When Christopher Cole was a high-end home builder in Dallas, he cringed when his customers asked for an antique bathroom vanity. “Any builder who has done this knows it is not fun or easy,” says Cole. “You can spend 100-man hours finding the right piece, with the right depths and widths. Once you find the piece, you have to beg your cabinet man to come in and then there's the trim and base molding and getting the granite top cut to measure. By the time you put it all together, it's driven you absolutely crazy. But it's what the customer wants.”
Cole decided there had to be a better way to get the look of custom furniture in bathroom vanities without the headaches. So in 1998, the fourth generation home builder developed a prototype bathroom vanity that looked like an antique and started selling it out of local kitchen and bath showrooms under the name of his new company, Cole & Co. By 2001 the business had grown enough for Cole to quit building homes and concentrate on building bathroom furniture full time.
In the last five years, Cole's product offerings have broadened from bathroom vanities to a “Bathroom in a Box,” complete with faucet, sink, top, back splash, and mirror. Likewise, it has diversified its market beyond kitchen and bath showrooms to big builders and the hospitality industry. In 2005, the company made the Inc. 500 list, ranked 375 with a three-year growth rate of 364 percent and more than $3 million in revenue for 2004.
“We are poised in the next five years to quadruple,” says Cole, who now employs 15 individuals. “Our largest areas of growth are with the big builders and in the hospitality market.” Cole & Co. started selling its products to David Weekley Homes and then added Toll Brothers, KB Home, and Centex Homes to its customer list, he says. Cole & Co. works directly with big builders, developing product tailored to its floor plans and design desires so builders can develop “custom” versions of bathroom product lines for their homes.
It is also offering the vanity packages to builders for inclusion in their design centers as upgrades to increase revenue streams. Prices vary dramatically from $200 for the most basic vanity to the $2,000 to $3,000 range for the most elaborate. And the product line's styling has advanced beyond antique to include contemporary styles as well. The pieces are manufactured in Los Angeles, Fort Worth, and Keller, Texas, as well as China.
“We are really selling furniture for what, or below what, the cabinet companies are doing,” says Cole. “Making bathroom vanities is not their business model, and it is not something they particularly like to do.”
The “Bathroom in a Box” has been a big hit among David Weekley's Dallas buyers, who are offered the product as an upgrade, says Design Center Manager Kim Goggans. “They are buying it at all different price points,” she says, from starter to custom home buyers. But the company's starter line, the Premiere Collection, is a best seller. “With this, even a young couple starting out can afford one for their powder room,” she says. “It gives the buyer the feeling that they are getting a custom piece that they don't typically find in their price range.”
The company's next move is to expand beyond the bathroom by selling home entertainment centers designed to fit builders' floor plans through builder design centers. Cole expects the product will be tempting to buyers who could wrap the cost into their mortgage.
“When you go sell a person a home, they go down the street to a furniture store,” says Cole. “Why not go ahead and capture them (at the design center), and make them increase their upgrade features?” Selling furniture for model homes is another area pegged for expansion by Cole. “We offer the builder an additional resource for purchasing model home furniture,” he says. “Working with the big builder, we are able to come in and offer them volume pricing.”
For more product information, visit the company's Web site at www.vanitybath.com.
Learn more about markets featured in this article: Dallas, TX.