New Forte President Howard Frankel, of New York City-based Central Plumbing Specialties/Grande Showrooms, said shareholders of the decorative plumbing and hardware buying group continue to excel despite new challenges in the space.

Frankel, speaking to Supply House Times at the recent Forte annual meeting held at the JW Marriott Houston Galleria, noted sales volume through the group was again up in 2015 with increases realized with a large majority of the buying group’s preferred vendors. “Our shareholders are entrenched in the Forte culture and buy from Forte vendors whenever possible,” he said.

But Frankel cautioned new threats to the decorative plumbing and hardware category continue to arise. “On a global scale we’re seeing consolidation in the marketplace,” he said. “We’re seeing some of the big-box stores playing within our space and that’s a problem; but it’s something Forte is willing to take on for its members and figure out how to tackle.”

Frankel added the same threat exists with national distributors that carry decorative products. “We all have at least one in our market or some with multiple branches that are a little different than our showrooms,” he said.

To combat the national threat, Frankel noted Forte is continuing to emphasize its relationships with preferred vendors, including the recent addition of European company Crosswater, which offers full suite packages.

“We have decided to strategically partner with preferred vendors where we control the products,” he said. “These can’t be sourced at a big-box store or found online.”

Forte also is undertaking a strategic initiative to make Amarra Designs, the buying group’s private-label line, more mainstream within Forte shareholder showrooms.

Frankel stressed the importance of shareholder relationships with Forte preferred vendors. “Forte really doesn’t exist except for its preferred vendors,” he said. “We partner with them and give them feedback. Our board is insistent on getting feedback from shareholders and sharing it with our preferred vendors. From being on the board for six years, I know that process works. Feedback gets through to upper management. It helps our vendors succeed.”

New this year at the annual meeting, shareholders toured three member showrooms in Houston. “We saw three showrooms in the same marketplace and all are Forte members,” Frankel said. “At the end of the day each one was so different, unique and special. You were able to glean something special from each one of them.”

Frankel said the showroom field trip was only one part of a multiday educational process for him at the annual meeting. “The group is a mix of people who come from a best-in-class showroom in the marketplace,” he said. “We all have opinions and all the opinions get filtered through to the point where we all benefit. I look forward to coming to these meetings and learning from my fellow shareholders and taking some of those ideas back with us.”

Frankel is in the first year of a two-year presidency and is joined on the current Forte Board of Directors by First Vice President Jimmy Georgitsos (Astron Design Centre, Ottawa, Canada), Secretary Brad McDonald (Pacific Plumbing Supply, Seattle), Treasurer Alan Brown (Russell Hardware, Bloomfield Hills, Mich.) and directors Audrey Loder (Wilkenson Supply, Raleigh, N.C.), Sarah Hildebrandt (Clyde Hardware, Phoenix), Ken Levine (Blackman Plumbing Supply, Bayport, N.Y.) and David Kotowsky (The Advantage Plumbing Group, Niles, Ill.).

This article was originally titled “Eye on the prize” in the April 2016 print edition of Supply House Times.