THE WHOLESALER - October 2013: Think Retail Friendly, not Wholesale

Posted by Bill Sattler on April 09, 2014 0 Comments

Think Retail Friendly, Not Wholesale.

Showroom specialist


Now I realize the title is ironic considering the Magazine I write for but if you have a showroom you must approach it with a retail friendly mindset. I am amazed by the number of showrooms that are still “wholesale only” and really think these companies are missing the boat. That is unless you are in my market, then you are perfect and please don’t change. I love you just the way you are! 

Times they are a changing and the days of the plumbers buying the plumbing fixtures for the residential projects are too. You may or may not know this but there was a time when electricians bought and resold all the lighting and appliances for the home the same way plumbers buys the fixtures and faucets. This trend is changing also within our industry. More designers, consumers, builders and remodelers are taking on the responsibility of buying the plumbing fixtures and faucets. In some parts of the country this is standard practice, whereas others are slower to see this change. If it has not reached your market, trust me it will. 

What is important to keep in mind is whoever buys the fixtures, ultimately the real decision makers and true person calling the shots or at least should be in the end is the home owner. They are the ones that have to live with and pay for the product when it’s all said and done. 80% of the consumers making these decisions are women. These are the customers you should be marketing and catering to. If you are not doing this already I really suggest you start thinking about it. If you look at all the major manufactures they are focusing the majority of their marketing efforts on the consumer and you should be too. There is so much that goes into making your store retail friendly from, service, amenities you can offer, events,marketing and the way you merchandise your store. It’s way to much to cover in one article so I will focus on the merchandising of your store. Here are just a few ideas to get you started. If you are already retail friendly maybe these are just some things to improve upon or add to what you are currently doing.

Become a destination retailer.

So what is a destination retailer you ask? Again you always ask such great questions! A destination retailer is by definition: A popular retailer from whom customers, attracted by its ambiance, and or variety will make a special effort to buy. Great examples of destination retailers are Cabeala’s, The Apple Store, Ikea, and within our industry one of the best examples is Pirch (formally Fixture Living). These stores all have similar things in common. The most important being they each create a unique atmosphere and look highly desirable to the consumer looking within their particular retail category. 

I personally will drive an hour and a half to make the trip to Ikea because I love the styles of product they offer. I am a fan of Ikea and in turn loyal to the brand. I am the same way with Apple products and have driven two hours to visit an Apple Store. Now I realize some of you may have just laughed that off. Once your past that realize I am the type of customer you should desire, one that is loyal to a brand. That is a loyalty you should be working toward achieving. A loyalty not for the manufactures you carry, that’s their job to develop for their own brand following. You instead want a consumer to become loyal to your brand and that brand is your store and what you have to offer customers over others.

If you offer customers variety, service and an experience they will not soon forget they will reward you with their patronage and better yet loyalty.

Being retail friendly.

This in a way goes against the title of the article but bear with on this one. In my opinion a plumbing fixture store is not ever truly a full retail establishment. True full retail allows you to walk in select something and leave the store with the items that day. Within our industry orders are placed, and then the customer waits and sometime waits some more for their products to come in. 

That said, it does not mean you can’t however be retail like or friendly. Offer hours that accommodate the customer. Most people have 9 to 5 jobs, so offer nights and weekend store hours. Consider being open on holiday weekends. Yeah, I know blasphemy right! Trust me, I truly love what I do, but I really would rather be home with my family. As much as I hate to admit, it becomes about making it easier for the customers. I really have to remember to hide this issue from my bosses when it comes out! 

Our showroom currently offers two nights till 7:00pm and Saturdays 10:00am to 4:00pm. We have even discussed internally the idea of adding more weeknight hours and even (insert dramatic foreboding music – DUN DUN DUUUUN) “Sundays”!!! I know right, the idea just sent chills up the backs of many of you! You have to look at your stores traffic patterns and realize when you are not working, neither are your customers.

Have a theme & create the unexpected.

Products that are scattered about haphazardly aren't going to get much attention from customers. Develop a basic layout before you start merchandising. The plan doesn’t have to be very detailed, just make sure you have a general vision for your display and make a list of anything you will need to make it happen. You might choose to display product by product type, function, etc. Each of these options has its specific benefits, but make sure whichever theme you pick is obvious to shoppers.

Another way to display products is in a way that gives people an idea of how they might use the items in their own home commonly referred to as a vignette. I hate calling them vignettes! Even the word makes me think a wall with horrible flowered wall paper with just a pedestal and toilet set against it looking like it is trapped in 1977. I like to think it of them more as “lifestyle displays”. We recently created a black and white display with a Paris theme. We dressed it with towels, soaps, flowers, knickknacks and pictures to stay with our theme. All to create a look the customer might have or want to have in their own home.

