Pat Lenius 0000-00-00 00:00:00
The new two-story, 4,000-sq.-ft. Grande Central showroom on 56th Street in Manhattan, in the heart of the design district, is intended to be different from the typical plumbing wholesaler’s showroom. Upon entering and before reaching the reception desk, the visitor encounters “Sierra Cascades,” an original collectible print of waterfalls in California signed by photographer Peter Lik. It measures 80 inches by 27 inches vertically and looks so real that the wholesaler installed a fountain from Stone Forest to enhance its impact with sound effects. Throughout the showroom, various art elements accentuate the beauty of the plumbing products and create the sense of walking through an art gallery. For example, instead of tiling in the two-wall installation of a Duravit bathtub, the wholesaler surrounds it with a color photo of a beautiful fl ower that measures more than 10 feet by 5 feet. A Wet Style vignette is wrapped in the company’s signature goldfi sh print and other art elements that complement the highly stylized products. “We have had positive feedback from sales reps and others who have been to other showrooms in New York,” says Howard Frankel, president of parent company Central Plumbing Specialties, New York City. Opened in December, this showroom was designed to “blur the lines between high-end artistic kitchen and bath products and other art,” according to Frankel. Grande Central views art and design as being the basis for every beautiful functioning element in the bath and kitchen, he says. BRANDING GRANDE CENTRAL In this showroom the company tried to allocate more space to individual product displays so people can enjoy them from a distance, Frankel notes. “We don’t want to make the mistake that many showrooms do of packing in more items to maximize choice, but then minimize effect,” he says. “We all have this same battle daily as lines are added and dealer requirements make it harder to control your own showroom space,” he continues. “We have adopted the philosophy that no manufacturers can dictate the space that we own or rent unless they want to buy it.” Although Frankel says they are Westchester County’s largest stocking distributor of American Standard, the showroom does not post prices, manufacturer logos or vendor product numbers. “It would be hard to walk in there and identify the manufacturers on display,” Frankel says. “Although we are proud of the lines we carry, in this showroom the brand is Grande Central. We did not use any display aids from the manufacturers. Most of the vendors only became aware of our new showroom when they received the purchase orders. It cost Central a lot more to remain independent, but at the end of the day to have a completely uniquely designed showroom in the heart of the design district in Manhattan was the overriding concern.” All of the company’s showrooms have moved away from fully decked-out vignettes, although there are small samples of installed tubs, toilets and lavs arranged, which helps customers create the look they want. “We appreciate the beauty and individuality of each piece we show and try to put together a unique look, not one we chose from a picture book,” Frankel says. “We let the customer mix and match and guide him or her to a beautiful, functional and personal result. “Understanding the connection today between art, design and style has changed the way showrooms now sell a white toilet versus what we did in the past,” he comments. “When you sell products from companies such as Duravit, Villeroy & Bach, Lacava and others with European design, it becomes apparent that we are no longer selling the toilet of yesterday.Now customers can choose a toilet based on performance, water-savings or type of installation, such as floor or wall-mounted, or an inside-thewall installation such as Geberit’s toilet,” he says. Each of the company’s Manhattan showrooms has one of the in-wall mounted toilets installed in a working bathroom so customers can see it in action. “We want our showrooms to have displays that make it a destination — from art to working KWC faucets with LED lights and water, to functioning steam showers, aromatherapy, chromatherapy, mirrors with DVD players, and tubs and showers with iPod connections and high-quality speakers,” Frankel says. The midtown showroom also has a flat-screen monitor with recent movies to entertain children while their parents shop. A TAILORED MIX The product mix at this location varies somewhat from what the company’s three other showrooms offer, based on the style and taste of area customers.This midtown Manhattan showroom features both traditional and contemporary styles as well as transitional, Frankel says. “You will see some products by the main brands we carry in all of the showrooms, but it is not likely you will see the exact same product in different showrooms or the same exact display,” he notes. Because the company’s three Manhattan showrooms are within an easy commute of one another, if a certain product or manufacturer is