Michelle Henderson’s business card may read: Banner Plumbing Supply Showroom Manager. It just as well could read: Curator.
“My concept was to have a very open, museum-like feel to the space,” Henderson says. “I wanted a space where clients could really appreciate the product for itself.”
Banner’s showroom in Buffalo Grove, Ill., opened in 2008 after two-and-a-half years of design led by Henderson followed by construction. She and her crew could do what they pleased with the 15,000-sq.-ft. space when they arrived on day one.
“The space used to be an old CDW office building,” Henderson says. “There was gray ceiling tile, grey walls. It was very closed up — the windows were exposed. It was a blank canvas.”
Banner Plumbing Supply has more than 50 vendors to select product from including; American Standard, Barclay Products, Brizo, Danze, Delta Faucet, Duravit, Elkay, Hansgrohe, Moen, TOTO and Xylem. With all those products and all of the space, Henderson and her team created 20 lifestyle suites, allowing the customer to see what their finished bathroom could look like at the end of the road. Also, there are two showerhead banks with working showerheads for customers to see and feel in action.
“People can’t always visualize in their head what something is going to look like,” Henderson says. “Often, I’ll look through all the quotes and orders and I’ll see the exact suite typed out and ordered. It’s the ultimate compliment.”
Buffalo Grove is a northern Chicago suburb just off of one of the major expressways, serving the greater Chicagoland area. Before coming to Banner, Henderson worked in the western suburbs of Chicago and there was an adjustment period as she learned the new clientele.
“That was a different market, a more traditional market,” Henderson says. “I wasn’t sure what the market would be here. So, I sat down and divided the space and said I would put an equal number of traditional, transitional and contemporary suites in the space. And you have to abide by the manufacturer requirements. It was a giant puzzle to put together.
“Little by little over the last five years we’ve adjusted to what this market is. It’s a more transitional market.”
Banner Plumbing Supply’s showroom staff
Banner’s showroom staff has grown since its 2008 opening. For Henderson, finding the perfect candidate for an open position can be a struggle.
“One of the biggest challenges I have faced is that we are extremely selective in our hiring process. Sometimes you meet someone who has 20 years of experience in the industry but they don’t get our customer service philosophy,” Henderson says.
Experience is important at Banner, but if a younger in-house worker or outside applicant has the right makeup, Henderson and the company isn’t afraid to put in the training.
“On the other hand I might fall in love with a young candidate who gets it, but needs years of training to get up to speed on product knowledge. The key is finding the right balance so that I have all bases covered in the makeup of the staff.”
On showroom trends
Henderson is always tinkering and tweaking the showroom after visits to trade shows such as KBIS or when she finds her own inspiration. Throughout the showroom, there are custom made cabinets she designed herself available for purchase.
Chicago and the Midwest generally are two years behind any new trend. Trends start in Europe and make their way stateside. Last year, Henderson went to Europe and made stops in Dublin and Paris. In a majority of the clothing shops she saw deco pieces such as dresses inspired from the flappers of the roaring 1920s.
Fast forward to this summer, and those same pieces are standout set pieces of Baz Luhrmann’s film interpretation of “The Great Gatsby” starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tobey Maguire.
“I’d rather plan for a rising trend than catch one on the way up,” Henderson says.