Selling Up in Michigan

March 1, 2003
By Bob Miodonski Of CONTRACTORs staff The first lesson that the staff of Genzink Plumbings 5,500-sq.-ft. showroom in Holland, Mich., learns is never assume what kind of products a customer will want to buy. Making assumptions about a customers purchasing power can mean lost dollars in fixture and faucet sales. You cant ever predict what someone is going to do, Rick Genzink says. People who look like

By Bob Miodonski


The first lesson that the staff of Genzink Plumbing’s 5,500-sq.-ft. showroom in Holland, Mich., learns is never assume what kind of products a customer will want to buy. Making assumptions about a customer’s purchasing power can mean lost dollars in fixture and faucet sales.

“You can’t ever predict what someone is going to do,” Rick Genzink says. “People who look like they can afford to buy high-end products for their kitchen and bath sometimes can’t. And it works the other way too.”

Genzink recalls the day that a casually dressed woman walked into his showroom in heavy boots looking as if she just stepped off a tractor at a nearby farm. By the time she left, she had placed one of the most expensive orders for a kitchen-and-bath installation in the 42-year history of the company.

“We want to give everyone the opportunity to see the range of plumbing products that are available to them,” Genzink says. “I compare it to buying a car. You don’t want a customer to say later, ‘I wish I had known that other model was out there.’

“We’re going to make the effort to show customers the benefits and features of the range of products we have on display.”

The Kohler-registered showroom houses 25 bath-and-kitchen suites as well as individual product displays from manufacturers such as Delta Faucet, Hansgrohe and California Faucets. Other products on display are from Elkay, Blanco, American Standard, Eljer, Grohe and Toto, among others. The company even has a couple Bradford White water heaters on the showroom floor.

Many of the showers, faucets, whirlpools and toilets on display are working models. Genzink says that customers must be able to “see, touch, taste and smell” the experience that they are buying. At a customer or builder’s request, the contractor also will install special-order non-display products from manufacturers such as KWC, Dornbracht and Franke.

The range of products befits Genzink Plumbing’s trading area in southwestern Michigan. The 75-mile radius from Holland covers expensive summer homes along Lake Michigan to custom, tract and rural homes elsewhere.

The showroom gets some walk-in traffic, but the majority of customers are new home buyers sent in by builders. More than 90% of Genzink’s business is residential, and 80% of that is new construction with service and remodeling making up the balance.

The contractor’s work is almost exclusively plumbing. In fact, a big advantage that Genzink Plumbing has over other kitchen-and-bath showrooms in the area is that it installs what it has on display.

“Not everyone understands plumbing the way we do because we’re plumbers,” Rick Genzink notes.

Soft sell

Customers begin to comprehend the importance of Genzink’s plumbing knowledge during an initial interview. Members of the showroom staff talk with customers about how they plan to use their homes (particularly in the case of vacation homes) as well as specific bathrooms, kitchens or bar areas within a house.

“One guy told us, ‘You spend a lot of time getting to know who we are,’” Genzink says. “We want to know about their plumbing but also about them as well. We sincerely have their best interests at heart.

“It’s not just dollars and cents, although it may come out that way in the end.”

Knowing their customers’ plans and habits helps members of the showroom staff recommend the types of products that best fit homeowners’ needs. Understanding their customers and plumbing allows Genzink’s staff to suggest, for example, where to place a particular faucet in a room design.

The plumbing contractor generally stops short of designing entire kitchens and baths, however. That is left up to the builder.

“Design services are outside the realm of plumbing,” Genzink says. “Let’s concentrate on what we all do best.”

Along with the builder’s designs for the kitchen and bathrooms, homeowners usually come into the showroom with a builder’s allowance for plumbing. A few builders and homeowners are under the impression that they can’t afford Genzink Plumbing because of all the high-end merchandise, Genzink says.

“We show them that we display ‘standard’ fixtures and faucets prominently as well,” he says. “We tell them that it is our most popular stuff, really beautiful pieces.”

Once in the showroom, though, a number of customers spot the higher end products — and can’t believe that their builder didn’t explain all their options to them, Genzink says. In many cases, the showroom staff can help homeowners prioritize their plumbing purchases so that they can put more expensive pieces in the master bath.

In one home, a customer had specified a $400 stainless sink in a basement where little entertaining was planned. By putting a less costly sink down there, the homeowner was able to spend more money upstairs.

Some builders give their customers a cost-over allowance, which allows Genzink Plumbing more control of the transaction. Genzink collects directly from the homeowner on any amount that exceeds the level established by the builder.

“It’s so much better to be proactive than reactive,” Genzink says. “Everybody is happier that way.”

