It’s no secret that the expectations of today’s consumers are changing dramatically. To remain competitive, showrooms must “up” their service and support levels to match. Like many progressive lighting retailers, Bender showrooms – a division of the fourth-generation, family-owned PHCP distributor Bender Plumbing Supply – has been gaining new customers by providing an experience that sets them apart.

Although Bender was established as a traditional plumbing wholesaler in the 1920s, over the ensuing decades it has become the largest retail and wholesale provider of home design products in Connecticut with eight wholesale operations and six decorative showrooms throughout the state.

 

“We experienced very strong growth in our showrooms, particularly in the last five years,” says President & CEO Max Bender, who joined the business full-time in 2006. His tenure coincides with the company’s decision to expand into new categories such as lighting, cabinets, tile, and stone.

“We’ve become a turnkey provider for customers’ renovations,” he notes. “They only have to visit one place to shop for their complete kitchen and bath projects, which makes the process much simpler for customers — and has allowed us to capture a lot of new business. Being in these new categories has enabled us to grow our margins and profitability.”

Winning new business

Bender’s thriving showroom division means marketing and selling to a much different type of customer than the company served when it was solely a plumbing distributor. Consumers and designers do a lot of research on their own prior to visiting a showroom or making a purchase. They often have very specific ideas on what they are looking for — and they come into a decorative products showroom expecting the same type of service they would get at Nordstrom or any other high-end stores they shop.

Bender’s ability to meet those expectations and outpace the competition is due in part to its use of DDI System’s Inform ERP software, which keeps the company’s operations running seamlessly across all locations. It drives efficiency and accuracy while helping to capture greater sales with prompts and complete order data available for the sales team.

“I am a huge driver on customer service, and my team knows that. They know that if we don’t give customers the best service, they will easily go elsewhere,” notes Stephanie Chirgwin, Showroom Supervisor.  “The bottom line is, customers can come to this beautiful showroom, see what they’re looking for here, and go buy it somewhere else. What stops that from happening is ensuring we provide service that truly sets us apart.”

Bender showrooms also operate with full transparency. “We don’t hide SKUs,” Max shares. “That’s not how we want to be treated when we shop, so we use those same parameters here in our showrooms. All of our pricing is at, or below, internet pricing. We’re never looking for just a one-time sale. We want customers to have a great experience and then share that with their friends and family.”

Director of Operations Mark Chirgwin adds that being able to provide customers with the right information is critical. “When customers call with a question, they want you to have an accurate answer. By using Inform, our team has immediate access to stock levels, lead times for orders, order tracking, status updates, and ultimately, when a customer’s order will be delivered. This gives customers confidence to do business with us.”

A different business model

Bender showrooms operate with a much different business model than the wholesaling branches. “Consumers and designers require a different level of service and sales than the trade,” Mark explains. “Our wholesale branches are more volume-oriented and less focused on margins. They keep vast inventories on-hand because they track purchasing history and know the demands of our trade customers. However, most of our showroom sales are non-stock products, which means significantly more time is needed for ordering, monitoring, and follow-up. That means efficiency and accuracy are huge in order to maintain margins and be profitable.”

Inform’s embedded CRM is one of the significant areas that has contributed toward measurable ROI. Previously, lack of follow-up was sometimes a challenge; now, the task management and calendaring features within the CRM screen automatically reminds the sales team when to do follow ups with customers on open quotes and proposals. “It’s helped us win more business,” Mark affirms.

Stephanie adds that using Inform helps her pull reports and manage sales teams more effectively. “We use the pipeline report, and that is so great for the team because it gives us a way to follow up and put in notes. It truly helps us form better connections with our customers and within our staff.”

Bender also uses Inform’s CRM to market its showrooms to homeowners and designers. The system is able to differentiate between trade and retail customers by using their unique information in preferences and projects to connect. It knows exactly when to promote the showroom’s luxury bath and kitchen offerings, but also green and energy-efficient products that appeal to homeowners and designers.

Identifying valuable information

Inform’s tracking and reporting tools have helped Bender showrooms align the all-important human element – the employees – with its business operations and customers.

“Our biggest assets are our people,” Mark comments. “They have to be up-to-date on product training and have the resources they need to provide superior service to customers. Inform unifies all of that, making it easier for us to elevate the training and education process for our teammates. We’ve been able to identify measurable gains in productivity because of DDI,” he notes.

“We’re advancing the expectations and culture here to ensure that everybody is accountable for their roles. One way to do that is through the metrics and reporting we pull from the system,” Mark states. “It’s not just saying, ‘Wow, that person works really hard.’ Rather, we can set KPIs and actually define what ‘working hard’ is. Ultimately, that type of goal setting will enable teams to be knowledgeable than ever before.”

Partners in success

Bender Plumbing Supply’s leaders, Norm and Dave Bender, were early believers in the greater functionality made possible with an end-to-end ERP system. They chose to go with DDI System as their ERP solution in 1998 and they moved onto Inform in 2003. This true partnership spans decades, and it’s one of the reasons Mark believes the showrooms will achieve even greater success in the coming years.

“Bender and DDI are both very forward-thinking organizations that have great management teams,” Mark remarks. “For 15 years, DDI has consistently raised the bar and has always been ahead of our needs. If you want to grow and compete with the changing customer mindset, you have to embrace change. We use a significant portion of the full functionality that DDI’s solution provides, which has been instrumental in the success of our business. We’ve gained efficiencies in updating and reporting, better control of data and analytics, and improved team performance and collaboration,” he explains. “We are confident that this partnership with DDI System will continue to help us grow our service levels, profitability, and business as a whole.” 