APR acquired Sage Supply in Johnson City N.Y. in May, and the purchase was a smart investment. The building was large with long-term renters and had multiple loading docks, a large warehouse and a showroom. It was in a small market but with untapped potential. Best of all, there were strong and knowledgeable staff dedicated and determined to make this new opportunity work.
Out with the Old
A lot of our acquisitions come with outdated facilities. This is part of the challenge: to create an attractive showroom on a very low budget with hopes of a fast ROI. In some ways the showroom was perfect. It had a long, fully windowed wall facing a busy street – perfect for displaying interesting product and signage to draw in the public. And because nearly everything was outdated or discontinued, we didn’t need to spend much time evaluating individual displays. But the vignettes were on hazardous platforms, and a lot of full-height walls blocked the area and made the displays feel cramped. The floor was badly stained from years of use, and there was even carpeting on the walls. We would have to be aggressive and start from scratch.
I was fortunate enough to have Brenda Higgins on board, who is the best salesperson in the market. She was a member of the Sage Supply team and stayed on with us during the acquisition. Higgins played a critical role in understanding the market and was instrumental in pointing us in the right direction. The population, income and demographics all pointed to the design of a very practical showroom with a strong emphasis on aging-in-place product. She described the market as traditional with the bulk of work being renovations of older homes and suggested items such as multi-piece shower units and traditional-style cabinets to reflect this need.
In with the New
We partnered with our preferred vendors to create a 3,500 sq.-ft. showroom, which boasts more than 12 tub shower displays, several handicap-accessible showers and a wide range of cabinet options for the bath and kitchen. Only four faucet lines are displayed, which was a change from our usual eight or more. We felt we could make a bigger impact by tailoring our product mix to the individual market rather than displaying items unlikely to sell in the area. Because 3,500 square feet can fill up fast, we wanted to make every inch count.
Allison Lorelli, business development manager for our showrooms, assisted in the overall layout and design. She has a new and unique role at APR and works outside the showroom developing relationships with other kitchen and bath shops, builders and contractors to drive business to our showrooms.
Challenges and Solutions
Although the work was to be a complete gut, there were challenges to the layout. Unlike the previous floor plan, we wanted to have clear sight lines from one end of the showroom to the other, creating a feeling of abundance and spaciousness. Lorelli emphasized the need for planned “empty areas” for freestanding displays and towers.
In our other showrooms, lack of clear and open floor space can become a real challenge. More vendors are producing and shipping merchandising and display vignettes that are self-contained – including their message and marketing – and we struggle to fit these in when too much of our showroom is permanently designed. Knowing this and wanting to be able to update frequently in the future with little investment, our layout had an open concept. We were very thoughtful in where we would build permanent walls and exactly what we would display there. It was also critical that our customers could see our offerings easily and understand what we we’re all about.
“Making sure our showrooms look and act like an extension of our customers’ business is important to us,” said Lorelli. “We had to make it simple, cost effective and yet still show product that gets people excited to buy.”
Early on, we decided to improve upon what Sage Supply started; they only had bathroom products. We added kitchens in the design, with a mid-price-point cabinet line. We are also adding tile and some lighting to provide our customers with a one-stop shop, and our other showrooms already embrace this approach.
“We don’t want a builder to send clients to three showrooms,” said Lorelli. “If we are making the investment, let’s save the customer time, money and energy and offer the complete package.”
Another concern was adding handicap accessibility to the showroom. When we purchased the company, it was virtually impossible to have wheelchair access to the showroom, as the main entrance is located at the top of a large hill with no nearby parking. If we are going to display aging-in-place product, we have to allow everyone a chance to visit the showroom, so we are adding new parking outside the showroom entrance. However, winter in Johnson City is quickly approaching, stalling this part of the construction until next year.
It’s all in the Displays
When working on the design, we were concerned about the total cost but knew that with plumbing products, working displays are critical. We had to ensure that our customers could see water moving through our product to allow them the opportunity to experience and evaluate their purchase. We opted to install working “wet rooms” with multiple showerheads, handhelds and body sprays in each. The working displays are inside two of our largest and popular shower layouts – one a popular Terestone custom shower with a large bench and the other the Aquabrass “Aquazone” shower/tub combination. We installed beautiful Roda frameless shower doors to finish off the space. Utilizing actual shower layouts in creating these wet areas maximized our selling opportunity.
Hits and Highlights
Another interesting design highlight of this location is the use of dyed and polished concrete floors. We selected a dark charcoal color – polished to a rich luster. Concrete gives the showroom a cohesive base by utilizing it for the entire floor, but because the material has natural cracking and variation in color, the floor is dynamic and interesting. We expect it to be relatively maintenance free, and staining is no longer an issue. It is also handicapped accessible; it is firm underfoot, easy to roll on and has no transition points – eliminating tipping hazards.
We also painted the entire showroom a vibrant aqua, which gives the showroom a cohesive look and allows the displays to stand out. Having one color allows the mind to focus on the product and avoids overloading customers with too much visual “noise.” It will also make it easy to change vignettes in the future; if we want to take something out that is funky and modern and put something completely traditional in its space, we don’t have to try to match the wall color or repaint.
Part of the Community
Throughout this process, we got to work with many Johnson City locals, including Testa Plumbing and Kraig Brigham contracting. When accessorizing the showroom, Brenda was able to display some gorgeous original artwork by her daughter. We are running promotions with our new neighbors, Olum’s, and a local radio station. We hope to be able to continue to work with local companies and become a fixture in the Johnson City community.
The showroom is now complete, and we are simply thrilled with the results. It was a long, hard process, but we succeeded at our goals and maintained our original budget. Reviews have been overwhelmingly positive; customers are delighted by our product selection, service and expertise. This showroom was designed with our growth and the future in mind; we designed an extra work area for future staff.
– Jeff MacDowell is vice president of marketing and emerging markets for APR Supply Company. Allison Lorelli, business development manager for the company’s showrooms, also contributed to this post.