The inside space is bright with overhead fluorescents hung from a high ceiling, along with skylights, windows and additional track lighting. Above, right is store manager Joe Evans.
BROADVIEW, Ill. - The future of wholesaling can be seen throughout the Gustave A. Larson company's new location here in suburban Chicago. When you walk in, you notice some of the differences immediately. There is an open, spacious look to the place that encourages browsing and shopping, rather than just giving your order to the man behind the desk. Items are displayed everywhere, encouraging contractors to pick up items they may not already be familiar with, or to scope out those last-minute needs that can help the job go smoother.

This 30,000-sq.-ft. new showroom and warehouse replaces an outdated Melrose Park facility and is the first one that incorporates all the latest trends and Larson-style features the company has been planning. The 3,400-sq.-ft. open showroom concept "gives the guys freedom to move around," according to store manager Joe Evans. "Guys will walk around, see something and say, 'I didn't know you had that,'" said Evans.

Major equipment lines include: Comfortmaker; Hart & Cooley; Honeywell; Mitsubishi; ICP, and Research Products on the hvac side. And for refrigeration: Bohn; Copeland; DuPont; Ice-O-Matic; Johnson Controls; Sporlan. The company also is following a trend in hydronics, with Utica, Viessmann and Thermal Solutions boilers; Roth radiant tubing; Myson and Beacon Morris radiators; Eric and Taco zone controls; Erie, Honeywell, Taco and Danfoss zone valves; Hercules and Nu-Calgon chemicals, etc.

There are a number of items such as tools and gadgets that just make life simpler; from acetylene TurboTorch kits to Klein and Malco hand tools, thermometers, refrigerant oil, capacitors, belts and fans, etc.

In the back area, customers can drive their vans right through the overhead doorways to load up in comfort and out of the weather. Customers don't see it, but stock is replenished nightly based on whatever was sold during the day.

This facility is actually more than just a showroom and warehouse - it serves as a nerve center with its extensive electronic communications including Internet and Intranet access; a comfortable, carpeted conference room and "learning center," and such amenities as skylights and 24-hour emergency access (also available at other Larson locations). Contacted at home, Evans can tell a contractor whether or not the item is in stock, which location is the closest, and even how much the item will cost. All managers are provided with their own laptop computers.

The spacious showroom also gives ample room for not just parts and equipment, but displays. You can see a Comfortmaker ac unit and its connections before buying; an ice machine and a compressor are on display, along with the parts alongside it that you will need to service and/or install that particular piece of equipment.

A number of other less visible amenities are also included at this and other Larson locations, such as immediate credit issued on warranty items. In the past, contractors would often have to wait several weeks to be reimbursed for a failed part; at this warehouse, customers are reimbursed immediately. "It frees their money up," Evans said, noting that Larson takes on some of the risk if the manufacturer fails to back up a claim. "That's only happened once or twice that I've seen in my 20 years," Evans said.

This location also has two specialists whose job is to help contractors solve problems, one in hvac and one in refrigeration.

Area manager Rich Pawela has an office in the new facility, which held an open house for its customers in May.

Larson began as a small storefront in Madison, Wis., with just two employees. Sixty-five years later, it has grown to 24 locations in nine Midwestern states with almost 250 employees.