Each year, The Wholesaler magazine sets out to highlight showroom excellence by showcasing an industry standout: a showroom that elevates the customer experience while displaying the elegance of products designed for purpose and style.
In addition, showroom excellence starts before a customer walks through the front door. What brought them to your showroom, how are you providing customer guidance and support, and how do you develop and encourage customer engagement?
We were pleased to read the many submissions sent our way for consideration. One stood out above the rest, and we are honored to celebrate Sink & Spout and its newly remodeled Lowell, Mass., showroom as our Showroom of the Year.
Sink & Spout is the showroom arm of The Granite Group (TGG), a wholesale distributor headquartered in Concord, N.H., with 16 retail showrooms under the Sink & Spout name. At the start of 2023, the showrooms (originally named The Ultimate Bath Store) rebranded to Sink & Spout, Bath, Kitchen and Lighting by The Granite Group. The new names ties into the strong heritage the showrooms have within their communities — and its parent company, which has been serving the region for more than 50 years.
In 2023, the Lowell showroom, which served its community for more than two decades, was ready for a remodel. Completed in August 2023, it transformed into a 5,600-square-foot showroom, deemed a flagship showroom for luxury brands Robern, Kallista and Kohler, as well as carrying many other luxury brands and products. Products are offered in all price points — all to enhance the livability and lifestyle of the communities it serves. And it does so very well.
The showroom’s concept and product line is reflected by the community it serves. Dan Lorenz, showroom sales director, understands the nuances of bringing a unique mix of products to the local area and curating items to fit their wants and needs. “We don’t have a one-size-fits-all approach,” he says. He understands that looking into the local market will drive the products the showroom carries. For the Sink & Spout Lowell showroom, it meant bringing in high-end luxury brands and presenting them within a flagship store — showcasing the brands at their best.
By creating a showroom that represented the highest-quality products, showcased in a way that is approachable and attainable, “I wanted the finished product to be so dramatically different from the prior showroom that it would inspire designers to come and take a look, and for custom builders to want to partner with us,” Lorenz explains. And it worked. By design — literally and figuratively — the company has also reached the “unattached” consumers in the surrounding affluent communities.
“We wanted to create areas with a brand focus or concentration,” he says. “House of Rohl, BainUltra and Bertch have their own focus areas. We offer New England’s most extensive Kohler inventory and great stock on other key brands. With bath, kitchen and lighting under one roof, we provide a more comprehensive shopping experience.”
The showroom sells bathtubs, faucets, fixtures, shower doors, high quality tile-alternative walls, and a deep dive into lighting for the whole home. Doing so provides a one-stop shop for most project needs. In addition, the Lowell showroom has a unique behind-the-wall “closet,” which allows customers to see the space and mechanics needed when integrating digital showering, sound, steam or Alexa voice commands into their project. On occasion, when a plumber or contractor has a question on installation, they can head to the showroom and see it in real-time.
Transparency in product pricing is important for Sink & Spout and improves the customer experience.
“We work hard to get the best brands we possibly can,” Lorenz says. “We’re proud of the brands that we carry. It’s why every display out here has a brand name on it. With that comes a certain level of transparency: when we write a customer quote, we include the manufacturer name and the product model number. You can look it up on your phone using our Wi-Fi — we are not hiding anything from you.”
This demonstrates that the benefit of shopping with the company lies in its sales associates and the team in place to drive customer success. “Our people are the secret sauce that makes it all work,” he says.
“What fuel does our machine need to achieve something greater than where we are today? Many times, great people are part of that solution,” says Lorenz.
Mentorship for the Next Generation
Understanding that products can be purchased at many stores, what sets Sink & Spout apart from others is its level of customer service and the ability to put customers at ease. Doing so is an art form, one that Sink & Spout has cultivated and perfected among its team members.
The showroom has a mix of seasoned industry professionals and new associates experiencing the showroom as a career path for the first time. What is unique is the amount of training and support — extensive manufacturer and vendor training — provided to ensure they are comfortable in their product proficiency, as well as how to listen, identify and clarify customer preferences and requirements.
In January 2022, Sink & Spout formalized a mentorship program that runs, on average, between 12 and 18 months. “New sales associates have a group of people committed to their success,” Lorenz notes. The group includes the branch manager, who plays double-duty as a showroom manager, an operations manager to ensure system proficiency, and a regional operations manager.
A mentor is assigned to each new associate; usually a seasoned salesperson in their home store who shares their many years of experience. The program guides the next generation to become proficient and excel at their craft.
The mentor and mentee meet regularly with scheduled, uninterrupted one-on-one time to impart product knowledge and enrich the art of customer service.
And, if something comes up, as they say, it takes a village. “Mentors don’t need to solve all issues or concerns,” Lorenz explains. “They can draw on the operations and branch manager, and others, to satisfy whatever the need may be.” This allows the mentee to see a team of people working toward their success. “It allows us to provide a support group from day one,” he comments. “It shows them we value them and want them to succeed. And, hopefully, they realize it’s a nice way to see they made a good decision to work here.”
The onboarding process includes diving into product knowledge, systems training, and listening to customers to distill their wants and needs. Cessylia Ochoa-Chavira, sales associate, joined Sink & Spout in September 2022.
“Being fairly new to the business, keeping up with everything in the showroom has been very important,” she says, and she understands that the vendors are there as a support arm as well. “I am always calling or emailing my sales reps or vendors to get information that I do not already know. I set up training appointments for them to come in and show me, using the products we have in the showroom, what I should know about each item to better sell to my customers.” She has a keen understanding that they are there to ensure her success — and that of the customer.
