History is definitely on Columbus, Ohio-based Carr Supply’s side.

The wholesale distributor was started 97 years ago in 1917 by Charlie Essig as a farm equipment supplier. Over the years, the company has evolved into a full-fledged plumbing/HVAC wholesaler with 17 branches covering all of Ohio. In 2013, the Essig family sold 80% of the company to WinWholesale. Company headquarters and a 120,000-sq.-ft. distribution center are in Columbus and the company’s two showrooms are located in Columbus and Dayton. The company also operates an Installed Services Division, which works directly with builders on the sale and installation of semi-custom closets, shower doors, accessories and kitchen cabinets.  This group also offers kitchen-design services for builders.

Second-generation owners Bud and Greg Essig are responsible for running the business. There also are several third-generation family members in the company.

Carr Supply was a Kohler distributor until WinWholesale purchased it in 2013. This prompted the change to American Standard and TOTO and a total remodel of both the Columbus and Dayton showrooms. David Hawkins of David Hawkins Design was retained to design and build out both new showrooms.


The showroom particulars

The Carr Columbus showroom is 7,000 sq. ft. and employs four full-time sales consultants plus a receptionist. The Dayton showroom is 4,000 sq. ft. and has two full-time sales consultants. Both showrooms are part of the wholesale location.  

Showroom hours are Monday to Friday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. On Saturdays employees from the wholesale side are utilized in the showroom. It’s the same Saturday dilemma: You know you have to be open, but how do you staff it?  Some folks use part-time staff and some companies, such as Carr, use wholesale folks. Others give a day off during the week and make Saturday a mandatory day. Whatever you do, please be open — it’s the busiest shopping day of the week for homeowners.

Cathy Quinnis the overall showroom manager at Carr and has a depth of experience. She previously worked for two small independents, Hajoca and Ferguson. I was impressed to learn that she is working on a three-to-five-year showroom business plan and has retained an outside marketing team to develop a comprehensive marketing program designed to drive more homeowners to the showrooms. The new plan includes an all-new website (due to be completed by early summer), and the use of magazine, newspaper, radio and TV media to tell Carr’s story. They do have a strong social media presence using Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Houzz.

The newly built-out showrooms have several live displays (tubs, showers, kitchen faucets) and group products together by vendor (but do not use many brand names throughout the showroom). Carr does not show prices on displays, but it does have model numbers directly under the products. The clients don’t see the model numbers, but sales consultants know where to look for them. This saves time and makes it easier for any non-regular salesperson working in the showroom.

Sales consultants are compensated on a salary-plus-commission basis. The commission is driven by both sales revenue and gross margin. And yes, sales consultants can change pricing up and down as they deem necessary. They are not totally dictated to by the computer. The plumbing contractor pays a slightly higher price for products purchased through the showroom. This does cause some of the plumbers to take the showroom quote to the counter to try and get better pricing. This needs to be monitored and managed by the wholesale side or the showroom folks will end up on the short end!

The average showroom sales consultant is in the $55,000 sales-per-month range and gross profit margins are about 34%. Overall showroom sales account for about 10% of total company sales. With the new showrooms and new marketing plan and budget, this total is expected to grow. 

In 2013, the plumber accounted for about 40% of total Carr showroom sales and the builders were at about 20%. Remodelers were at 20%, and homeowners and designers were at 10% apiece. I’m betting the homeowner segment will grow significantly in the next several years. Carr is beginning to treat its showrooms as true retail businesses (hours of operation, website, marketing to the public, etc.).


Top-notch staff

There is a job description for every showroom position and the company does regularly scheduled job-performance evaluations. Good for them! Too many of you out there still don’t do this.

Almost all Carr’s training is directed toward product knowledge. The company tries to do three or four meetings a month (meetings are conducted first thing in the morning). Carr also does staff meetings every Monday morning. While it doesn’t do any formal selling skills training, Quinn tells me the bulk of her staff has a number of years of working in the showroom and they have great product knowledge and selling experience.

Quinn oversees both showrooms and also does some outside sales calls, mainly to architects, designers and builders. I heartily endorse having a full-time outside salesperson for the showroom calling on the above-mentioned architects and designers as well as custom homebuilders, remodelers, other independent decorative plumbing showrooms, and kitchen and bath dealers. There are a lot of opportunities to help grow sales and margins. Quinn also knows how important networking is and continues to work hard to help Carr improve in this area.

There are currently no plans to grow more showrooms. Heck, they just spent the best part of $500,000 redoing the two locations they currently have. I’ll bet as the company starts to reap the benefits from this big investment that it will be looking for more opportunities to grow this lucrative part of the business.

The Carr showrooms feature the normal traditional wholesale vendors (American Standard, TOTO, Delta Faucet, Moen, Grohe, Elkay, etc.), but also represent a number of smaller decorative lines (Newport Brass, California Faucets, Altmans and Dornbracht to name a few). Carr also is a Waterworks boutique partner in Columbus. Right now, Carr doesn’t show and sell decorative door and cabinet hardware, but knowing Quinn’s background I wouldn’t be surprised if that, and more, isn’t part of her plan to grow the company’s showroom business.

Quinn indicated they are very happy with the job Hawkins did in designing and building out their two showrooms.

My last question to Quinn was, “In your opinion, what makes the Carr showrooms better, different and more unique than any of your competitors?” 

She answered: “We have a talented and experienced staff. They have great product knowledge and we offer terrific customer service day-in and day-out. We also have great vendor partners we work with. Our new relationship with WinWholesale has been wonderful.”