Missing Sales

– by Alan Donahue

Alan Donahue of Falk Plumbing Supply discusses methods of expanding showroom sales.

One of the unfortunate things I notice us doing in the plumbing wholesale industry is drawing firm lines between products and departments. Water heaters are a counter sales item. Touch technology kitchen faucets are a showroom item. The trick to expanding showroom sales lies along these lines. Sometimes we need to erase lines, redraw lines and blur lines.

On a good day, if a plumber is using easy layman terms, I might be able to write up a materials order. However, it only takes one confusing thing, such as a “waste tube 90” and I am completely derailed. Therefore, the goal is not to be surrogate parts counter sales people, but to add a few more things to our repertoire in showroom sales, even if it does veer a little out of our comfort zone. Counter sales staff are special people. They can crank out a 100-line-item ticket without pause in a matter of minutes. In the showroom we may meander for a couple of hours selecting a handful of bathroom faucets. The end goal is not to steal any line items from the counter, but to add some to a showroom sale.


Steam Generators

One of the natural add-ons is steam generators. I’ll confess this often intimidated me. Finally, one day my friend Libby sat me down and explained everything to me in simple and logical terms. We’ve worked together in the same showroom and as competitors (but still friends) over the years and she has a gift for deconstructing the difficult into manageable components and making it simple. What she did for me with steam systems was break them down into two components – steamer and controls. I was breaking it down by steamer, steam head, control pad, flushing system, optional sound and LED light system. Particularly we were working with Mr. Steam and they offer the option of control packages to simplify things.

The most important part of selling steam systems is training. We have a great sales rep that handles our steam systems and they offer detailed and personal training. But it’s ok if all you have is a great friend like Libby! I think steam systems are the biggest missed opportunity in showroom sales. A typical system runs around $2500 – $4000. Most people are spending that much on a freestanding bath that they will only use rarely at best. Steam offers much better results from simply decompressing after a stressful day, to relaxing or even helping with allergies.

The system works inside a shower but requires some modifications. The shower area must have a slightly sloped ceiling (so condensation rolls away and doesn’t drip on the person in the shower) and a glass shower enclosure that goes all the way to the ceiling. In order to properly size a steam system, you’ll have to figure cubic feet and then use a multiplier based on the wall material of the shower. I know it sounds like a bad flashback to high school Geometry and Algebra but most manufacturers, like Mr. Steam, have forms on their websites that do all the work for you. Just plug the numbers in the correct spaces and it does the math.


Water Filtration Systems

Another great sales addition is water filtration systems. I will admit I am still extremely weak in this area. My home area is a National Park that has hot springs. The Park Service maintains several public areas for filling up on spring water. They say it is a 4000-year thermal process that creates the water coming out at those spigots. People can take their bottles and jugs and fill up for free versus buying flats of spring water at a grocery store. It diverts some of the business that might be generated for water filtration systems.

A growing awareness is causing consumers to move away from plastic bottles (that are extremely harmful to the environment) and find an alternative way to purify drinking water. Sometimes it might even be more than that. For example one of my co-workers, Amber, received water from a well at her new house and the iron content in her water was so high it was staining her fiberglass showers. I leave the large whole house systems for our counter experts, but the more basic water filtration can be a nice addition to a showroom sale.

One of the things we can do is educate our customers on this. It’s simple. “Do you use bottled water? Have you ever considered water filtration instead?” That’s it. Let the conversation go where they lead it. Personally, I like Kohler’s water filtration systems. I have a couple of great sales reps (Sarah and Joe) who train my team plus I trust the Kohler brand.

Kohler has everything from a basic system that will filter water at the kitchen sink to a system like their Aquifier Refine that has voice activation technology and reduces bacteria, viruses, lead, mercury, chlorine, select pharmaceuticals and more. Some areas may have a higher awareness of water filtration because of water quality. We do carry basic water filtration in our counter sales area by Amerec, However, in the showroom we have an opportunity to educate customers on water filtration and sell them a more customized system.


Tankless Water Heaters

The third and final sales opportunity is tankless water heaters. Water heaters are normally not considered a showroom item. A typical tank type water heater is a commodity item at an extremely low profit margin so it really does not belong on a showroom sale. Tankless heaters offer a sale that goes beyond the typical water heater. A tankless heater normally nets a sale of $1000 – $1500 and it can be sold at a higher margin than a typical water heater.

In most areas incentives are offered by energy providers for using tankless heaters. They have such an efficient energy rating that utilities offer rebates in the neighborhood of $500 to the purchaser. This can drop the final price of the tankless heater close to that of a tank type heater. Customers may not be aware of such incentives. Take the time to research rebates in your area and use them in the information you give your customer on these items.

Tankless heaters can be the most difficult thing for a showroom person to pick up. They are fairly alien to what we normally sell. We have good sales reps for the heaters we sell, but not all showrooms will be as fortunate. We have sold State tankless heaters in the past and our rep team for them – Holly, Brennan, Tanner and Andy – also happen to be my Delta reps. Having them train our showroom personnel in product knowledge was already something they were used to.

Our main unit now is Vesta and I have been working with our rep for them in doing some Zoom based training for all three of our showrooms. They were extremely optimistic about partnering with our showroom to gain more Tankless heater sales.

In the past I have sold Navien, and they were the first tankless units I worked with. I did not have a rep, but I worked with some of my most knowledgeable plumbers – Charlie, Joe and Chip – to learn about them. Charlie the plumber is the official Navien service tech in our location so he was a great source of knowledge on them. Thanks to the things I learned from these plumbers I became pretty capable at even troubleshooting problems with the heaters.

Always be willing to consider new things for increasing showroom sales. Some showrooms go a completely different way than the things I mentioned. They move into cabinet hardware and accessories or maybe lighting fixtures. I’ve worked in showrooms that did both things, and they are just not for me. But they may be for you. Sometimes the best way to increase your sales is to step out of your comfort zone. My biggest sale out of my comfort zone was for a subdivision called Walkway Point that bought a total of 30 tankless heaters from me. Each heater sold for about $1000 so that’s easy math to see how just one tankless sale increased my sales.

You might try just one of the three – steam systems, water filtration or tankless heaters. If you embrace just one and it becomes a repeat sale, then you have a success story. Just do not be afraid to try something new when it comes to growing your showroom business.


Sometimes we need to erase lines, redraw lines, and blur lines. The end goal is not to steal any line items from the counter, but to add some to a showroom sale.



Lee Richardson

Lee Richardson, sales rep for Rich Sales

Alan Donahue

Nearly 30 years ago Alan Donahue declared to his wife he would “accept any career as long as its not in sales.” That was just prior to his accepting a sales position at Falk Plumbing Supply. Today, Donahue, Falk Plumbing Supply’s showroom manager, loves helping his staff learn to be great sales people by focusing on the customer’s needs instead of the sale.