The Wholesaler is championing companies within our industry that represent the best in class of showrooms. This year, we created a Showroom of the Year award, dedicated to a company and storefront going beyond product offerings — and showcases what happens when customer service, employee engagement and technology combine to form magic.
It’s not just about a beautiful showroom. It’s about how a company goes above and beyond customer expectations. We also examined how a company uses its marketing to enhance the customer’ experience as well as what tools it provides employees to enrich their role within the company and help them excel at customer service.
We searched from coast to coast and had many qualified companies submit for consideration. One company’s philosophy and actions stood out. We are excited to award Green Art Plumbing Supply and its Huntington Station, N.Y. location, with the inaugural 2019 Wholesaler Showroom of the Year Award.
First impressions are everything, or so they say. I never believed in the adage, instead trusting in the full experience to create a lasting impression. Green Art Plumbing Supply has an amazing first impression — and the overall experience keeps customers coming back
The Long Island, N.Y.-based company is a third-generation, family-owned and -operated plumbing supply house. It distributes a wide range of plumbing, heating, kitchen, bath and home supplies for both residential and commercial projects. Green Art Plumbing Supply is a member of the IMARK Plumbing Group, and within that is also a member of its Luxury Products Group (LPG), as well as a member of American Supply Association (ASA).
With more than 100 employees, three showrooms and two pipe yards, the wholesale distributor is under the direction of Vice President Alex Okin and his father, President Lewis Okin, who are steadfast in upholding the company’s mission.
“Since 1946, the Okin family has been building relationships by holding ourselves to the highest standards,” Alex Okin notes. “We take pride in consistently looking for ways to improve and make it easier to do business with us. We add value to every sale by providing integrity, knowledge, superior stock and on-time delivery.”
In May 2018, the company opened a new 5,000-sq.-ft. luxury retail showroom in Huntington Station, N.Y. — a change from its other showrooms, which are smaller in size and scope. The vision was to be “located in a high retail area and become a destination to retail customers,” explains Jerod Palagi, showroom manager. The area is surrounded by home-focused furniture and accessory retailers, making it a perfect location to complement the showroom. And, with the new retail-driven traffic, they were building a new customer base.
The showroom caters to about 70 percent retail customers, with the remainder consisting of architects, designers, builders, general contractors and various other trades. The showroom does about 12 percent of Green Art’s business overall, accounting for approximately 18 percent of its profits.
“That’s an important metric,” says Jeff MacDowell, executive director of the Luxury Products Group, a division of the IMARK Plumbing Group. “When you look at the sales and profit percentage, it shows the importance of the showroom and that it is a leg on the table in a wholesale operation. It demonstrates why showrooms in a wholesale environment are important.”
Designing the New Showroom
Finding a move-in ready building was a challenge. After searching for the right area and space, the Okin’s selected a building circa 1945 — it had charm and a good location but needed a complete rehab. Under the direction of Palagi, who’s background includes architectural design, they set out to create a space that was unique, inviting and different.
“The concept was to design a space that felt comfortable and draw one into the interior of the showroom, Palagi explains. “We want to make you feel as though you are in a room in your own home.” He designed the space, flow and oversaw all aspects of the renovation and the layout. It was a labor of love, and Palagi wanted to keep the charm of the old building — the original wood beams from the roof, as well as exposed brick and slanted ceilings — and provide accents making the space feel comfortable.
What strikes you upon entering the showroom is that it feels luxurious, flooded with natural light. The space has clean lines and plenty of room to move around. The ceilings are lower, giving a more intimate feel, and the showroom focuses on vignettes — not just rows of toilets or sinks.
There is virtually no product branding on the walls and products are not displayed by manufacturer; instead, they are grouped by product type. This completes the feel of being in a home instead of a product showroom, and makes it easy for customers to start a conversation with the sales team.
By looking and interacting with the numerous vignettes designed to showcase different features, Green Art understands that engaging a conversation between customers and the sales team is vital. This is an area where they excel, as providing information on the product, features and benefits is the knowledge customers will not experience online. “All the accessories are there and provide a visual of finished products in each section; customers can visualize how their space can be put together,” MacDowell says. “They can complete a thought when they look at a complete display.”
