In 1947 Charles Greenspon borrowed $500 and opened up Banner Plumbing Supply in a three flat on the South Side of Chicago. With six employees, they loaded pipe out of the basement window to service their customers — and that’s how it all began. Lee, Charles’ son, learned every aspect of the business, so it was natural that Lee took over the business when Charles passed on. Today Lee is CEO of the company and works closely with Banner Plumbing Supply Vice Presidents Andy Chavez, Rick Meyer and Gene Hara to make Banner Plumbing Supply the success it is today.
With two locations — the original location still remains at 73rdand Cottage Grove in Chicago, and in 2000 a second location in Buffalo Grove, Ill., opened — the company serves Chicago, all of northern Illinois and northwest Indiana territories.
“Since its early beginnings, Banner has taken pride in product excellence and special attention to service,” says Lee Greenspon.“We have built and sustained our growing business by offering all customers, both in our showroom and warehouse alike, the best new products available while ensuring them outstanding service at all times.”
In 2008, a showroom was added to the Buffalo Grove location. The 15,000-sq.ft. interactive showroom is constantly updated as new products come out.
“The need to update is ever-present, so I am always working on new and exciting designs,” says Michelle Henderson, showroom manager at Banner. “Banner feels it’s paramount to have the latest available for our clients to see, touch and experience.”
Major brand suppliers for the showroom include Toto, Brizo, Franke, Porcher, Hansgrohe, Julien, Elkay, Blanco, American Standard, Duravit and more.
“When we decided to open the showroom, the economy was in a downturn so people thought we were crazy, but I have to say our growth has been quite spectacular,” says Henderson. “Right now on any given weekday we see between 35 to 40 customers and on a Saturday from 85 to 100 customers.”
When a client visits the showroom they are greeted by a sales consultant, who discusses the scope of the customer’s project and helps the customer narrow down their product choices. The consultant then sends the customer’s contractor the project information, quote and a project portfolio, showcasing the products selected.
“The majority of the homeowners and designers that have come to Banner are directed here by their plumber, builder or remodeler,” says Henderson. “With the changes in the economy many contractors have chosen to send their clients in to purchase materials on their own. They want us to extend their discount on to the client to help build a loyalty/bond with the client.”
Throughout the Chicagoland area, Banner is known for their customer service, a knowledgeable sales staff, on time deliveries and a large inventory.
“We realize that downtime is money to our clients so we strive to exceed their expectations,” says Henderson. “It really comes down to doing business the old fashion way where you actually partner with your customers to make them successful.”
Part of the excellent customer service is how Banner fulfills orders for contractors. The wholesale division of Banner works mostly with commercial contractors while the company also works with residential contractors that send their clients into the showroom.
“In the showroom every quote and order is reviewed for accuracy in pricing and checked for missing components — errors are costly for our clients as they delay jobs so we try to insure accuracy,” explains Henderson. “Once the order is processed and complete, we contact the client to set up a delivery window, taking their cell phone number to call them when we are on our way — our clients love this because it frees them up — people hate waiting for deliveries and we want the client’s experience to be great from the moment they walk in the door to the minute they receive their material and any needs they may have after the sale.”
Besides supplying a variety of kitchen and bathroom plumbing fixtures, cabinetry, vanity tops, bath lighting, and other accessories, Banner also supplies pipes, valves and fittings. At the Buffalo Grove location, there is a Will Call counter that builders, remodelers, plumbers and homeowners can use to help them with parts and fitting needs.
Henderson has seen a significant rise in the sales of freestanding tubs and tub fillers.
“Clients are looking to maximize their shower space, so they remove the traditional whirlpool/air tub and deck and utilize the smaller footprint of a freestanding tub,” says Henderson. “The freestanding tub offers a beautiful presentation and opens the bath up for a more spacious look as well. I am also seeing the resurgence of luxury in the bath. Homeowners remodeling and building new are requesting steam showers, towel warmers, body sprays and rain heads. These products were the first to go when the economy plummeted and now there seems to be a better sense of security, therefore clients are back to wanting to create that sanctuary where they can wash away the stresses of the day.”
Customers are also requesting water conserving products.
“It’s funny how generational the desire to be green is,” says Henderson. “The Gen X and the Boomers want to be green if it’s convenient and doesn’t cost them more, while just yesterday I had a Gen Y couple come in requesting to be shown only products that would help them build a LEED certified home.”
There is also an increasing interest in Universal Design and Aging-In-Place products, which Banner specializes in.
“With nearly 80 million baby boomers in the United States, Banner offers our clients products that are great looking but make life a little more convenient for a five-year-old or 85-year-old,” says Henderson. “The key is to present solutions that are longer term, but do not look ADA. There seems to be a rise in multigenerational housing, so that the handshower in the shower is great for grandma if she wants to sit and shower, but can grow with little Johnny as he gets taller, and mom loves it to clean the shower walls — these products are solutions that are great for everyone.”
Henderson categorizes Aging-In-Place products with Universal Design products because of the similarities.
“Yes, there are distinct differences in the specifics of a Universal Design bath versus a multi-age appropriate bath, but with the wonderful designs and innovative technology now available to us the lines are a little more blurred,” explains Henderson. “Who would have thought that we would have faucets available that are hands free, using only our pulse to turn on and have a true visual color/temperature indicator, so children and elderly clients alike are safer all while looking spectacular. Take a look at Brizo’s Charlotte or Odin faucets — there is no way anyone could say that those products look like Universal Design products, but are fabulous solutions for any bath.”
Creating a spa-like atmosphere in a bathroom is another trend Henderson continues to see.
“ ‘I want my bath to feel like a spa’ is probably the number one request I hear,” says Henderson. “Everyone is working longer and harder, so when they go home they want to be able to relax and rejuvenate by clearing away the noise in their head from the day. The serene atmosphere of a spa-like bathroom is so simple and visually uncluttered that it promotes the tranquility they are after.”
Kitchen trends include having a large single bowl sink and a touch faucet along with having the main kitchen sink on an island where the family can interact while the meal preparation and clean up is going on.
“Our lifestyles have changed and kitchen design has evolved to accommodate our new needs,” said Henderson. “Years ago the trend was to have the kitchen sink under a window and that came to be as mom wanted to watch the children play outside while she did dishes. Today most homes have both parents working, so the task of preparing dinner is shared while the children are doing homework at the island.”