Opening a showroom is a natural, says Matt Erickson, president of C.J. Erickson Plumbing in Alsip, Ill., a southwest suburb of Chicago. His great grandfather had a showroom. Erickson opened his showroom this fall on a main street in Alsip, a few blocks away from the contractor’s headquarters building, which it has occupied since 1974.

The showroom is in an existing building with plenty of windows to attract customers, plus it has garage and warehouse space in the back.

The showroom has both static and working displays of kitchen and bath faucets, showerheads and toilets. Several slide-out displays show a variety of sink materials and colors.

A kitchen faucet display shows an array of Elkay faucets, and slide-out drawers underneath show the difference between an Elkay stainless steel sink, a Dayton, and a Home Depot Glacier Bay $49 double bowl stainless.

Erickson notes that magnets are not supposed to stick to stainless steel but one does on the Glacier Bay. Erickson notes that most people don’t know about kitchen sink accessories like the drain racks or the cutting boards that fit on top of the sink.

Along one wall there are more kitchen sinks with working faucets by Delta (including a Touch2O) and Moen, along with Kohler sinks and faucets. He also displays working InSinkErator disposers designed to demonstrate the sound levels of good-better-best disposers. They built the counter display out of ¾-in. or 5/8-in. plywood so they can change the sink displays quickly and easily. They couldn’t do that if they had granite or some other solid surface countertops, especially since some of the sinks have unique shapes.

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They plan to change the displays approximately every six months. For the bath, they have displays of Kohler pedestals and Brizo and Danze faucets. They also display Kohler vanities, most of them pretty pricey. Along the expansive front window they have a display of working lavs and faucets by Kohler, Elkay, Brizo, Gerber, and Delta, including an Elkay oval pounded copper sink. Matt says it attracts attention but no buyers, as do the vessel sinks. Additional top-mount lavs are displayed on slide-out shelves in as many colors as Matt could get so buyers can see what’s available. He notes that people are buying a Delta champagne bronze lav faucet; it’s a popular color.

C.J. Erickson will be a Kohler registered showroom once it begins stocking a few more items, an advantage because then they will be listed on the Kohler website under the find-a-showroom section.

He has a working shower display in an adjoining room with a variety of showerheads. Controls on one side of the two-sided display are Kohler’s DTV and the Moen ioDigital on the other side. The ioDigital is shown with a Sterling shower stall. He plans on adding bathtubs but it’s a matter of deciding which ones and where to display them.

Up on a platform (to accommodate the pumps and piping) he has 19 working toilets from Gerber, Niagara, Kohler and Sterling. The shower display and the toilets are pumped via a Glentronics pump through a Water Legacy graywater system, then through filters and a UV sterilizer.

The toilet display has two pressure-assisted toilets, a Gerber and a Kohler; he is a Niagara distributor, selling to other plumbers in the Chicago area. Erickson says that most people don’t know the range of toilet seats available. They’ve never seen a quiet-close seat, a handicapped seat, a comfort height toilet or a potty training seat. He’s working on an accessories display, such as grab bars and towel bars. There’s ample room near the shower displays. He plans on stocking some common parts, such as Fluidmaster or Kohler repair parts.

The Internet is a help rather than a problem, he says. If his local distributor doesn’t have an item like a French Gold faucet, he can find it online. If customers want to buy online and have him install it, he explains that he won’t warranty the labor. Plus, they’ll have to go back to the manufacturer for a materials warranty. If they buy through him and he installs it, he warranties it for 12 months, all-inclusive, parts and labor.

The showroom is not profitable yet, Erickson says, because of the capital outlay and startup costs, but he’s not in it for the short term. If it catches on, it will be an easy formula to duplicate elsewhere. Another major factor is that they have relocated their service department to the building. There are nine techs working out of that location.