Ochoa-Chavira explains how keeping an open line of communication with vendors helps her deliver on a customer’s wants. “If a customer is looking for a medicine cabinet, I have learned from my rep that we can upgrade and add outlets, magnetic strips, integrated lights, etc., to get the customer exactly what they need.” This, in turn, personalizes the customer experience —driving success for both.
Kenny Wilensky, president of Futura Sales, Inc., a manufacturers representative firm, commends his partner’s achievements.“Congratulations to The Granite Group, and its Sink & Spout Lowell showroom, for achieving excellence in the industry by being awarded The Wholesaler magazine’s 2024 Showroom of the Year! Your commitment to quality, innovation and service has undoubtably set a benchmark in the industry. Cheers to your success!”
The Art of Listening
Sink & Spout stands out in the customer service area by understanding that entering a showroom may be intimidating for some; it sets the stage to take away the anxiety.
For Marianne Fox, a sales associate who has been with the company since 1987, she has perfected the art of listening and putting customers at ease. “I don’t like to bombard my customers with questions right away,” she explains. “I like to ease into our discussions, which lets them get comfortable with me.” Doing so removes the feeling of being overwhelmed and allows the customer to understand the sales associate is working with them in the decision-making.
How does she do it? By encouraging customers to touch and feel the products as they tour the showroom. Working faucets, fixtures and a wall of showerheads display the nuances of each product line.
“They are going to touch and feel these items daily,” Fox explains. “As a homeowner, I appreciate the importance of making good buying decisions. I want my customers to know that I care that they make the correct choices for them and their families. It’s one of the best parts of my day!”
Guiding customers to the right fixtures they will need for their project is a subtle art. “There is so much anxiety that customers wear when they walk in our door,” Lorenz notes. “And it’s hard to make great decisions under stress or duress. So rather than force a customer to start making decisions when they haven’t even figured this whole process out yet, we become a coach and help that consumer understand the parts and pieces of the bathroom.”
While guiding me through the showroom, Lorenz stops me in front of a bathroom vignette and notes: “While you might be coming in for a bathtub or a toilet, there are so many more items to complete your bathroom. The sooner we can get in front of that and identify all that is needed without adding stress, the more we can keep you comfortable and relaxed.”
In front of the sink area, he informs me: “There are seven products that are needed to create a grooming station: a vanity cabinet, countertop, sink, faucet, mirror or medicine cabinet, lighting and cabinet hardware. We want to ensure that when you select an item, the rest of the space will match.” What I didn’t realize as he walked me through the process was how at ease I was with his suggestions — from finishes to customized options — as he guided me through in a helpful and not overwhelming way. As I played the part of a potential customer, I asked about a certain brand – wanting to see its line.
“If we have a designer interested in ROHL, we can effortlessly move over to that part of the showroom where that product dominates,” Lorenz notes. It’s all about making it easier for customers — in product offerings and knowledge — in a way that doesn’t overwhelm them.
“We ensure our customers that we are here as an extension of their project; and will work with their designer and architect as needed,” Lorenz notes. “We assure them that they’re at the right place and have someone interested in helping them achieve the best project possible. We are an extension of our customer’s team, so we try to make each customer feel relaxed.”
He adds, “We don’t deserve your money until we earn it.”
The Last Mile
TGG’s tagline of “Great People. Great Products.” provides another step to success for Sink & Spout customers with a team dedicated to their success — called the Centralized After Sales Service Team (CASST).
The CASST team engages with a customer after an order has been placed, and they remain engaged to answer any questions regarding the order through fulfillment and beyond. The program was developed in early 2023 and launched after Thanksgiving of the same year. It bridges the gap between the sales associate and the customer: allowing sales associates to do what they do best — selling — while passing on order fulfillment and logistics to a team dedicated to ensuring all is completed at the highest level of service.
The team follows and tracks the order to ensure that it arrives in the Sink & Spout warehouse on time and is delivered where it needs to be on the customer-specified date. It also includes assistance with issues such as undetected product damage before delivery and post-installation warranty matters, should they arise.
Ashley Caron joined TGG nearly three years ago, and when the CASST program was in development, she jumped on board to lead the team. She was part of the developmental process for CASST and is instrumental in ensuring it lives up to its name.
“When customers leave the showroom, they receive a printout explaining CASST with our phone number and email address. So when we call them, they understand we are part of the team,” she says. The process allows CASST members to ensure the order is correct and delivered where and when promised.
“If there is a mistake on the order (say the sales associate forgot to change a finish on a faucet or lever), a CASST member will pick up on it, and we will take care of the change,” says Caron. Typically, products displayed at the Sink & Spout showrooms are in stock and available for delivery. If the product happens to be out of stock, the CASST member will handle the procurement, ensuring a timely delivery.
Because CASST is decentralized, they can service every Sink & Spout showroom. By being connected to all processes in place, they are the team “behind the curtain,” which is the final touch in ensuring customer satisfaction.
It all ties back to The Granite Group’s tagline, “Great People. Great Products,” which is woven into the fabric of Sink & Spout. “It reflects the spirit of this company,” says Alicia Criniti, senior vice president of marketing at The Granite Group. “The ‘Great People’ part speaks to our people’s commitment to each other and our customers. It’s part of our DNA.”
Cheers to you, Sink & Spout, for showcasing showroom excellence!