The staff at Requarth-Supply One had their work cut out for them: How do you take a showroom known throughout southwest Ohio for its size and shrink it by two-thirds, move the showroom away from where most of its current customers live, and do it in such a way that the change still increases your overall business? Necessity bred ingenuity, and nine months and $400,000 later Requarth- Supply One unveiled the result: a revamped historical warehouse that adds its own memorable contributions to an industrial downtown’s revival.
The new space physically marries two businesses that came together during—and because of—the housing bust. Requarth Lumber, founded in 1860, owned the 3,000-square-foot downtown space as part of a complex that focused on serving home builders. Supply One was a 70-year-old cabinet specialty store in Dayton’s suburbs with a 10,000-square-foot showroom and a history of catering to non-pros.
Requarth president Alan Pippenger had long wanted to get into the cabinet business. The recession made the opportunity to acquire Supply One a sure bet on kickstarting growth.
“Our business was way off what it was. It would take a long time to organically grow back to what we had been,” Pippenger says. Creating a showroom “was a way to jumpstart that process. The Dayton market entered this recession earlier than the rest of the country, and it started coming out of it sooner.”
Requarth already had the space for a showroom in an underutilized warehouse-style building connecting the lumberyard with the sales counter. The structure was so old that the Wright Brothers used to shop there for materials. The 3,000-square-foot section had been used, all or in part, as an employee break room, a storage space, and as a working mill. Pippenger says the company long wanted to turn that under-utilized space into a show-room but lacked the product line—cabinets—to justify moving forward.
The acquisition gave Requarth the cabinets and a showroom staff, headed by the design duo of Deborah Kracus and Jill Rubey. In November, Kracus asked Rubey, her boss, if she could run point on the new showroom’s design.
“I didn’t have much experience in retail design, but it wasn’t that much different from residential,” Kracus says. “I did a little research and pulled from my favorite sources. I knew I had to incorporate five cabinet lines, counters, and an area for windows and doors.”
Where she was to do this was little more than a shell with no heat, no air conditioning, and minimal infrastructure.
Renovators polished the warehouse’s original concrete floor but left its walls—brick, with the scars of long-filled-in windows and doors—unchanged. Windows that extend upward toward the tall ceiling let in natural light and reveal a web of out-of-use mill equipment nestled among the pipes and HVAC in the exposed ceiling. Delivering the full effect of the industrial aesthetic, Kracus says, meant not covering the walls completely with displays. It also required building in a visual break between the industrial ceiling and the 22 kitchen and bathroom modules.
Visitors enter in either of two ways: from a separate, centrally located door to the showroom; or via the existing sales area.
Unlike the old sales area, which has fluorescent lighting, retail shelves, and a dropped ceiling, in the showroom Rubey and Kracus combined natural light with focused lighting, such as spotlights and in- and under-cabinet fixtures, to set different moods and showcase their lighting selections.
“This is a business about colors,” Rubey says. “When people are in here they want to see how what they pick is going to work in their home. If lighting is too far off a standard home, they’re going to be disappointed.”
Kracus built on the depth created by the lighting with a color pallet of warm greys and browns for an effect that she say completes a loft look with warm accents. And she strategically placed the modules to direct clients through the setup without it seeming like a maze. To do that, Kracus varied colors and designed in a few visual tricks, such as a glass-walled, two-sided shower in the middle of the showroom floor as well as soffits that create a frame between the countertop and cabinets. That way, visitors not only can see ahead into the next display but also across the showroom through unobstructed sightlines that extend above all the vignettes.
“When I was mapping it out, it became a puzzle. Each display was thought out with regard to the next,” Kracus says. “ I made sure to look at each display from all views and that helped with the next. I asked: What did I want it to look like from here? How would this work next to that? How would a customer navigate through? I didn’t want trendy, I wanted timeless.”
She teamed up with the company’s millwork facility to design and produce custom fixtures.
“We would have these meetings and come up with these brilliant ideas and kind of marry the two minds,” Kracus says. “They know the ins and outs of building things. I’d say, ‘I’ve got this idea. How can we make it work?’ An hour later, they’d come out with some part. That was the cool part.”
One example: the showroom’s front desk. It gets its rugged, industrial flair from acid-washed pickled-and-oiled steel with riveted corners, supported by wood posts milled with wooden-peg accents.
“I wanted to show materials people don’t think they can use,” Kracus says. “I love mixing metal, wood, glass, industrial things. I told [the mill] what I was looking for and they came back with this. I was just amazed. They were dead on.” She also worked with the mill to design a sliding-panel track system that lets her display the company’s three lines of door and cabinet hardware.
