ONE DRAWBACK OF A TRADITIONAL PLUMBING store or big-box retail outlet is that a buyer cannot actually see how a toilet or a faucet works. Plumbing giant Kohler has changed that: The company has opened its first freestanding store in the Chicago Merchandise Mart's LuxeHome.

Open to consumers and trade professionals, the 7,000-square-foot flagship store “allows us to get direct consumer feedback that will enhance many areas of Kohler Co.,” store manager Michelle Kowalski says.

Though 40 percent of the store's customers are professionals, consumers are the primary target audience, says Kowalski. Potential buyers can see and touch products and can also use complimentary two-dimensional space-planning services or fee-based in-home consultations and installer options. The store will also carry some other high-end Kohler brands, such as Kallista and Robern, that typically are not available at a big box.

In a sense, the store is not a typical retail chain where a person can purchase a toilet and walk away with it, cash-and-carry style. Instead, customers “buy direct”: When customers place an order, the products are shipped directly to them within two to three days.

The company is exploring the possibility of other stores. “We want to test a couple other store formats [in Chicago] before rolling out stores to other markets in the country,” says Kowalski.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Chicago, IL.