STONE HARBOR — The Grove Supply showroom on 96th Street fits right into this upscale resort town.
The store uses soft track lighting and a subtle color palette to highlight each brand as if the faucets, sinks, toilets and tubs on display were fine art. The effect is much like stepping into one of the town’s galleries.
Showroom manager Juliana Burzacki, of Lower Township, said that was her intention when she designed the store in 2008.
Grove Supply Inc. was founded in 1940 by Carl Wolfe, who owns a home in the Diamond Beach section of Lower Township.
The Warminster, Pa.-based company has 14 locations in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, including stores in Vineland and Wildwood.
Since the Stone Harbor showroom opened after the housing-market collapse, a majority of its customers have been homeowners improving their homes rather than trading up. But that pendulum is showing signs of swinging back to new construction, she said.
The home-improvement industry is expected to grow by 4 percent in 2013, or slightly less than last year’s rate, according to analyst IHS Global Insight. Americans are expected to invest $285 billion in home-improvement products this year, or about 4 percent more than in 2012.
Grove Supply works with builders, contractors and homeowners to design bathrooms to suit practical needs and individual tastes.
“We don’t want to put people off by thinking because we’re in Stone Harbor everything will be twice as expensive. It’s not,” she said. “We start with the customer’s budget and work from there.”
Still, if customers want a bathroom to impress, Burzacki said, Grove Supply is ready.
“People are putting their bling in the powder room. That’s the statement bathroom,” she said.
The master bathroom comes second, which often includes a remodel to increase its size.
“They’re taking a little room out of another room to expand the traditional bathroom so they can have big walk-in showers or higher-end sinks,” said Pete Leonard, owner of Pete Leonard Plumbers based in West Cape May.
Some of his customers have become more discerning about their bathroom fixtures, asking for amenities such as glass-enclosed steam rooms.
“Customers are asking for a lot of higher-end fixtures, nice whirlpool tubs and showers with multiple heads in them,” he said.
Leonard said he doubts people are spending any more free time in their new-and-improved bathrooms.
“They just want to make a statement,” he said. “People see something in another person’s bathroom and think, ‘If he can have it, I can have it.’ It gets absolutely ridiculous sometimes.”
But one person’s ridiculous is another person’s robotic toilet.
The lids on commodes by Toto, a Japanese manufacturer, open when someone approaches. They have heated seats, bidets and a mist of electrolyzed water to clean the bowl after every automatic flush.
Other makers offer slam-proof toilet lids that close with a whisper.
Likewise, Grove Supply’s high-tech faucets have activation sensors both above and below the elegantly curved stainless steel. One swipe above the faucet turns it on. A swipe in the other direction turns it off.
Still, function typically dominates form for most customers, some of whom are replacing bathtubs with obstacle-free showers with benches and hand rails.
“People are considering their retirement and aging in place. The showers are safer and easier,” Burzacki said.
Even young professionals are saying no to the soaking tubs because they don’t have time to use them, she said.
Burzacki said she gets less foot traffic in her showroom than the typical home-improvement box store. But her customers know what they want and are ready to buy, she said.
“They want a truly custom home and that includes the bathroom,” she said.
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