Customers can experience a large working shower wall incorporating 14 shower heads of Moen’s U smart shower, hooked up to Alexa. Other working displays include the DTV Prompt by Kohler, its entry-level digital system that’s incorporated with a real-feel rain system, body spray and showerhead.
The showroom has two “experience bathrooms,” one with a luxurious soaking bathtub, complete with integrated Bluetooth audio and a cozy electric fireplace. The other bathroom is a Kohler spa, “It is our full digital bathroom — equipped with a Numi toilet and the Kohler DTV system,” Palagi notes. “The entire room is Wi-Fi connected and showcases how technology can change and tailor an experience for each user.”
And they are truly experience bathrooms - make an appointment and bring your bathing suit and you can test out the products.
Not to be missed are the two working kitchens, accessorized with kitchen faucets with the newest built-in technology. “By showing the different types of spray functions, the value of them, the touch list, up to the wall switches, turning those on, being touch-free — this interaction helps people understand how they can integrate all these little things in their lives to make it easier,” Palagi explains.
And, to fully embrace technology, the showroom is equipped with Bluetooth-controllable light switches and outlets. One can look at a fixture and by making an adjustment on your smartphone, you can change the mood and feel of an area in an instant — from anywhere.
Culture of Learning
The culture is built around the enrichment of employees through onboarding, training and continued education. “We want our employees to constantly be able to grow and learn, and better themselves as well, because it’ll only better the company,” Okin says.
To understand how to maximize and make each job as efficient for the employee as possible, the company brought in a director of training, whose responsibility it is to understand each role within the company, from the warehouse to sales and beyond, and how to make tasks more efficient within their respected areas.
As the training developer, Justin Striano understands that employees are Green Art’s most important asset. “We want our employees to be at the top of their game at all times,” he says. “Not only do we encourage them to better themselves within the industry, but we also want them to better themselves in areas they’re interested in.”
Continuing education is of vital importance and Striano makes sure the tools are there, setting employees up for success. As individuals learn through different methods — from training videos and courses to lunch-and-learns — every tangible resource is made available for enrichment. The company has a dedicated area within in the showroom for training, holding approximately 30 people.
As Striano maps out how each job can be completed more efficiently, the process is then conveyed to the employee in what Green Art terms a “re-onboarding” process. Employees appreciate and thrive in the environment, where many have been with the company for more than 20 years. So dedicated is Green Art to employee enrichment, it set up a rewards program for those employees who go above and beyond their standard requirements.
“If someone says, ‘I want to learn more about this,’ we find ways to accommodate them,” Striano explains. “Continuous education is a staple here.”
Promoting from within is a big part of the Green Art philosophy. “I recently had a conversation with a warehouse employee who wants to move into sales. He asked what the next steps were to take,” Striano says. “It’s exciting to help employees who want to grow. We consider them part of the family and they are the value added to have within our business.”
It all comes down to giving the employees tools to be better educated on products, procedure and process.
“My father taught me to empower employees to make decisions,” Okin notes. “When you empower someone, they feel responsible for that customer’s outcome or whatever task they’re doing. Jerod does a great job continuing that through education. We realize you have to give people ownership and let them run with it.”
Okin spoke several times about the team that makes the company and showroom run. “Green Art wants our team to have personalities,” he says. “It’s what sets us apart and makes this part of the experience. People want to deal with people. So, people come into our showroom because they have a connection and they know we will take care of them. That is our difference.”
This also translates into the customer service/support team that handles customer service and engagement.
Customer Service Excellence in Engagement
The company engages a high-level support team that plays a pivotal role from initial contact requesting an appointment to white-glove delivery of goods and beyond. The support team helps organize and resolve issue and inquiries efficiently. It’s important to always keep the customer informed and educated. Communication must remain open from start to finish.
Mindy Acquavella, support manager, oversees the support team’s operation. The team’s first contact is when a customer makes an appointment online. Utilizing software, a sophisticated multi-step automated system will take the process from there — confirming the date, location and time as well as email notifications up to the date of the appointment. From the moment the customer walks through the door, members of the support team are available to assist.
The support team handles many aspects of the purchase process, easing the burden of the sales team. Checking backorders, lead times and tracking information is just the beginning. Handling any issue that may impede a smooth order and delivery is headed off at the pass. With the support team handling these issues, it allows the sales consultants to do what they do best — focus on customers’ needs and design requirements.
