroom manager and has worked for the company for 35 years. It is truly a “family” business and the epitome of the American Dream.
The wholesale side of the business sells plumbing fixtures and heating equipment with a focus on hydronics, pipe, valves and fittings. The company recently completed a “live fire” training facility. This heating display incorporates various products the company uses to train heating and plumbing technicians.
Salem Plumbing opened its second branch 15 miles away in Gloucester, Mass., in 2007. The new branch does not have a showroom.
Bill Sevinor founded the business with a “people first” philosophy and the entire Salem team embraces that tradition and works very hard to incorporate it into the daily operation of the business.’
The Designer Bath storyThe company operates one 5,000-sq.-ft. showroom located at the Beverly facility. The Designer Bath showroom employs six sales consultants, one greeter, one part-time sales support person, a showroom manager, a showroom sales manager, a showroom concierge and one inside/management salesperson who handles redistribution sales, manages the concierge and greeter and fills in with support services as needed. I had to ask what the concierge does. She acts as a backup greeter, an expeditor, does “light” selling and is responsible for accessorization of the showroom. From the pictures I’ve seen, she does a great job.
The showroom hours are very customer friendly with a 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. schedule Monday through Friday (open until 8 p.m. Thursday evenings) and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. hours on Saturdays.
The showroom sales consultants are paid a salary (hourly) plus commission. The commission is a percentage of the gross profit dollars - paid monthly. The salary vs. commission is about 65%-35%. Sales consultants’ sales range from $50,000 to $85,000 per year. The company is experimenting with an outside salesperson for the showroom. So far, it looks like it’s going to work very well.
Showroom sales make up about 50% of total company sales and these sales are split about 50% to trades and 50% to homeowners. Gross profit percentage on showroom sales is a very attractive 38% to 40%. The company has learned how to operate a very successful “retail” business right along with the wholesale operation.
How the company displays product and who its vendor partners are is in transition. In the 80s and 90s there was a “more is better” strategy. Customers wanted a lot of product options. Now, with an overwhelming amount of product options management has felt the need to simplify the selection process by having fewer vendors and presenting a cleaner, more efficient showroom. It is now easier for clients and sales consultants to navigate. They’re not there yet, but have a goal of making all the necessary changes in the next six to 12 months. That final goal is to have like products clustered together, vignettes that are fully accessorized to feel like the prospects’ homes and to have products that elicit excitement and well-being. There are several working whirlpool tubs and in the near future Designer Bath will have a working kitchen faucet area.
Customer retention and marketing keysThe company “tags” every display product with an “in-house” model number and is in the process of pricing every item. I wholeheartedly applaud this! Once again, being very customer-friendly, but still not giving away hard-earned information that can easily be shopped down the street or on the Internet.
About every means of “getting the word out” on who they are, what they do, what makes them different, more unique and special is utilized. This includes print advertising, direct mail, TV, a little radio, annual sales and being very involved in the community. Social media is playing an increasingly major role. Designer Bath “shares” completed projects, testimonials from happy customers, current events and much more on a variety of social media sites. Jason Sevinor tells me that at the current time social media and customer referrals seem to be where the company is getting the biggest “bang.” Jason’s dad, Ralph, and I have the same philosophy when it comes to advertising, promotions and PR. You have to try a variety of things to see what works best in your marketplace and then pick the ones that give you the best results.
Jason shared that the company has spent a lot of time and effort upgrading its Designer Bath showroom website. Being naturally inquisitive, I logged on. Wow! It’s the best site I’ve viewed in a very long time. It’s easy to navigate. There is lots of relevant information, a great blog, videos and even a couple dozen great “testimonials.” It shows “tips” for getting started on a project, there’s a slideshow with music, and much more. Go to www.designerbath.com and see for yourself. Development was done by Jason, an in-house marketing person and two outside people who saw the website through a couple major facelifts. Jason estimated that out-of-pocket expense has been about $12,000. I continue to believe that having the very best website in your marketplace is one of the most important things you can do. These folks have done it.
The main products sold are decorative plumbing and hardware items. Designer Bath is sticking its toe in the water with lighting fixtures. Time will tell whether this is something it will expand into or not.
Prepared employeesThe Designer Bath team does a product knowledge meeting every other week, has a formal new employee orientation training program and uses the DPHA training manuals. On alternate weeks it covers company policies, changes that have and will occur, etc. Jason shares that they do not do what they should in the area of sales skills training. Well, you know that’s a pet peeve of mine - and I had to give him my speech! He promised to do better. I believe he is going to order the workbook I wrote for ASA - “The Essentials of Profitable Showroom Selling” - and use this as a jump start.
The showroom is treated as a profit center and managers receive weekly emails telling them how sales and margins are running for that month. The numbers are broken out by trade sales, showroom sales and redistribution sales. They also give salespeople an update on open and shipped orders. This lets folks know how they’re tracking throughout the month.
The company does an annual budget and the showroom is included in this. Jason has an informal one- to three-year business plan, but with the volatility of the past few years it’s been a work in progress.
There is a job description for every employee and each person benefits from an annual performance review. You know how strongly I endorse this.
Dress code in the showroom is business casual (no jeans) and clients are served a nice selection of refreshments. There are several flat screen televisions in the showroom that show a mix of completed projects (with testimonials), manufacturer products and educational programs.
It has taken a bit of time and good communication between the showroom and the wholesale sides of the business to grow the respect of each other’s roles and the contribution each makes to the success of the business. Today it’s a 100% Designer Bath/Salem Plumbing team.