The residential plumbing market in Raleigh, N.C., today verges on being the direct opposite of what it was eight years ago when Splash Galleries first opened its doors. The fact that a plumbing contractor owns the bath-and-kitchen showroom has helped it handle the dramatic market change away from new home construction.
In 2011, remodeling, retrofit and service jobs account for 80 percent of the sales of Splash Galleries and its parent company, Raleigh Plumbing & Heating. What used to be 75 percent of the business in 2003, new construction makes up only 20 percent of sales today.
“Remodeling is much bigger now because people would rather remodel their home than buy a new house,” says third-generation plumber Gary Phillips, who owns both companies. “We’ve seen customers do a master bath, hall bath and kitchen all at the same time so they only have to tear up their home once.”
Drivers of the change include a substantial local population in the 50-plus age category. Other customers are disabled people, such as stroke victims, and those who need bariatric plumbing fixtures.
“Our sales territory goes out 85 to 100 miles from Raleigh to as far as Wilmington and Pinehurst, N.C.,” Phillips says. “It’s bigger than it was.”
Both companies employ a total of 28 people with three in the showroom, including daughter Lauren Phillips. Seven employees work in the warehouse and office, including wife Kristine Phillips, who handles accounting. Raleigh Plumbing has 18 employees and 16 trucks in the field. Both companies do a total of $4 million in annual sales.
Installed salesDesigners and other plumbers buy from Splash Galleries. Raleigh Plumbing, however, installs 95 percent of the products sold in the showroom, Gary Phillips says.
Splash Galleries displays 45 plumbing lines including Kohler, Hansgrohe, Moen, American Standard, TOTO, JSG Oceana and Navien. Accessibility products include AKW MediCare and Health Craft.
Being owned by a plumbing contractor helps Splash Galleries sell the right types of products to its remodeling and retrofit customers, particularly if they are disabled, Phillips says. For example, a wheelchair-accessible shower area with no shower curtain or door can get cold for the bather.
Raleigh Plumbing has solved this problem on some jobs by installing a 24-volt electric radiant system in the floor and even in a custom-made bench in the shower. In North Carolina, a contractor needs an HVAC license to install PEX tubing for a hydronic radiant system, but he can lay down an electric product and call in an electrician to hook up the wiring, Phillips says.
For a larger group of customers, Splash Galleries sells - and Raleigh Plumbing installs - an increasing number of grab bars.
“We’re all going to need them one day,” Phillips says. “Even if customers don’t want the grab bars now, we can set them up with the behind-the-wall stuff so the grab bars are there when they need them.”
Green performancePlumbing expertise helps the showroom staff and field employees explain the benefits of products that save water or energy. While customers still have an interest in green plumbing products, the recession has shifted their emphasis to a product’s performance and price, Phillips says.
“Water-saving toilets are more acceptable today because the 1.28-gallons-per-flush models have better technology than the 1.6-gpf toilets,” he says. “They perform better so the transition to them is easier.”
The same can be said of rain-head showerheads where improved technology delivers the same experience at 1.7 gpm of air-enhanced water droplets as others do at 2.5 gpm, he says. Raleigh Plumbing has installed another product that uses even less water during a few remodeling jobs.
“We install a half-dozen residential Waterless urinals a year; that number may increase,” Phillips says. “We put them in a home’s ‘man cave’ or off the game room.”
On the water-heating side, Splash Galleries promotes tankless units and hot-water recirculation systems as green products. Tax incentives have helped spur sales of environmentally friendly products in both residential and commercial applications.
Social media marketingGetting the word out on barrier-free and green products largely has fallen to Lauren Phillips, at least when it pertains to social media platforms such as Twitter, Linkedin and Facebook. She designed Splash Galleries’ Facebook page (www.facebook.com/SplashGalleriesInc), using the Facebook page of personal-care products manufacturer Burt’s Bees as her model.
“I wanted a special page so customers like our page and want to be there,” she says. “Technology has allowed us to do just that.”
The Facebook page is simpler to manage and update than a website’s home page, she adds. And she can personalize and customize it more easily.
Lauren Phillips, who is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in business at Wake Technical Community College in Raleigh, writes a blog once or twice a week on www.splashgalleries.com. Subjects include whether to add a steam unit or a barrier-free shower to a bathroom remodeling project; a roundup of green plumbing products; and reports on local home shows, both in the recent past and in the near future. The site contains links to upcoming home shows as well as to Raleigh Plumbing’s website (www.raleighplumbing.com) and to the sites of two professional organizations, the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors - North Carolina and the National Kitchen & Bath Association.
“Home shows have just exploded for us,” Gary Phillips says. “I never did them before, and now we do them twice a year in the Raleigh area.”
A cable TV commercial is another part of the marketing program. When the commercial runs is critical, Phillips says, and he prefers to run it at Thanksgiving and Christmas when families get together to watch TV.
Builders sending their customers into the showroom are another source of traffic for Splash Galleries. Other homeowners come in on their own when they want to replace a fixture or faucet.
“The key is really listening to the customers,” Gary Phillips says. “We want to show them a product that best fits their need.
“Since we install the product, we have a vested interest in it.”