This contemporary suite has a heated towel rack and wall-mounted toilet. The vanity from the Furniture Guild has multi-purpose drawers that can be fitted with lights, dividers and electrical outlets as needed. Customers can view the suite in different intensities and colors of light.

Contractors and Showrooms: Partners in Sales and Service

April 19, 2019
Showrooms and contractors can help each other to better serve their clients.

By Pat Lenius and John Murphy, The National Association of Plumbing Showroom Professionals (NAOPSP)

As one showroom manager recently said, it just makes sense for showroom salespeople to get to know the contractors who are sending clients to their showroom. From a purely economic perspective, the contractor represents potentially multiple sales (with multiple clients) and may become one of the showroom’s best customers, while the individual homeowner/client generally accounts for one sale.

Often the first stop on the customer’s journey is the showroom to get ideas. David Carey, Showroom Manager and General Manager at Inside/Out Kitchen & Bath, Bloomington, Ind., said he always asks his customers who they have contracted to perform the work and has a list of tradesmen he has worked with in the past ready to recommend in case they don’t have a contractor.

“On the reverse side of the relationship, I have contractors who send me their clients because they know the service I provide,” Carey added.  

“Having been in the trades before going into the design field gives me insight into what a contractor’s needs are and the pressure points. I strive to never idle a crew because of a missing item,” he said.  

Michelle Henderson, Showroom Manager at Banner Plumbing Supply, Buffalo Grove, Ill., said her salespeople always try to invite contractors to come to the showroom with their client for the first visit. While the showroom staff provides contractors with great service over the phone and via e-mail, it’s important that the contractor see and “experience” the showroom, she added.

This recently remodeled and updated suite features the shiplap siding that has grown in popularity thanks to Joanna Gaines, who with her husband, Chip Gaines, hosted the HGTV show “Fixer Upper.” Showroom Manager Michelle Henderson pointed out the white walls and white cabinetry and said the Gaines’ Fixer Upper show is still frequently mentioned by clients. She hung a picture of a monkey over the toilet just for fun.

“Our goal is to be an extension of the contractor’s staff. We want to make their customer feel comfortable and at home in our showroom. We also want the customer to know they are working with the right contractor because we are their partner,” Henderson said.

Carey noted that his showroom also serves as a training resource for contractors. “The contractors know that I will not specify a product if I cannot properly train the contractor on how to install it. At the same time, some contractors have shown me a different technique that has worked better than what I was doing.”

At Banner Plumbing Supply’s showroom about 60% of its sales come from remodelers/builders/plumbers/contractors; interior designers account for about 20% and the other 20% is from homeowners, Henderson shared.

Banner Plumbing Supply in Buffalo Grove, Ill., recently remodeled and updated this suite that features the Tribeca free-standing tub by Hydro Systems with a split finish. The tub interior has a high gloss finish while the exterior has a matte finish. The tub is a subtle white on white. 

Banner pays someone to double check every quote provided to customers for accuracy and to confirm that all necessary parts are included. This practice reduces the number of errors and makes the job go smoother for the contractor, Henderson said. “If the project requires a special finish for a wall supply and we have not included that, the contractor will not be able to finish the job and the customer will become angry with the contractor. So it’s really important.”

Also, because the contractor may not be able to start working on the project immediately, Banner provides both the client and the contractor with a PowerPoint file that includes pictures of all of the products the client has selected. If the client is ordering products for multiple rooms, each box is tagged at the showroom to identify in which room it belongs.

Peter Schor of Dynamic Results, a consultant, columnist and educator on plumbing showrooms and related topics, noted that plumbing showrooms need to educate contractors and provide value-added services. Time invested in the showroom can lead to upselling for bigger sales and higher profits, he said. One of the ways showrooms can assist contractors is with technical information on unusual products or more complicated installations.

“It’s all about how much money we can make rather than what is the best discount on individual products,” Schor said.

Showerheads and sprays on display are fully functioning so clients can see and feel the water. Delta H20 Kinetic, Aquabrass and Hansgrohe are among those featured.

That said, long-term relationships deliver more value than short-term profits, and the showroom is an ideal place to foster those relationships.

“Building meaningful customer relationships takes more than looking at your bottom line. Making a profit has to be second to nurturing trust, reliability and ultimately, long-term partnerships and friendships,” said Julie Pinson, Showroom Manager, Plumbers Supply Co., Franklin, Ind.

