Ultra Design Center took on 2019 in a big way. It moved into a spectacular 13,000-square-foot showroom on the third floor of the International Design Collection Building in Denver. It entered the lighting category. It added several new luxury lines, and it promoted two staff members to management positions.
In just the first month of 2020, these accomplishments were rewarded in a big way! At the recent Luxury Products Group (LPG) Conference and Expo, Ultra Design Center was named Showroom of the Year.
Ultra offers a full range of decorative bath, plumbing, kitchen, hardware and lighting products to customers throughout Colorado and parts of Wyoming. Ultra’s products are mostly installed in custom homes and high-end remodels. Approximately 80 percent of its sales are to the trade — designers, contractors or installers — but its team is highly focused on engaging and educating homeowners in the process. Ultra also redistributes product to kitchen and bath dealers and other wholesalers, which accounts for about 10 percent of its sales.
Ultra describes the showroom as a “premiere design resource” that displays “a curated selection of products sourced worldwide that deliver superior style and features, authentically crafted using the best materials.” Its displays are set up in a way that customers can see and touch the products, and in many cases are highly experiential, allowing customers to operate them and see how they look and feel when in use. Ultra's goal is to spark customers’ creativity and help them develop a vision for their projects and how the products at its showroom can cohesively work together in their own homes.
In presenting the award to Ultra’s owner, Kevin Castelo, LPG Executive Director Jeff MacDowell said that “Ultra’s showroom is the definition of luxury. It looks more like a gallery than a traditional decorative showroom. Kevin has worked tirelessly to expand the showroom’s business as well as their participation with LPG vendors.”
Castelo admitted that he was surprised, delighted and honored to hear Ultra’s name announced.
“There are so many great showrooms in LPG that are deserving,” he said. “I had no idea it would be Ultra. As Jeff was making the announcement, I thought about all of the help that Ultra and I received over the recent years, both from my dedicated team and also from the vendors — many of whom were also in that room at the conference. Ultra’s growth and progress wouldn’t have been possible without all of their contributions.
“I feel fortunate to be a part of LPG because it’s such a great community of showrooms and vendors. LPG has given me an invaluable network of friends and colleagues who are genuinely interested in helping one another. Having the LPG network at my fingertips has been priceless.
“It’s also been so valuable having LPG as an intermediary with the vendors. It saves me a significant amount of time by not having to negotiate individual deals with vendors or, even more importantly, do the tracking and follow up myself. The annual conference is also very worthwhile because it provides a great venue to efficiently have business meetings with many of Ultra’s key vendors.”
LPG was developed by the former Omni buying group (now IMARK Plumbing). Omni members were traditional plumbing wholesale companies, and many of them also had decorative showrooms. Ten years ago, they decided it would be beneficial to form a separate group that was focused solely on the decorative side of their businesses. Ultra was one of the first decorative-only businesses to join LPG (i.e., it did not have a sister wholesaling operation).
“I’ve had a front row seat to see the tremendous positive changes and momentum building over the years,” noted Castelo. “Looking forward, I’m especially excited about the recently announced training portal for LPG member showrooms. The industry has always been squarely focused on product knowledge training, but many showrooms, including Ultra, have neglected ‘soft-skills’ training. LPG is taking a leadership role in filling that void. This investment will improve the performance of all LPG showrooms, which in turn will improve sales for all of the LPG vendors. I’m also thrilled that LPG’s has successfully added — and is growing — the lighting category. That was one of the biggest reasons Ultra made such a major investment in adding lighting to our showroom. The current set of lighting vendors are top notch, and I expect continued success in that category as well.”
Castelo himself has a rather unique story of how he came to the showroom — and to LPG. His uncle had been the owner of Ultra Design Center, but Castelo hadn’t grown up in the business and certainly didn’t plan for it to be his career. Instead, he built his business resume holding positions in consulting, finance and strategic development with companies completely outside the showroom realm.
But Castelo had longed to become an entrepreneur, so he approached his uncle with a proposal to acquire a stake in the business. He believed that using his background could help guide Ultra’s development and growth initiatives. His uncle agreed, the two struck a deal, and Castelo began leading the showroom in 2012.
“It was a big leap, but I did a lot of consumer research first,” he explained. “My background gave me a set of tools I could use to gather that type of data we needed to successfully market and grow the business. I came in with a goal to deliver exceptional service and value to Ultra’s customers and partners. I’ve been very lucky over these last eight years to be surrounded by great colleagues, peers, customers, reps and vendors. And even more fortunate that many of these have turned into pretty close relationships. At the end of the day, this is a relationship business that lives and dies based on the quality of your team. My team is outstanding, and they’ve truly set us apart in our market.”