It’s difficult to imagine a more complicated time to unveil a flagship New York showroom than 2020, but Waterworks CEO Peter Sallick is thinking positive. The coronavirus pandemic didn’t derail the grand opening of the kitchen and bath brand’s reimagined 58th Street location—it merely delayed the event by a few months, from May to October. And in lieu of a packed-in, socially undistanced opening night gala, Waterworks has donated $25,000 to City Harvest to feed New Yorkers in need.
“New York has taken some lumps, and the design community has been impacted by COVID more than in most cities, because we felt it so hard and early,” Sallick tells Business of Home. “We’re waving the flag and saying: We’re excited to be part of the early vanguard of the comeback of New York.”
The new showroom is in fact at the same site as the old Waterworks showroom—but there’s a lot more of it. A third floor has been added, bringing the store to a whopping 12,500 square feet, all of which has been redesigned (New York–based firm Gachot Studios consulted on the project). Kitchen and bath products have been integrated into the same space for the first time, and the company has expanded the area where designers can work with clients. There’s also a new hospitality kitchen—by Waterworks, natch—where guests can order drinks and coffee.
Sallick declined to peg an exact dollar figure on the renovation, but made clear it was large: “It’s our single biggest investment ever as a company.”
He outlined a few goals that drove the design of the space, but the biggest one is existential: In an increasingly digital age, how to get people to walk in? “In order to have a showroom space that really makes sense for clients, it has to be worth the trip,” he says. “If you’re going to get someone off their screen, it’s a higher order of decision than it used to be, so we’ve got to make it really worth their while.”
How precisely one does that, says Sallick, is all in the execution. One lesson he has taken from corporate parent RH: Hit the customer with your best shot, right away. “RH is an astonishingly good school for anyone who wants to be great at merchandising and creating retail experiences, it just is,” he says. “Make sure that you’re super clear to your customers about what’s important, put your very best foot forward in a demonstrative way. When you walk onto that main floor, you’re going to feel like you’ve never experienced plumbing fittings at this level anywhere in the world. It’s about authority. If you have it, use it.”
Some of the other design decisions are more subtle, but no less important, says Sallick. The company has divided the floors into separate “stories,” with the ground floor delivering a strong brand experience, whereas cellar and upper levels are dedicated to more focused shopping. In some instances, product will be arranged by color and material, as opposed to by collection—a nod to the way Waterworks displays product online.
“In surfaces, very few people know collection names,” he says. “They’re interested in a certain material or color, but they’re not like, ‘I need to have the Architectonics collection, that’s my thing.’ It’s not like shopping for shoes and you know you’re a Nike guy. We’re giving the client an experience informed by the kind of flexibility they have online.”
However, Sallick cautions that the new showroom only nods, not bows, to e-commerce. “I think it would be a big mistake to say: It’s a digital world now, so we’re just going to invest in digital and leave our physical spaces behind. I think that’s not consistent with either a great brand experience nor with what clients are expecting from us,” he says.
And while he acknowledges that there was an ambient doubt in the design industry about the potency of showrooms—even before a global pandemic—he sees the concern as overblown. “I certainly hear that, but I don’t believe that. … We talk internally all the time about fewer visits, but we don’t talk about no visits.”
There are concessions to COVID-19: Meeting areas will be more spaced out to accommodate social distancing, and Waterworks is suggesting appointment-based shopping. But big picture, Sallick is clearly looking ahead to a post-pandemic Manhattan. “There’s something powerful about investing in the future of the city,” he says. “I’m very excited about the idea that New York is such an amazing, incredible place and this is just one little, tiny contribution to its new future.”
Homepage photo: Courtesy of Waterworks