Genz-Ryan Plumbing’s design studio allows the company to be involved with its customers from product selection to installation to follow-up.

When you walk into the Genz-Ryan Plumbing and Heating building, you’re walking into its one-year-old, state-of-the-art design studio. But turn to the right, and you get a glimpse of the company’s 57-year history via a black-and-white photo montage along the reception-area wall.

The design studio represents a new chapter for the company, but the photo montage highlights the concepts Genz-Ryan prides itself on - family and tradition.

The plumbing, heating and cooling contracting firm is located on a 10 1/2-acre lot in Burnsville, Minn., part of the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area. But it began on a 2-acre lot in Rosemount, Minn., with Jack Ryan; his mother, Rose; and Louis and Greta Genz.

Genz was a long-time friend of Jack’s father, Michael Ryan. After Michael’s death, Jack and his mother kept his father’s farm equipment, well-drilling and plumbing business going for a few years. But Genz knew that young Jack would be an asset to any company, and in 1950 asked Jack to go into business with him.

The Ryans of Genz-Ryan (left to right): Co-owner Bob Ryan; founders Marge and Jack Ryan; and co-owner Jon Ryan. (Not pictured is co-owner Dan Ryan.)

“The upstairs of the first building was our parents’ apartment,” says Jack’s son, co-ownerJon Ryan. He and his brothers,BobandDan, run the company now, having taken over from their parents in 1997. “A few of my brothers lived there for awhile when they were growing up. Grandma had a milk stand on the corner of the lot; if you look at the old county records, you can still see it on the plot.”

But the growing company was outgrowing its facilities. It had bought two adjacent properties in order to expand, but “we came to the realization that operating out of three facilities was just killing our efficiencies,” Ryan notes. “We didn’t have a loading dock, so we were touching the goods more than we had to, and we had outage problems.”

Genz-Ryan bought its present building in January 2005 from Wal-Mart. The size of the facility quadrupled the size of Genz-Ryan’s former location, which enabled the company to have a well-organized warehouse and to build the design studio.

In fact, the building is so large that the company can’t fill it at this time; it rents space to a home electronics company. Yet there is still plenty of square footage should the need arise to expand the design studio or the warehouse.

The design studio's staff is well-trained on the products showcased there, including Manager Bridget Wenzel (left).

Entering The Showroom Business

Ryan and his brothers knew they wanted to have some type of showroom when they moved into the building. “When we had the design studio up and running, we thought it was an incredible tool for us,” he says. “We’ve always wanted to get into that custom and remodel business. Now, not only did we have the facilities, but we had the staff available to finally go after a new venture like that.”

Most of Genz-Ryan’s business is in new residential construction, primarily with the large national builders. It also has an add-on/replacement business, a service business, and some light commercial construction projects. Its new division - Genz-Ryan Custom - focuses on local custom home builders and remodelers. And the design studio helps Genz-Ryan differentiate itself from the competition - local contractors as well as local wholesale showrooms.

While the design studio displays faucets, sinks, toilets and showers, it also showcases HVAC and air-quality equipment. “We really thought that plumbing would be the big thing, but more and more we get people in as energy efficiency becomes a focus,” Ryan says. “Our HVAC area has been a huge thing for us.”

Why a “design studio” rather than a “showroom?” Genz-Ryan doesn’t just show product; it shows product in lifestyle situations. Ryan and members of his team visited a few showrooms to gather ideas. Some of them were “too stuffy” and uncomfortable. Then they made a visit to the Kohler Design Center in Kohler, Wis.

There they were inspired, not just from the layout, but from the feeling the design center gave them. “When we left, everybody turned around and said, ‘It makes me want to remodel my home.’ That’s the feeling that we want, that’s the feeling we have to strive for,” he explains.

But the design studio isn’t just about selling product; it’s about controlling the selection process.

The Genz-Ryan Design Studio strives to give its customers that "I want to remodel" feeling.

“That’s a big advantage that I think we have: We take the customer through selection, installation and follow-up,” Ryan explains. “We understand more than just the tactile characteristics of the item that a customer is selecting. We understand how it works, how it installs, what the manufacturers are like to deal with. We are intimately involved in the entire process.”

So the studio helps Genz-Ryan escort customers through the whole process. And it's not just the homeowners that gain understanding; the builders learn, too.

“The plumbing selection process seems to be one of the things that frustrates builders and remodelers more than anything,” he says. “Everyone’s seen ‘The Wizard of Oz’ - ‘Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!’ You make the selection process smoother for the homeowners and the contractors that you work with if you do all the behind-the-scenes work.”

And Genz-Ryan can source its material from anywhere. Instead of going one place to see Kohler and another place to see Jacuzzi tubs, customers can see many different manufacturers and lines at the design studio.

Genz-Ryan has found the HVAC portion of the design studio very popular as homeowners become more concerned with energy efficiency.

Design Studio Support

For Genz-Ryan, it’s more than having great product and great surroundings; great customer service is the key. Since one of the primary reasons the company decided to open the design studio was to help control the product selection process, it was important that the studio’s personnel also were knowledgeable about how the different products work.

“Finding the product is the easy part; the hard part is having your people adequately trained in how the product works,” Ryan adds. “The more seasoned the staff gets, the more educated they become on the technical aspects. That's why 'the other side of the wall' - the plumbing and heating techs - are important. They can provide the technical expertise needed, as well as insight into installation and service issues."

Genz-Ryan has about 180 employees on the payroll - 110 field personnel, with the remaining spread between office, showroom support, service support, and warehouse and delivery. It’s a union shop on the plumbing and heating side, and its techs are well-trained.

For design studio staff, such as Manager Bridget Wenzel, the company has several in-studio training sessions a week, as well as manufacturing training and seminars/workshops through the Kitchen & Bath Industry Show, so a background in design is not required.

“What we’re looking for is somebody who has those skills that can’t be taught - the customer service skills, the communication skills,” Ryan explains. “If you have that, everything else can be taught.

“The key to our business it that we can provide the whole package to our customers,” he adds. “Not only are they meeting with the company that’s going to supply the fixtures, but they’re meeting with the same company that’s going to install them. With us, you can come to just one place and we take care of everything.”