Volume 44, Issue 1 - January 2009

Feature

Service with a Smith
Is the High-End Market Seeing the Shower Door Industry Through the Downturn?
by Samantha Carpenter

Linda Hill’s company doesn’t take care of its high-end customers on Long Island, N.Y., any differently than its regular customers. “We treat the high-end market and the regular market just the same,” says the owner of The Shower Door in Huntington Station, N.Y.

Company employees wear uniforms on all jobs. “We use drop clothes in mansions and in apartments—from the door where you walk in through the entire house. When we measure for shower doors, we wear surgical booties so that heat never touches the homeowner’s carpet or floors or anything.”

Hill says her company employees pride themselves on installation and service, no matter the customer. “We feel they [the customers] aren’t just buying a shower door; they are buying a total installation.”

There may be one difference between the everyday shower door installation and more custom, high-end work—that continued demand for luxury shower enclosures may help sustain some shower door companies through slow economic times. 

A Light at the End of the Tunnel?

Is high-end work the way to get through this tough economic period?

“At the moment, the high-end market is 99 percent of our business,” says Travis Humphreys, president of A&T Glass & Window Corp. in Palm City, Fla. “It seems that the only people spending money right now are in the high-end market.”

Lewis L. McAllister III agrees that the high-end market is getting his company, Tuscaloosa, Ala.-based Coral Industries Inc., through this downturn as well.

“There’s no question about it,” he says. “The high-end market is carrying the load these days. The track home business which uses the lower-end shower doors is off 50 percent.”

Paul Knadler, vice president of Arizona Shower Doors in Phoenix, agrees and says that high-end customers “want the doors that they want in their bathrooms.” If they are remodeling their bathroom and are spending $200,000, Knadler says they aren’t going to put in a $200 shower door.

“They are going to put in something that they feel is of equal value to the stone that they are using,” he explains.

A Piece of the Pie

Other companies aren’t sure if it’s the high-end market, specifically, that will help sustain them through the tough economy.

As the current president of the Bath Enclosure Manufacturers Association, Mark Rowlett, western regional sales manager for Coastal Industries, talks with other shower enclosure manufacturers regularly, and he says everybody is in similar situations. 

“It’s a very tough market. What you have, as a supplier, is a shrinking pie. Even though we are able to get new customers, the pie is smaller, so you are taking smaller bites out of it.” He adds, “The high-end market has never been a quantity-driven market when you are talking heavy glass and the true frameless enclosures. These types of units are not mass-produced, so that market is still there and, unfortunately, with the state of the economy, everybody is holding on to what money they have left and are very frugal with what they spend right now.”

If the shower enclosure industry is looking at fewer customers to whom to sell, then what other markets or selling strategies can they use to expand their reach?

Rowlett says his company is exploring different markets, such as the overseas market. 

Catering to a High-End Clientele

McAllister says Coral Industries sells on quality and service. “We have to be competitive price-wise, especially in the poor economic times we are experiencing right now. We also offer more than 30 choices of decorative glass and the DecoTherm® ceramic frit application to give customers a wide variety …”

Knadler says that simply treating the customer right will help the success of a company. Arizona Shower Doors manufactures heavy, frameless shower doors with patch hinges (U channel and clamps) for the high-end market. 

“Basically, all the consumers out there are looking for what’s on TV, or what they see in a casino hotel or any of the high-end hotels. They see the 3-inch shower doors in all the bathrooms, and then they go home and decide that they want to remodel their bathroom. It’s the consumers themselves who are approaching us more often than they used to be,” Knadler explains.

He says it’s really important to educate consumers on which frameless shower enclosures their bathrooms can handle. 

“You have to give customers what they are looking for but also educate them about whether they can put that type of unit in their bathroom. Ask them all the right questions as far as on what materials the product will mount so that it doesn’t fail in the future,” he says. He clarifies that if there is no wood behind the tile or the stone, then these products can’t be mounted because they can fail. He also says that heavy units aren’t always 100-percent watertight, so if the consumer thinks that they will keep in all of the water, then these units might not be the correct door for them.

Humphreys’ company offers 3⁄8-inch and ½-inch custom-made frameless shower enclosures using a variety of glass and hardware for the high-end market. He believes in keeping customers involved in the whole process of installing a shower enclosure. 

“We keep our customers involved from the design process to the installation,” he says. “We train our installers to spend extra time to make every job perfect. Also, we leave every job immaculately clean. Our customers are usually very busy people, so we make sure we are always very prompt and attentive to their needs.”

Seeing is Believing

Other companies rely on first-rate showrooms to help sell product. 

“We highly recommend a top-notch showroom that professionally displays all the offerings of glass and hardware. This is far and away the best tool to sell high-end showers,” says McAllister.

Hill has some words that all in the industry should remember. “We think we have been so successful due to the fact that we provide the customer with knowledgeable salespeople, expert installation, expert follow up and expert service. The high-end frameless enclosures need service, and they need someone to be able to come back, so we offer lifetime service. I don’t know if the high-ends are helping us get through this economic time, but the building is still going on (on Long Island), and we are still having people come in who are doing three or four bathrooms at a time.”

Working with the High-End Customer

Here are some tips from USGlass readers for working with high-end clients.
• Use drop clothes throughout the entire house and wear surgical booties so no heat touches the floors;
• Remember that customers aren’t just buying a shower door; they are buying a total installation;
• Educate consumers on which frameless shower enclosures their bathrooms can handle;
• Train installers to spend extra time to make every job perfect;
• Leave every job immaculately clean;
• Make sure to always be prompt and attentive to customers’ needs; 
• Build a top-notch showroom that professionally displays all your company’s offerings of glass and hardware; and
• Offer lifetime service on shower enclosure installations.

Samantha Carpenter is a contributing writer for USGlass.

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