A large part of up-selling higher end products is building trust with the customer, he says. Getting to know the customers’ needs is part of the process, but so is the progression of selling from less important bathrooms, such as in the basement as previously mentioned, on up to the master bath.

“Starting with the lower priority bathroom, you establish trust and rapport,” Genzink says. “By the time you get to the master bathroom, the trust is huge. If you start by suggesting $300 or $400 faucets right off the bat, you lose their trust right there. You’re stalled.”

Instead, the showroom staff waits to suggest the higher-end products until the topic of the master bath comes up. At that point, Genzink says, most customers have come to trust the contractor as a knowledgeable and trusted source.

“Their comfort level is extremely high, meaning they’re willing to spend more money with you,” Genzink says. “They’re willing to make that upgrade comfortably. They’re not afraid.”

For example, having just one showerhead in a large shower stall in the master bathroom is a waste of shower space, Genzink says. Instead, the contractor would suggest a shower tower or similar shower system from Delta, Kohler, Hansgrohe or other manufacturers.

“This is real soft selling,” he explains. “We have to be willing to back down as quickly as we bring a proposal up. When we try to up-sell customers to a more expensive item, we tell them this is only an option until you agree to it.”

Genzink recalls the time that a wife decided to increase the plumbing budget on her new home once she heard the benefits of the more expensive products. The husband, who had missed the presentation, later called Genzink to complain about the price.

“He called me on a Thursday or Friday, and he went ballistic — he was cussing and swearing at me,” Genzink says. “Then he called back Monday, and I thought, ‘Here we go again.’ Instead, he told me that he had gone to church yesterday and that he had talked to three different people who told him I was a good guy. He said he was sorry and made an appointment to see our presentation. He added back some of the things that his wife had wanted and, by the end of our meeting, he had spent more than his wife had.”

Seamless service

Of the 40 company employees, seven work in the Holland headquarters, including office and showroom people. The remaining 33 are installers, so communication between the showroom and field is essential to make the entire job seamless, Genzink says. To ensure that happens, Genzink Plumbing takes advantage of training offered by manufacturers and wholesalers.

“We’ve been to Kohler, which does a great job of teaching selling techniques, and we’ve been to Delta, American Standard and down to Atlanta to Hansgrohe,” Genzink says. “Their people will come here too.”

Having systems in place is helpful in selling high-end products, he says. For example, the showroom people use a list of questions, which helps both employee and customer pick out the right items for a particular bath or kitchen.

Most of what Genzink Plumbing has on display is purchased through area wholesalers. The contractor carries 10 lines that it gets directly from manufacturers, mostly high-end European product. Genzink frequently bases its purchasing decisions on how well it can buy and sell products from particular vendors, with Genzink naturally favoring the higher margin items.

Along with the showroom and 2,500 sq. ft. of office space, the contractor maintains a 16,000-sq.-ft. warehouse on the premises. The sprawling headquarters is a far cry from the contractor’s original location — the family garage of founder Russ Genzink, father of Rick and Ross Genzink who now run the company. The contractor moved nine years ago to its current location from an 8,000-sq.-ft. building, where the company had been since the mid-1970s.

Genzink’s operation doesn’t compete with the showrooms of local wholesalers, including one right across the street.

“We have very good relationships with the wholesalers here,” Genzink says. “Their showrooms are for their contractor customers. Our showroom is for the builder and homeowner.”

Not a ‘me too’

The Home Depot hasn’t arrived in Holland yet, but Genzink Plumbing does compete with Lowe’s and Menards. As with other contractors across the country, Genzink finds that most of the big-box competition revolves around price.

“We’re open during the week and on Saturday mornings,” Genzink says. “When a customer comes in, there’s a good chance he’s already been to Lowe’s and is asking me about pricing. On products that are available at the big boxes, we have to be more competitive. When it’s not a ‘me too’ product, we don’t have to be as competitive.

“So, my advice to other contractors is: Don’t be a me too.”

The contractor faces another issue with customers who want to buy their products at a home center and hire Genzink Plumbing to install it. The contractor has to explain to these homeowners that it cannot provide a warranty on products purchased elsewhere because its insurance company won’t cover the work.

“It’s a huge learning curve,” Genzink says. “We have to educate homeowners that this is the path you’re going down if you buy it yourself.”

Displaying products and models that are not available at home centers helps to make the buy-it-yourself issue a moot point, Genzink says. Still, as important as product selection is, the name of the game is still service.

“We base our success on hard work,” Genzink says. “While we try to offer customers more than they expect, customer service is still the bottom line.”

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of Contractor, create an account today!