Sporadic and impersonal communication will not help build and keep business, she noted. “Sincere, content-driven contact in a timely and frequent manner helps drive new business and enhance existing customer accounts. Thinking outside the box and inside the potential customer’s head can lead to new and innovative directions inside your industry and provide paths to potential new business in auxiliary companies.”

Carey asserted that professional organizations such as the National Association of Showroom Professionals (NAOSP), the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), and the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) are vital to gathering information and knowledge.

This Art Deco suite at the Banner Plumbing Supply Showroom In Buffalo Grove, Ill., includes the Balletto vanity by Robern that features both transitional and contemporary styling with a minimalist design. The vanity provides hidden storage options that can be customized to suit the client.  A tip out drawer can be used to store makeup and small items. Another hidden storage option can be used as a mini trash bin or a tissue box holder. Other storage options can accommodate hand towels or magazines. A variety of finishes are offered for the glass and the legs.

“The contacts I have made over the years through networking, training and interacting have helped me greatly. When opening Inside/Out, among the first calls I made involved contacting professional colleagues I had met through the various organizations. Their help was invaluable,” he shared.

Carey recalled being approached by a contractor whose client wanted him to install a steam shower the customer had purchased online.

“Because of my affiliation with NAOSP, I remembered an interesting discussion I had at KBIS with ThermaSol. I was able to interface between the contractor, the customer and tech support to make sure everything was installed properly.” 

Carey added, “One of the hidden secrets of a showroom pro is that we don’t know all the answers, but we do know who to call to get those answers. Because of professional organizations like NAOSP, I have a wide-ranging network of contacts who can provide me with the solutions I need, and in turn, I can provide others with the solutions they need.”  

These displays incorporate working faucets. 

Showrooms can always exceed the expectations of contractors and their clients, Pinson said. “As we build our skills and excellence, thinking above and beyond, new customers will appreciate and admire us. Our long-term customers will remain loyal and become our most successful form of advertising. NAOPSP helps us to stay at the top of our game, through education and information.”

NAOPSP members are well trained on understanding partnerships and "win-win" principles, Schor said.

Henderson said the NAOPSP and its enewsletter helps keep her informed about other manufacturers that she does not carry in her showroom. “We need to know what is available,” she said. She also finds it interesting to read about what other supply houses, designers or contractors are doing in other parts of the country. “You have to look beyond your back yard to do what is best for your client.”

The National Association of Plumbing Showroom Professionals (NAOPSP) is a 501C3 non-profit corporation consisting of more than 14,000 members worldwide (including subgroups and members on social-media platforms). The membership of NAOPSP is comprised of kitchen and bath professionals, as well as members of the design, construction and architectural communities.

This wet room has an Aquabrass shower fixture that offers mist, full rain and curtain rain options. The room can even function as a steam room.  MTI created a teakwood bench for the bathtub so clients may sit in the wet room for a steambath, then indulge in a cooling mist.

NAOPSP’s initiative for 2019 is to offer a credentialing program to its members, reasoning that many showroom professionals have achieved a status and level of proficiency that is worthy of an expert credential.

NAOPSP intends to offer credentials in the following categories: water filtration systems, garbage disposals, instant hot water, water chillers, stainless steel sinks, drains and sink accessories, vitreous/fireclay, cast iron, copper, composite, stone, kosher kitchens, pot fillers (both wall and deck-mounted), kitchen faucets, steam generators, glass doors with transoms, saunas, shower drains, shower faucets, shower wall board, toilets,  toilet seats, bidets (both toilet-mounted and free-standing), lavatories, lavatory faucets, tubs, ADA/Universal Design, wall mirrors, medicine cabinets, countertops, bathroom lighting, towel mounts, exhaust fans, accessories, vanities, door and cabinet hardware, and laundry room sink and faucets.

In order to earn the credential, showroom professionals will take a test to demonstrate their correct understanding of best practices in product use, application and design. NAOPSP is working with manufacturers to include the most important details of their products so that the showroom professional will be considered an expert in each product category.

John Murphy is President of the National Association of Plumbing Showroom Professionals and is also Executive Editor of the NAOPSP News & Networking enewsletter. Pat Lenius is Communications Director of NAOPSP and Editor of the enewsletter.

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