Like many contractors, Holland, Mich.-based Genzink Plumbing has had to adapt over the years to remain competitive under increasingly turbulent economic conditions.
The contractor's 5,500-sq.-ft. showroom continues to cater to customers building homes with anywhere from 1½ to 3½ bathrooms on up, but with the residential market shrinking nationwide, Rick Genzink concedes his business has had to be a bit more progressive.
“We're just trying to be creative to find the work, to go after it and make it work for ourselves,” he said.
Being creative has meant taking on more commercial plumbing jobs and doing more remodeling and service work, according to Genzink. It also meant seeking out non-traditional customers wherever the contractor can find them.
“We are builder-contractor driven and I think a lot of that changed,” Genzink said. “Contractors are our main focus and they're our biggest customers, but now we're looking for other sources to sell our wares. Because of the marketplace, that has shifted a lot.”
To that end, Genzink teamed up with Grand Rapids, Mich.-based contractor Bazzani Associates, which has specialized solely in sustainable building since 1983.
Conservation catches on
Genzink noted that there currently is only a niche market in Michigan for plumbing products that conserve water, but he said that is gradually changing.
“We are on the shores of Lake Michigan here, so water is not a huge issue,” he said. “But some people think, from a maintenance or operation standpoint, that green is important. It's a buzzword and I think it's certainly a great thing that's slowly catching on.”
Genzink and Bazzani jointly are working on two projects that will include water conserving features and plumbing products. One is a multi-unit student-housing complex in Allendale, Mich., and the other is a nearly $2 million house along Lake Michigan.
“We find that (water conservation) is certainly economically viable in large commercial buildings that have multiple tenants,” said Bazzani Associates principal owner Guy Bazzani. “We just think it's a wise way to go, whether we're in Michigan or not. Obviously, it's much more critical in drought-prone regions of the country, but in Michigan we think that it's sort of a ‘why waste it’ concept.”
Genzink said the products that are most popular with his environmentally conscious consumers include the Eco-Flush dual flush system, which gives users the choice of 1.1-gpf or 1.6-gpf.
Bazzani said the dual-flush toilets manufactured by Coroma also are in demand.
“We find the low-flush toilets by Coroma are probably about the best that we've seen,” he said.
While Genzink Plumbing has expanded its focus in recent years to include commercial and “green” projects, its primary customer base continues to be new homebuyers recommended by builders.
“Our average customers are the people with three to 3½ bathrooms, and that's probably where a lot of that market has shrunk in our neighborhood today,” Genzink said. “There's been a lot of retraction as far as that goes. Those were the people who we went to all day. They were building (homes) one after the other.”
Genzink added that declining sales have forced his business to make reductions to its staff and elsewhere. The contractor has lowered inventory at its 16,000-sq.ft. warehouse and even made small changes, such as no longer providing doughnuts each day for workers, as a means of cutting costs.
“To be honest, sales are down, so we've had to make the necessary cutbacks as well,” Genzink said. “That means just cutting costs wherever we can and putting different things in place to make sure that we're not doing the same things today as we were doing yesterday. We're watching our moves a whole lot closer, that's for sure.”
Despite these adjustments, what hasn't changed is the contractor's approach to customer service, according to Genzink.
He said his business's showroom sets the contractor apart from the competition, which Genzink wryly calls “two men and a pipe wrench.”
“Those guys can get a truck, tools and a license — or they can borrow a license — and they can be in business,” he said. “What makes our business unique is we have a showroom. That allows for people to come in, to select a product, and we can — from start to finish — be there to hold their hand to make sure things get done the way they want.”
The showroom has more than 20 suites containing several working product displays. Among the manufacturers on display in the Kohler-registered showroom are American Standard, Delta Faucet, Brizo, Newport Brass and Hansgrohe. Other manufacturers include Blanco, Toto and Fusion Bath Design.
The only new product line the contractor has added recently is from Torrance, Calif.-based Santec, but Genzink is hoping that might change when the 2008 Kitchen/Bath Industry Show & Conference comes to nearby Chicago this year.
“We consistently look for more and new lines,” he said. “The K/BIS show is coming up here in April, so we're excited about that as well.”
While not willing to divulge any product lines he recently has dropped, Genzink did say his business has a process for determining which lines it no longer will carry.
Lines are reviewed
“The lines that we do drop are high-maintenance lines, meaning that, from an installation standpoint, we have a lot of call-backs,” he said. “We have a matrix that we go through when we decide on a company and we kind of review that on an ongoing basis.”
In addition to performance, manufacturers must meet stringent criteria when it comes to availability, shipping and delivery in order to make it onto the showroom floor, Genzink said. In order to meet customers' expectations, he said manufacturers must be able to supply products and repair parts in a timely fashion.
Genzink also places an emphasis on a product's value to the customer.
“If you're going to spend $800 for a faucet, the value better be there. Certainly, the uniqueness of the faucet has to be there too because a lot of times people don't hesitate to spend the money as long as they see the value is there.”
Helping customers select the right product for the right price is just one step in a multi-phase process that Genzink Plumbing goes through with its clients. The contractor's staff of 35 includes 28 installers and three showroom people. Throughout the year, representatives from different manufacturers and wholesalers also come to the showroom to provide training for Genzink's workers.
Genzink and his staff starts by asking customers several questions that help them to prioritize the plumbing fixtures they will select. Genzink said it helps to begin with the bathroom that is of least priority to the customer and go from there.
“A lot of times that's tucked into the lower level someplace and that simply allows us to get going,” he said.
Genzink said he recently spent more than two hours working with a couple and their builder to determine the best fixtures for the couple's five-bathroom house.
“We do say, ‘This is a process. You're kicking the tires today. Tomorrow, you'll get the pricing and then from there you will be able to prioritize what you liked about each room because it will be broken down accordingly,’” Genzink said.
“We believe the process is a whole lot smoother when the plumber is asking the homeowner all the related plumbing questions and then it gets relayed to our plumber out in the field from our showroom person.”
Sometimes, the process will take even longer depending on the size of the home, according to Genzink. The contractor currently has 10 jobs involving homes in the $1 million to $3 million range.
“With those types of people, you have to hold their hand a little more,” he said. “You have to be responsive. When they ask a question, you have to be there for an answer or willing to look it up and get back to them.
“A $1 million to $3 million house in California is nothing, but a $1 million to $3 million house in the greater Holland area is pretty significant.”
Such homes normally have anywhere from seven to 12 bathrooms, Genzink said, and each bathroom has a different function. Larger homes often have an entertainment area and require more plumbing products, such as bar and veggie sinks, he said.
Regardless of a project's size, however, the customer service process remains consistent, Genzink said.
“To us, it's about customer service,” he said. “It's about the relationships that we've built and continue to build. When somebody comes through the showroom, we want them to know right away we're working for them.”