on display at another location, the customer can visit the other showroom to see it. DRIVING TRAFFIC Both this showroom and the one on Bond Street have ground-floor entrances and a second, lower level. Both have receptionists at the ground floor entrance. The wholesaler has tried to place all of its Grande Central showrooms at ground level to encourage drop-in traffic. The idea is to attract customers with an enticing window display as they pass by the open front door. EMPLOYEE SUPPORT Central Plumbing Specialties partners with individual manufacturers to provide product knowledge training for its sales staff on Thursday evenings if time permits. When possible, staff members are sent for training at a manufacturer’s plant. Also, alternating staff attend the Kitchen/Bath Industry Show each year. What makes a successful showroom salesperson? “We have hired staff based on word of mouth and previous experience,” Frankel notes. “We had surprising success hiring a car salesman, but less success when we hired someone from a local bar with a great personality but no experience. We have no preconceived notions when we interview.” The company’s business philosophy can be summed up in a quote from a book about the Ritz-Carlton chain, The New Gold Standard: “No company can be all things to all people, but it is possible for your organization to be all things to your customers.” “It’s important to have your employees embrace its message in order to thrive in today’s tougher marketplace,” Frankel says. “Understand who your customer is and be all to them.” THE GREEN REVOLUTION Grande Central showrooms views itself as a market leader in its displays and sales of dual-flush toilets and low-fl ow showerheads, Frankel says. Its Bond Street and 56th Street showrooms have working dual-flush toilets. “As the market changes and manufacturers continue to produce goodlooking and functioning HETs, demand will lead us to change from mostly1. 6 gallon-per-flush to more 1.28 gpf toilets,” he says. “We already stock and sell the 1.28 gpf products, but we are market driven. Our job is to make suggestions and work with customers’ desires.” PROMOTING THE SHOWROOM The wholesaler has advertised its showrooms in print ads both in New York City and Westchester and in the Yellow Pages. It has also used Internet sites as an information tool more than a sales vehicle. “Never underestimate the value of positive word of mouth and proper frontage, window design and appropriate signage,” Frankel advises. Industry expert and design trend analyst Ellen Cheever was the guest speaker at the opening of the Grande Central showroom on Park Ave. Grande Central has also hosted a successful evening event at the Duravit showroom in Manhattan. Frankel says the company plans to have monthly events sponsored by different manufacturers targeting designers, architects and existing customers at the new showroom on 56th Street. “We build business one order at a time,” he says. “We opened in midtown December 1 with no signs, fanfare or parties. We just opened the doors and focused on working out any glitches with all the new systems (computers/ phones and assorted equipment) and training new employees. We wanted to get to a certain comfort level before moving forward, breaking even or making a profit.” A grand opening party is being planned for April, when New York City has nice, reliable weather. DDI CONNECTION Central Plumbing Specialties views itself as a small independent and has enjoyed considerable growth over the past 15 years. It credits this to hard work by its management, owners and employees at every level; its commitment to making each entity function as a whole; and good luck, Frankel says. “Some of that luck was realized early on when Adam Waller of DDI Systems was still working for his dad at Wal-Rich and was developing a computer program for our business,” he recalls. “We were one of his first working sites in 1995. He convinced us to expand beyond the one terminal we had at the time to three users. Now we have more than 60 users and more scheduled to come online this year, with more than 10 times the products that we tracked and sold back then. We realize that our growth could not have been accomplished without the technological advances that came with that changeover.” Warren Frankel has appeared in a DDI print ad. “If I had one piece of advice to anyone thinking about starting a showroom today, it would be to make sure you are not undercapitalized,” Frankel says. “It takes deep pockets — even if all things go as planned — to create a showroom today. If you listen well to your customers, no construction goes as planned. Our showrooms have been no exception. We have paid in time and money and understand that right now going to your friendly local bank might not be an option, so be prepared for anything. If all goes well or you were prepared and weathered the storm, little is more satisfying than to see what you have built and making others’ dreams a reality.”
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