Two great ways to get customers’ attention are with a whisper or with a shout. Highlight one product with a “whisper” by setting it apart or spotlighting it, much like a jeweler would do with a diamond necklace. Showing just a single necklace in a glass box with a dark backdrop makes the item seem special, and you can bet customers are intrigued. You know faucets are the jewelry of the bathroom. A “shout,” such as a full display with bold colors and a lot of product, is another way to draw customers in and raise top-of-mind awareness about a product. Whether you “whisper” or “shout,” commit to it; anything in between runs the risk of being overlooked by customers. 

Less is more.

Even the title of this one probably has my staff and bosses laughing. This is a rule I have the hardest time with, but it is one of the most important. If I did not fight the urge to do so (nor have my staff rein me in) I would have 10,000 sq.ft. of product within our 7,000 sg.ft. store. No one can display everything. What I still struggle with to this day is how to pick and choose the right product. You want to display what is different from your competition yet have what is the trend or better yet what will be the upcoming trend. When staging a lifestyle display I might put five unique items in the display to give it personality. Then when I think it is perfect with those these five items my staff always says to take away one! It is really a rule to follow so you don’t over clutter.

Create a focal point.

When it comes to displays, I will plan, re-plan, over plan, and over think them before I feel they are ready. There is nothing that bothers me more than to go in to a store and see a sink and faucet combination that makes no sense what so ever. I know it was just put there just to put it there. You can see it was done with no real thought behind it. All that says to me and their customers is they don’t care. I have been in million dollar showrooms where handles are missing from a display or just left off like no one cared enough to correct the situation. Creating a display is an opportunity for you to tell a story and show customers how a variety of products coordinate. It is critical that you choose one item as a focal point and then build your display around it using complementary items. Without a main focus, the display may seem too busy and will be less effective in attracting customers. A clear focal point will catch shoppers’ attention right away and create interest in the display as a whole.

Make sure your displays are not jam-packed, so shoppers can process the scene quickly and easily. Cluttered spaces can cause customers to leave a store altogether because they feel overwhelmed, uncomfortable, or unsure how to navigate the environment. After you have completed your display, step back and look at it. Very few people will see it standing directly in front of it. Most displays are approached from the side or seen from an angle.

Keep it fresh.

Last, but certainly not least, don’t forget to change it up! Customers tend to pass up tired, been-there-done-that displays. We have adopted something I learned from the best such as Hank Darlington and David Hawkins, change about 25% of your store a year.

Don’t feel like you need to buy new props for every season; that can be expensive and overwhelming. Instead, think of ways to transform what you already have. You’ll be amazed at the way items take on a whole new look! We will even just move a particular product’s location in the store. Customers that may have just been in and did not notice the product will be like “oh this is new” when in reality it was here the last time they were in. We just gave them a new different perspective.

Keeping it fresh also means keeping it clean. Take a look at your store entrance and any other parts of your store where customers will form their first impressions. Always put your best foot forward. If the first thing shoppers see in your entryway is drooping flowers or chipped paint, freshen it up! Show shoppers that you are organized – de-clutter your desk by getting rid of all the post-it note reminders and loose paperwork. Cluttered desks are something we battle with everyday especially when we are busy. Honestly I have to admit the clean desk thing is my Kryptonite. I am the worst of all of us in our store. See I am human, and nowhere near perfect (a fact my wife will attest to).

If you are not sure where to start with any of this, I suggest doing some homework to get some inspiration. Before designing our remodel I spent weeks studying retail merchandising books, reading and rereading all of Hank Darlington’s columns, along with countless hours on the internet. I studied other showrooms, retail displays, and whatever could help me improve Waterhouse for our customers. I would come home from work and be on the computer doing research for hour’s every night. Yes, just looking at display ideas and plumbing fixtures! Man you guys are a tough crowd.

As I mentioned before in a previous article, I will go to the mall just to look at the way some of the stores are merchandising. I will take photos and try to figure “how can I make this work for us”? Same goes for trade shows such as ICFF or KBIS. I end up with hundreds to thousands of photos.

Once you’re ready, adding some of your own personality and creative spirit to your displays and keeping your store sparkling clean goes above and beyond shoppers’ expectations. Drive it home by providing a level of genuine service that shows customers how much you care about them and appreciate their business. These attributes add immeasurable value to your store and will keep shoppers coming back for the unique, personal experience they can only get from you – a specialty destination retailer!

Dion Wilson, Manager of Waterhouse Bath & Kitchen Studio and interior designer, has worked in the kitchen and bath industry as a showroom specialist for the last two decades. Under his direction, Waterhouse has garnered national attention. He is considered one of the industry’s leading Social Media experts. Wilson can be reached at 125 E. Indiana Ave, Perrysburg, OH, 43551; phone (419) 874.3519 fax (419) 874.9529; e-mail; or website; Facebook or on Twitter @dion1701.

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