Little did Caitlin Skaggs know when she applied for a job posting at Wiseway Supply’s showroom that she would become what she now laughingly refers to as a “plumbing and lighting snob.”
“I had recently moved back to my hometown and Wiseway was one of the local businesses that everyone knew,’” she said, “so I thought I’d give it a try. I had no idea that I would become a salesperson, but now it feels like I’ve always been one and just didn’t realize it. They started me on the showroom floor and I quickly fell in love with plumbing and lighting. Once you start working with showroom-quality products, you’re hooked.”
With no sales experience or decorative background, Caitlin knew she had a lot to learn and eagerly soaked up any training or advice that was offered.
“My colleagues were so helpful as I learned this business,” she said. “Our owner and our previous showroom manager helped me understand what sets Wiseway apart from DIY stores and e-tailers, and what we need to do to maintain that advantage. Beyond that, having the opportunity to attend the ALA Conference and LPG Expo has helped me build wonderful connections with peers and vendors across the country. One of my favorite things about LPG is that members can speak openly together about wins and losses since we’re not competing in the same market. We encourage one another and sincerely want each other to succeed. It’s like you have a friend on your team everywhere. And our vendors, too, are always looking for ways to support local distributors and showrooms.
“We enjoy the expertise from LPG when selecting new vendors, the free or almost free display deals, and the improved terms we receive as LPG members. The educational value of LPG is priceless. With Jeff’s educational webinars, training becomes more personal. Opening up discussion with the group is so much more powerful than simply watching a slideshow. Jeff has an inspiring attitude that is infectious.”
Caitlin described Wiseway’s owner John Cain as one of her biggest mentors, and said that his dedication to the Design Center continues to give her confidence.
“I have a lot of pride in working for such a respected family-owned company,” she said. “I try my best to be a sponge and soak up his knowledge of the industry. And with Wiseway’s acquisition of Kentucky Lighting, a showroom in Lexington, Ky., I am grateful for the chance to learn from Paula Minton. She was their general manager and has operated a very successful showroom in central Kentucky for years.”
The Cain family and Wiseway Supply have been a staple in plumbing and electrical distribution for nearly 50 years in the Greater Cincinnati area. They’ve built a reputation for having a knowledgeable, customer-focused team and strong vendor partnerships — which have worked in tandem to help Wiseway expand their reach.
Today Wiseway has 10 locations in southern Ohio and northern Kentucky, including the Design Showroom in Florence, Ky. The 4,000-square-foot showroom offers one of the most complete selections of high-end plumbing and lighting in their region.
When customers walk through the front door, there are free-standing tubs to their left and right, and a reception desk ahead with a working shower behind it. They feature many faucets on removable pods on slat walls, which allows them to be easily carried through the showroom or to a work table so customers can better visual how it will look with the rest of their selections. Lighting is hung throughout the showroom but more heavily concentrated on one side.
“Customers typically aren’t just looking for a bathroom faucet — they’re imagining their whole space,” Caitlin described. “So we try to give them plenty of visualization tools. There are complete bath suites on display that feature plumbing and lighting, including chandeliers. We also showcase heated towel racks, exhaust fans, mirrors, vanities and other accessories with various palettes and decor.
“Our showroom is designed to help customers feel as if they’re walking into their Pinterest boards. We encourage them to show us their boards and what they’ve saved on Houzz. We can recreate any look they desire. Instead of fighting it, why not use it? With some clients, it’s like pulling teeth to get them to explain what they like. But once we see a photo of their dream bathroom, we know exactly what direction to go.”
Wiseway’s showroom customers include retail consumers, custom home builders, remodelers, plumbers, electricians and designers. To help customers feel comfortable in the showroom, Wiseway created a beautiful conference area with the renovation of the founder’s office, and offer a selection of snacks, water, coffee and lattes.
“The sign in front of our building has actually been one of the best marketing tools to target retail customers,” Caitlin noted. “It faces a major intersection and we regularly put new motivational quotes on it. You wouldn’t believe the reaction it gets! At trade shows we’re constantly asked about the messages, how we find them and who changes he sign. A lot of people tell us that they’ve been driving past the sign for years and always look forward to seeing new messages. Our sign has even been popping up on social media, which we are using regularly as part of our digital marketing efforts.”
As Caitlin mentioned earlier, Wiseway owner John Cain has emphasized the importance of consumers realizing the difference between a DIY or e-tailing experience and the Wiseway Design Center.
“We want to open people’s minds to the type of personalized service they can receive from us,” she said. “We’ve heard time and time again that our staff and their knowledge set us apart in our market. We go beyond transactional interactions and instead create many wonderful relationships. We truly enjoy our customers — and often become friends. Whether they’re consumers, designers, remodelers or custom builders, they’re all people who want to buy from people they trust and have a relationship with.”
Caitlin noted that while salespeople must be motivated intrinsically, keeping the atmosphere upbeat is also important.
“We try to keep things fun,” she described. “At our weekly showroom meeting, we encourage everyone to ‘toot their own horns’ and share their accomplishments from that week. We have friendly competitions like who can sell the most towel warmers during a month or who can sell a specific product from a particular brand in a month. The winners are rewarded with lunch and/or a gift card.”
Wiseway has been involved in both plumbing and electrical since the beginning, so balancing their focus on multiple product categories in the Design Center was only natural.
“Other showrooms in our area have separate lighting and plumbing specialists,” Caitin said. “But our consultants are versed in both. I believe doing it that way simplifies the process for our clients. Lighting tends to have a little more margin to offer and it compliments a plumbing sale perfectly.
“It’s easy to add on a few vanity lights after selecting plumbing fixtures, but we also sell chandeliers, exterior lighting, recessed and landscape lighting. That requires us to spend a lot of time on displays and training so we can properly assist customers.
“This is why our rep relationships are so important. If my staff knows they can call one of our reps for help — and are confident that the person they’re calling is a true expert — they’re even more comfortable knowing you have their back if they do run into issues or have any questions.”
When asked if she had advice for any of her LPG peers who are considering adding lighting to their mix, Caitlin added, “It really all comes down to the comfort level of each showroom salesperson when working with new products. As many can vouch from past experience, adding a new category doesn’t automatically guarantee timely ROI. Some showrooms add a new category and never achieve an ROI because they didn’t make enough of an impact to grow their market share. But if staff members are properly educated and motivated to sell, are loyal and committed to contributing to the showroom’s overall success, they can be a great asset.”