Demand for both contemporary and traditional faucet styles lead retailers to creative approaches

Passion For Fashion Spurs Special Orders In Faucet Lines Demand for both contemporary and traditional faucet styles leads retailers to creative approaches

Upscale decorative faucets have been gaining in popularity over the past five years, but just what this means today is anybody’s guess. When it comes to faucet styles, nothing is a sure bet anymore, says Ann Blewett, kitchen & bath department manager for the Seigle’s Home & Building Centers store in St. Charles, Ill. The abundance of available faucet fashions has spawned eclectic consumer tastes. “Everyone has their own ideas of what a stylish faucet is, “Blewett says. Although chrome remains the standard at Seigle’s, many customers want white-, bone-, or red-colored faucets for both the kitchen and the bath. Others opt for brass. Still others favor two-toned faucets, such as chrome with white handles or chrome with wood handles.

“We see that emphasis on style is moving in two directions: toward the traditional faucet with its graceful handles and gently curving spouts, and toward Eurostyle designs–sleek and even daring shapes in highly polished brass and chrome,” observes Fred Babashka, advertising manager for The Chicago Faucet Co.

The proliferation of trendy faucet designs can create considerable stress for the retailer, who may become mired in surplus inventory. Fickle consumer tastes can further frustrate the faucet buyer. But a number of building supply home centers have turned the potentially wasteful confusion into opportunities for special orders.

Though consumers today pride themselves on their individualism, they also want to be perceived as having good taste. People are concerned with color and design coordination, and with whether a faucet matches or complements the kitchen appliances and the other bathroom fixtures in the home, says Dana Severs, national sales manager for Peerless Faucet Co. The majority of building supply home center customers, consequently, aren’t seeking highly unusual hues and shapes. Realizing this, Dill’s Best Building Centers in Peekskill, N.Y., stocks only two Eurostyle colors–white and bone–buyer Carolyn Bocchino points out. “We are special-ordering, one piece at a time, colors like red, gray, and black.” Likewise, at the Levy’s Lumber & Building Centers store in St. Matthews, Ky., “weird colors” are special-ordered, not inventoried, says manager Craig Anderson.

Despite the much-ballyhooed consumer quest for quality, most building supply home center shoppers are still price-conscious. “Some people can afford a $1,000 faucet and some a $30 faucet,” says Noel Peterson, sales manager for Woodmark International. “People want as stylish a faucet as they can get with the money they have budgeted.” Peterson recommends that retailers stock best faucet in three price ranges–$30 to $60, $60 to $100, and $100 to $150–keeping the majority of sku’s less than $100, with pricier lines made available as special orders. “Our big price points are still down where they were, be it $39 or $49,” says William Eberly, vice president of merchandising for the Estate of Geo. S. Snyder in Hatfield, Pa. “We’re just getting more business at the higher end.” Roberta Klein, buyer for kitchen & bath at Courtesy Home Centers in Mt. Prospect, Ill., considers $99 a good break-off point for faucet inventory, while Dill’s Bocchino has a $100 to $200 line in stock, as well as a faucet brand retailing for less than $50.

Retailers should identify the sku’s that account for 90 percent of their best faucet volume and offer the rest of their faucet selections through special-order programs, Severs suggests. “If you get 90 percent of your business with eight sku’s, for example, that’s better for you in terms of your bottom line than stocking 35 lines and getting 100 percent.” Faucet manufacturers need to work with retailers to determine the best-selling best faucet styles, he adds. “We do retailers a disservice if we recommend that they put in 30 high-rise faucets where in reality only five would sell.”

Promote special orders

Nevertheless, “as much as 10 percent of the market today will spend $200 for a faucet if it’s the right style,” Severs emphasizes. Seigle’s is one retailer that has taken full advantage of this development. The special-order best faucet at Seigle’s can often be $200, $250, or $300. Blewett promotes special-order styles, as well as those in stock, through her kitchen & bath vignettes. “I have red on display, for example,” she elaborates. “We have tried stocking the red but gave up on it.” Style, rather than price, is her main concern when choosing bathroom lavatory and kitchen faucets for her vignettes, and she exhibits a balance of traditional and contemporary designs.

best faucet special orders have increased significantly at Dill’s. “We focus in on the fact that we can get you more than just what is on our shelves,” says Bocchino. Training sales associates to make customers aware of special-order options is essential. Dill’s has also advertised its ability to order faucets not in inventory. A recent circular states: “The models at right are in stock in bone and white; red, blue, and other colors are on special order.”

But publicizing the availability of alternative styles isn’t always necessary. Customers looking for expensive or unusual faucet lines have usually done some homework, Blewett points out. They have read home decorating magazines and shopped around at other stores. “People know there are styles out there other than just the plain faucet. We get a lot of requests to see our catalogs. Or customers will come in and ask for a particular best faucet point-blank, where before many customers weren’t even aware that there were other styles available.”

No mere splash

Many buildings supply home centers are committing themselves to new brands, optimistic that fashion faucets are not a fad. For example, Lowe’s recently added two upscale faucet brands, one of which accounts for a major portion of the company’s increasing special-order sales. “Fashion is going to become considerably more important, especially in the bathroom,” says Tom Smith, Lowe’s director of community relations. Dill’s added a new faucet brand a few months ago, bringing the total to four, notes Bocchino. “Faucets have definitely been a strong category for us,” Eberly says, “and it’s one that is getting stronger.” More faucet sku’s will be added to Snyder’s kitchen & bath department, now undergoing renovation and expansion. And Levy’s Lumber & Building Centers will soon be carrying a broader assortment of higher-priced decorative lines.

But having fashionable lines isn’t enough. Retailers need to plot strategies to fully capitalize on the surge in demand. Courtesy Home Centers is a good example of a company aggressively marketing and merchandising faucets. Two years ago, Courtesy’s faucet volume increased by almost 20 percent over the previous year, Klein reports. Last year, faucet sales were up by about 15 percent. “I show a variety of faucets,” she explains. “I also show the entire grouping. If I show a faucet model in a lavatory, customers can also see that model in a tub or shower. And in many cases, we will sell kitchen and bath lavatory faucets in the same style.” In addition, Klein advertises faucets every week, displaying a minimum of three faucets in an ad.

More effective cross-merchandising of stylish but lower-priced faucet lines would stimulate impulse sales, according to James Rector, vice president of sales and marketing for Aqua-Touch, a manufacturer of plastic Eurostyle faucets. “Many retailers have beautiful faucet runs that stretch anywhere from 4 to 40 feet,” he observes. But these aisles tend to attract only people who are in the market for a faucet. His company has created free-standing merchandisers for its packaged faucets, which can be displayed anywhere in the store, whether in the kitchen department, the bath department, or down the power aisle.

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