Individual design elements like the crafty front desk and milled track, Rubey says, create an overall feel that’s urban and edgy but still pays heed to the tastes of its Midwestern market.
“You will not find a showroom like this anywhere around,” she says. “Most of them are storefronts with drywall and regular ceilings—they create a kitchen feel. We’re showing cabinets and showing kitchens, but in a different way so it’s not like stepping into individual kitchens.”
The challenge now is to continue to match national trends to local tastes while finding ways to target clients whose budgets are significantly less accommodating.
During the downturn, Rubey says, “everything shifted downward. The people that were typically spending $25,000 for their kitchen are now only spending $18,000. … Everybody kept their price points down but yet they still demand or want the same look. They want more and they want the higher-end look and all the trends and styles, but they want it for a lower price.”
What’s more, Kracus says, clients are more knowledgeable about design and products and are quicker to pick up on the latest trends thanks to a new class of DIYers who have grown up with design platforms such as HGTV and Houzz.com.
That kind of awareness allowed her to be flexible when setting up the modules, mixing traditional cabinet styles of all price points from among their five lines with modern hardware for a cleaner look. Using vignettes instead of full kitchens and bathrooms will help keep costs down when changing them out and let Kracus and Rubey feature more designs.
“We have more opportunity to keep fresh and keep it updated in the layout the way it is now,” Rubey says. “The expense of switching a full kitchen out is prohibitive. The cabinet companies used to bring out all their new materials at The Kitchen and Bath Show every year. Now, their trend is to bring out things two to three times per year, so we’re always getting new items. It’s an ever-changing, ever-evolving process.”
Requarth’s total investment—approximately $400,000—came primarily through operating funds but also a bank loan, an income tax credit from the city, and another $15,000 to $20,000 grant. And so far, Pippenger says, it’s paying off. One working kitchen and ample space has allowed the company to host builders, remodelers, and contractors as well as local historical societies and business owners for catered social events. There’s hope for adding cooking classes and events where food could be served. And with its new consumer push, Pippenger says they’ve had designers and clients meeting in the space after its 5 p.m. weekday and 1 p.m. Saturday closing.
A Boon for Business
The merger made headlines as another example of a resurgence in the city’s downtown core. Recent city investments include an outdoor music venue, upgrades to local bike and running paths, and a new office park and a sold-out condominium complex. Those join a 7,230-seat minor league baseball stadium located across the street from Requarth that is known for having the record for most consecutive sellout games (844 as of the 2012 season).
“Businesses moving into downtown can be big news because the downtown—like a lot of downtowns in industrial cities—has suffered over the years,” Pippenger says. “There are these two old, well-known companies that are being put together and creating this new showroom downtown. Our job after that was just to build on it. We’re very involved in the downtown Rotary, the Chamber of Commerce, and an area business association, and we worked with all of them to get the word out.”
That meant letting Requarth’s pro customers know about the opportunity to upsell their clients by offering a full kitchen and bathroom design package. And because it absorbed much of Supply One’s client base, Requarth also needed to figure out which existing customers could become cabinet customers and who among the Supply One group was in a position to also purchase building materials.
Another challenge: Because of the showroom’s downtown location, homeowners are less likely to pass by on a whim. On the other hand, those who trek in from the suburbs usually come with a project in mind and are ready to act, Kracus says.
Convincing homeowners to make the drive downtown also meant reminding pro customers that the new retail traffic would mean they’d have to avoid blocking the showroom door and extra parking spots with their trucks.
To address all customer bases, Requarth increased its advertising budget by nearly four times what it was previously spending. And new leads meant adding in a few DIY features to keep up. It used the wood from a recently replaced shelving system in its drive-through yard to build a loading dock to better receive, handle, and store the cabinets. And it bought a bigger truck, with 8-foot doors to help transport the taller cabinets.
But the biggest change was likely the most subtle: The company changed its name from Requarth Lumber to Requarth-Supply One. “People always thought of the Supply One showroom as the best showroom in town,” Pippenger says, “so we wanted to make sure we brought that identity along.”
So far, he says, the renovation of Requarth’s 117-year-old brand has been successful in promoting the showroom as a downtown destination for local homeowners as opposed to just a scruffy urban lumberyard.
“Traffic’s been good in the showroom and people are coming downtown,” Pippenger says. “We couldn’t have done this in a suburban strip center. To create something unique that we could bring people to, we could only have done it here.”