SEMINOLE, FLA. — Saul Plumbing & Design Inc., located here in Southwest Florida, is a one-stop shop for customers interested in remodeling their kitchen and/or bathroom. Founded by James Saul in 1976, the showroom, which is run out of an old two-story house, offers customers a multitude of current and popular bathroom and kitchen products to pick from, plus complete bathroom and kitchen renovation.

Ken Jackson, a state certified plumbing contractor in Florida and Master Plumber in Massachusetts, purchased the showroom in 2007 when James Saul retired. Jackson has been involved in the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association and Quality Service Contractors Association for many years, serving in offices of the PHCC. He has been a local president, the state of Florida president and government affairs chairman, and has won numerous awards — the In-Orbit award, a special recognition given to individuals who have devoted outstanding service, and enthusiasm, willingness and determination to further enhance the industry through the Florida PHCC, and the Orangewood Gavel award, presented to the incoming Florida PHCC president.

Just recently, the nine individual showrooms at Saul Plumbing & Design were updated, featuring new kitchens, bathrooms, water closets, vanities, bathtubs, showers and hundreds of faucets.

Current trends

“We show all kinds of vanity cabinets and kitchen cabinets, and every type of counter top that you can imagine,” says Jackson. “The remodel was finished three months ago. It was about a six month process. Every couple of years it’s remodeled to keep it fresh and bring in new products.”

Saul Plumbing & Design also features three lines of wall and floor tile; granite, quartz, Corian, laminate and cultured marble counter tops; and a variety of light fixtures, mirrors and medicine cabinets. Solar hot water systems as well as gas and electric tankless water heaters are also showcased.

“We give our customers what they need to make their choices right here,” says Jackson. “Having a showroom is a great way to capture a customer. They can see finished product and meet with staff. We make it very easy for them. The showroom is designed so that 99% of people can make their choices and not go anywhere else.”

Customers can create their dream bathroom and/or kitchen with a variety of products by Moen, Delta, Kohler, American Standard, Toto and Wellborn Forest Cabinets, among others. The company also installs Sterling Vikrell tubs and showers.

According to Jackson, the new trends in bathrooms are vessel sinks and decorative cabinets, and the new trend in kitchens is for everything to be easily accessible.

“A majority of our customers are middle-income retirees,” explains Jackson. “The main thing is people want things to be accessible. We have installed a lot of roll-out cabinets, so customers don’t have to work hard to use their kitchen.

“We are located in Southwest Florida, in the densest county of the state, with older homes and retirees, so it’s the perfect market for what we are doing,” added Jackson.

The most popular showroom is the complete bathroom display, which features a walk-in shower with frameless glass. The only metal on the shower is a handle.

“This display shows customers that you can have a seat and grab bars, which makes it easier for them, without sacrificing looks,” says Jackson.

Another trend is an increased interest in water-efficient products.

“There is a lot more awareness of water conservation when people look at fixtures,” says Jackson. “People must be reading about these products since they are inquiring about them. They seem to be knowledgeable about this on their own.”

Customers are also interested in solar systems and tankless water heaters.

“These are two green products people are asking for,” explains Jackson. “We see a big trend with these systems because of energy costs and the utilities and state offering tax credits, which drives the business and helps people pay for systems quicker.

“We did a lot of this back in the ‘80s when there were big tax credits, and then it died off,” adds Jackson. “Since the late ‘80s we’ve been doing service on those systems, and now we are installing a lot of these [solar systems and tankless water heaters] again. It seems that there has been a renaissance.”

The company installs solar domestic hot water systems by Viessmann, Solene and North American Solar Solutions; gas tankless water heaters by Takagi and Rinnai; and electric tankless water heaters by Eco-4.

Since demand for green products is increasing, the staff stays up-to-date on sustainable products and technologies by taking green training classes.

“The PHCC offers green plumbing classes to make contractors aware of water conservation, water harvesting, solar hot water and the green industries that are out there,” says Jackson. “We have gone through training that teaches you how to survey a property to find out what its needs are, and to see how you can save energy and water.”

The business

Saul Plumbing & Design not only remodels residential and corporate kitchens and bathrooms, it also offers plumbing service around the clock and does installation work.

The staff is made up of eight employees — three employees manage the office and five employees make up the service, plumbing and remodeling staff.

The company is diversified. According to Jackson, 60% of business is kitchen and bath remodeling, 20% is service and 20% is installation.

The company also does service work installing water heaters, plumbing fixtures, water softeners, etc., for Sears, and delivers and installs products for smaller appliance dealers.

“We have worked for Sears for more than 30 years,” explains Jackson. “This is a piece of what we do. We get into peoples homes and you never know, they might want their bathroom or kitchen remodeled.”

When on a service call, technicians leave behind literature about Saul Plumbing & Design and its offerings, including a service plan. Employees are also trained to look at equipment and offer a free plumbing inspection while on a service call.

The company also advertises to draw potential customers to the showroom to see what Saul Plumbing & Design offers.

“We like to bring the customer into the showroom to show them what the finished product will look like,” says Jackson. “It’s really hard for people to figure out what it’s going to look like if there is no showroom, and you can’t go to the big boxes and see something complete, it’s all just bulk products.

“As a contractor selling, we find that when we bring customers in, they get comfortable with the staff and they can see, touch and feel the product,” adds Jackson.

The staff at Saul Plumbing and Design is constantly focused on meeting customers’ needs.

“We are always communicating with the customers,” says Jackson. “When you give really good customer service, have a good quality product and a good staff, that’s what makes a company.”

When the economy got tough, Jacksonexperimented with a variety of advertising strategies, including running weekly newspaper ads and Yellow Page ads, to make the company stand out amongst competitors and bring customers into the showroom.

According to Jackson, the most successful advertising strategy was wrapping company trucks and vans with graphics.

“We came up with a wrap that features the showroom,” explains Jackson. “We found out that this invites people to come to the showroom. We got more business this way than any other way. This has brought in a good return on investment.”

Direct mail and referral networks were also utilized to keep customers familiar with the company’s offerings and get them into the showroom.

“We heightened awareness of what we offer, and got people in the door,” explains Jackson. “It’s hard to get people in the door, so either we give an estimate to people who are looking to remodel or we try to drive foot traffic in here. Traditionally when things were busy people were just looking for good quality contractors, but when things got tough everything became about price.”

Jackson attributes a lack of customer confidence with large purchases in the past few years to the faltering economy.

“With the economy, fuel prices, elections and the stock market, people were hesitant to spend money, so 2008 and 2009 were off a bit due to that,” says Jackson.

“So, far this year has pretty good, and right now we are in our season and it seems to be OK,” adds Jackson. “We are also a very diverse company and fortunate we do remodeling, service and installations, so we have a lot of reasons for people to call us. I learned that the more diverse you are the better.”

Don’t be afraid

Many contractors shy away from owning showrooms because they are known to be expensive. They need to be maintained and updated every few years to show new products and trends. According to Jackson, this frightens many contractors.

“At first, I too thought showrooms would be overwhelming, but found out it’s a great way to capture a customer because they see the finished product, and the staff helps them when they come in,” says Jackson.

Manufacturers often help contractors keep their showrooms updated with new and popular products.

“There is a lot of support from manufacturers,” Jackson explains. “If you’re moving product, manufacturers will help you to keep things fresh. The manufacturers want to get product in front of the public. This is just another outlet for the manufacturer. They have a supply chain, but you are an outlet for them. If the public is in your place they will want to help you.”