“Mindy’s team frees up the salespeople to work on project design and specifying products, allowing customers to receive the full attention they deserve,” Okin says. “The support team can report back on availability, delivery and timing, which frees up our sales team to focus on their side of customer service. This is a big value for all parties.”
After customers make a purchase, they are then placed into an email automation system that includes a survey to provide feedback. The information gathered is used during the team’s weekly meetings to discuss ways to improve, as well as provide positive comments made about staff members.
As the email information is gathered by responsive clicks, the company is engaging with its customers in a way that is intuitive and not intrusive. This type of “living” workflow allows Green Art to get to know its customer base and engage with them more efficiently and effectively.
Delivery is not the final touchpoint for the support team. Down the line, if there is a problem that arises with a product, the team is available to assist with contacting the manufacturer on the customer’s behalf, to cut through the red tape and solve the issue. This extra step of customer service is the added value that sets the company apart.
Assigning these specific roles within the support department allows Green Art to better serve the customer. The support team allows each department in the company to focus on what it does best — and assist along the way.
Another thoughtful and useful takeaway from doing business with the company is a spec book created for customer orders. “It’s a takeaway book for the customer to show his contractor or plumber; it’s separated by room and specifies which item and model number go into each room,” Acquavella explains.
The book is of immense value to the customer and contractor, who can share with all trades — and understand that if they are placing something like a bidet and it requires electric, they have the specifications. They immediately understand that nothing else can go in that space. “It is a very valuable tool for bridging and communicating between all the different trades,” Okin notes.
Digital Marketing: Not One Size Fits All
Green Art Plumbing Supply understands that having a digital presence is important to drive traffic into its showrooms. It has invested heavily into the digital marketing realm. “We know that online shopping has surged, and mobile devices are becoming the primary shopping tool,” says Stephanie Kurtzman, marketing director.
“We’ve revamped our website to be completely user and mobile friendly; customers can chat with us online, request appointments online and submit job quotes through our website,” notes Kurtzman. The website features a live chat box where visitors can ask questions and get answers instantly.
In the last two years, the plumbing wholesaler refocused its advertising efforts into search engine optimization and retargeted with online ads, which are displayed to its database of past customers along with new website visitors. The digital ads include location-based targeting and geo-fencing, so the company knows where they displayed the ads and when a customer enters the showroom via that ad click.
Rather than a “one-size-fits-all” approach, email marketing is tailored to the specific interests and design preferences of Green Art’s customers. “If a customer is on our Kohler page, we know they are interested in Kohler products and will see Kohler ads while on our website,” notes Kurtzman. “Likewise, if you’re reading an email from us and you click on a lighting fixture, now we have you tagged as interested in lighting. We can send you more emails on different kinds of lighting you can buy for your home.”
Conversely, if a customer opens an email and clicks on a certain product, they are segmented into an email automation informing him of different options within that area. Back at the showroom, the salesperson is notified of what the customer is interested in and they can follow up.
This type of marketing is effective and Green Art is seeing a return on investment.
To keep its email lists clean, the company has an easy opt-out process — if six months pass without opening an email, a final email says: “We notice that you’re not opening our emails. If you’re not interested, don’t do anything, and you’ll stop receiving our emails. But if you would still like to receive emails from us, then click here.” It is a great user-friendly approach to marketing.
When asked about how being part of the LPG division has helped the company and showroom be best in class, Palagi was quick to respond: “I benefited from the opportunity to visit other members showrooms and talk with them. Alex and I, love talking to other members about their challenges or experiences — what worked, what didn’t work. Having that camaraderie through these groups, as well as the training events and marketing strategies, is immensely valuable.”
Green Art Plumbing Supply is the embodiment of the Luxury Products Group, MacDowell says. “The showroom and its staff embrace technology in way that embraces people,” he notes. “It’s nice to see Green Art get this recognition.”
Okin agreed: “People in our industry don’t always realize that to get to the next level, you must let other people help. You can’t do it yourself.”
Palagi’s response was spot-on — “You’ve got to let it go to grow”.
Congratulations again to Green Art Plumbing Supply, representing the best in class in showroom excellence.