Bath Dealership Offers Plumbing 'Fit for a
by Daina Darzin
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - With a clientele that includes royalty, it's only natural that The Bath & Beyond specializes in creating designs that are "fit for king." In fact, some of the firm's projects are so high-end, it has to close the showroom so the "rich and famous" can shop in peace. "We did the Palace of Bangkok for the royal family," explains founder and NKBA president-elect Jeff Burton. "We did the Las Vegas Hilton super-suites that are $4,000 a night, and the Boca Raton Tennis and Resort Club. We're doing the Prince of Tonga's house now."
Ironically, the company itself takes a scrupulously egalitarian approach to its own business. No one has a title or a private office, Burton notes, and everyone pitches in on everything - "from changing light bulbs to cleaning toilets to waiting on customers," he quips. "We don't have a division of labor, including myself. The only thing [special] I have is a parking space somewhere near the building."
However, accommodating royalty - and other high-end clients - is a natural progression for Burton, who started out at a wholesale distribution company which sold fittings for such posh projects as palaces in Saudi Arabia. "Every-thing was gold-plated and ornate and ostentatious," Burton recalls.
Founded in 1986, The Bath & Beyond initially limited itself to decorative plumbing. "I was going for anything that was different," says Burton. "As we evolved, I started bringing in products from Europe that caught on, so I started buying them in larger quantities."
The Bath & Beyond started out by advertising in all the high-end design magazines, plus the Yellow Pages, but is cutting back now that referrals comprise 1/2-3/4 of the firm's business. "We want to spend more money on internal marketing and merchandising," Burton explains. "We don't like doing the same old stuff."
The Bath & Beyond designs, but doesn't do installations. The company will refer contractors to its customers, who range from people buying "a left handle off a Grohe faucet," Burton deadpans, to ones planning a six-figure kitchen with an architect, designer and contractor in tow.
Today, the company's 15,000-sq.-ft. showroom displays thousands of products, and features many fully accessorized kitchens designed for browsing. More esoteric items include a $65,000 gold-plated bathtub and custom-made faucets. "Some lady in Iowa wanted a 'water-breathing' dragon head tub filler, so we sent the picture over to a mold-maker in Taiwan and had one made," Burton remembers.
In more standard jobs, Burton notes a trend towards steel-compatible tones, "clean, sleek, functional design and quality. People are willing to pay $500-700 per faucet now. And they want something different. They don't want the same 'me-too' stuff everyone else has."
Customization is important, explains Burton, and The Bath & Beyond delivers. "If [customers] want it, they can probably have it. We're willing to go out of our way. We will definitely go outside the box," claims Burton.
The Bath & Beyond specializes in custom finishes, with oil-rubbed bronzes, satin and weathered coppers being some of the more cutting-edge choices. The company's custom glass work includes sinks, partitions and countertops.
Whirlpools are another specialty at The Bath & Beyond. "We design our own, they're very deep and comfortable [with specialized jets] in a clean design," notes Burton.
Burton also credits superior customer service and a pleasant working environment as keys to his company's success. "We have an ambience here, and there's an 'esprit d'corps;' we don't have a big turnover," he insists. His management philosophy: "You treat [employees] like you like to be treated and pay them very well. And everyone participates in the decision-making. They know everything about this business: the numbers, the profits, the sales. We eat together, we drink together. It's corny to say we're family, but we're a real professional group of people who really enjoy what we're doing.
"And then we go to work on what we can do differently from the guy down the street," he continues, insisting that the little niceties are vital. "We deliver on our own trucks, and our delivery people know the product and deliver it to the [right] room. Everything is double-checked. We all jump in on the design. We get the customers to take off their shoes and sit in the bathtubs, to interact with what we're selling. Everyone is well-versed on the products."
An in-house repair shop will modify items to the customer's specifications. Extensive file systems go back years for replacement purposes.
Indeed, it is the little things that make a difference, and what makes The Bath & Beyond so successful is the firm's willingness to focus on meeting customers' needs on all levels, Burton conludes.
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