Amazon is Now Nike-less. Is This The First of Many?

We all know that Nike has parted ways with Amazon.  It was all over the news last week and for a short time people will still go to Amazon to find Nike products and only see what resellers have to offer.  Eventually the world will go to Nike.com for its brilliantly designed and marketed products. So no big deal – click Amazon for Nike wrong, click Nike for Nike.  And so it goes. Heavens No!

Okay hold on to the guard rails.  All of these players would absolutely thump me in any form of intelligence test but it is the age of self publishing, and heck, you read this much.

In the Amazon sales model it relies on the universal knowledge that they have everything and at the best price. And if that branded item’s Amazon price is a bit too high for your budget…well, Amazon offers these perceived lesser brands’ products and if that is still a bit too steep, we have our “in-house” brand.  So Amazon makes money on every sale and the bait, the big brand (Nike) gets zip. This is the exact same path that Home Depot followed. They did not want the residential brands, they wanted the professional brands. The brands your local home center did not have. Then Home Depot beat up every brand for a better price.  Sound familiar?

If brands feel they can do well without Amazon’s web site, and this is very important, their last mile solution, then why do they need this e-store?  Nike now knows they have solved those issues and believes that its customers would rather shop at Nike.com than purchase on Amazon.com. That is the differentiating factor, buy versus shop.  

I believe that people do not shop on Amazon, they hear about, read about, need something and they hit the easy button and buy.  It is just that simple and vulnerable. It is not only easy for the purchaser but also the web site that hosts the article about the book that the reader now wants to buy.  Add a rewarded hyperlink and easy button. If Highsnobiety reviews a new Nike sneaker, they have to think new and link to Nike, not Amazon. So do Adidas, Puma, et al stay with the old answer?  Capitalist Game On. For the big brands.

In the early days, Amazon was it and the brilliant Mr. Bezos got that and started the day 1 flywheel.  One of his moonshots is actually a moon shot, now that is vision. But nothing lasts forever if it stays stagnant.  Yes, Amazon’s web site is stagnant. Its key selling points to brands and manufacturers is its huge following and a culture changing last mile solution.  Big things but not everything.  

So the questions: Can big, well known and respected brands leave Amazon? Can UPS, FedEx and other delivery services effectively pick up the slack? And finally, Has Amazon.com peaked? 

More to come.

I would love to hear your comments on this rant.

Some other interesting articles:

Original Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

The Addictive Speed of 21st Century Digital Media

Remember the old joke, “Oh, I buy Playboy for the articles…”  It was always good for a laugh and some bright blushing faces.  Today, that line translates to “I skim Instagram for the comments…”  ha, ha, giggle, giggle snort… But let’s think about that. Is it all about the image or is it about recognizing what the image stands for?  Is it just a slick shot or is it about the authenticity of the brand and its story supporting the image? Can marketing and branding survive on images alone?

One of our nation’s biggest fear is countries outside our borders influencing our elections.  Posting stories to Facebook crafted to motivate certain-minded people to do what is best for that outside organization.  They build a story on what their targeted audience WANTS and THINKS and leverage it, correct? Sounds like branding to me.  Sounds like people do take the time to read and recall the post.

Lazy marketing is simply focusing on pretty pictures but without an authentic, captivating story it is just that- a collection of colors.  With substance, images and videos that go viral lose steam at the store once the flash burns out.  

You have worked hard to build your brand and your good customers appreciate that.  Don’t lunge for the quick hit. Set your goals, formulate your strategy leveraging your brand’s strengths.  Then craft engaging stories and images that will stop your customers mid-swipe.

How About a Walless Why?

Photo by Louis from Pexels

Remember when one of your children brought you something that had broken asking you to please fix it? Then they would ask, why did it break?  You painstakingly explained why and they would look at you again and ask why? They were simply searching for a complete understanding of the situation and trusted you to help them see all sides.  

Now, think back to the last time a customer returned with a defective product?  Our protective wall goes up and we ask, how did you do this? We are certain it was their fault, it could not be our product’s fault.  This customer must have done something careless to make it “break”. Then, once the customer is confronted, their defensive wall goes up and the not-my-fault battle commences.  How are we going to improve the product (and our reputation) with this not-my-fault attitude?

We have to create a comfortable space where there is no blame game, but instead a calm discussion of why this happened.  Then the actual incident can be reviewed and soon both parties know how and why the product failed to perform. Now the manufacturer can learn more about the product and the customer has a better idea of how the part should work.  All with no stress.

A little bit of listening and empathy goes a long way and offers so many benefits.

The 21st Century Customer Experience

Photo by Alexander Kovacs on Unsplash

21st century retail rule: upper-end retail can only survive by offering an amazing customer service.   

But a great customer experience does not have to be a blow your hair back carnival ride.

An honest, quality driven sales process remains a great customer experience.  Some customers will want a Flying Whoopee but that might not be your customer.

If you set up a solid process, hire smart people and work with good vendors, your customer service experience will be attractive to many.  

It’s not easy but do not make it harder than it needs to be.

No, No, Not That Mask, Oh Vendor, Oh Vendor!

A large vendor had just entered our market and we were just crushing it.  We had no displays. When a customer sounded interested, we brought them into the warehouse and opened boxes to present the products.  Every time, the product captivated both the customer and the sales associates.  This was going to be good.  

Then, the corporate mask descended over the product line.  The rules and conditions of their “program” appeared.  To become a full-fledged distributor, you HAVE to display this, and it MUST be supported with these products.  Oh, and the display WILL look like this.  

A large portion of the line was not for our customer base, and the display looked like an alien spaceship.  It was…unique.  We pleaded our case and were politely informed that they would think about it.  A few months later a quasi-competitor brought in the entire program and we were told to order from them.  By then, sales had diminished to nothing.  It was an opportunity missed.  Even more frustrating for me was that I had done the same stupid thing in my early years at Phylrich.  It was a hard lesson learned.

Each DPH showroom is unique for the simple reason that they are all owned and managed by confident, assertive individuals.  On paper, luxury businesses may focus on the same target markets, but their styles, product mixes and cultures are crafted by their owner.  Today they are referred to as entrepreneurs.  They are not generic individuals, their businesses are not generic businesses and they should not have to follow a generic program.   

Let’s also not forget the premium and luxury market clientele, whom many of showrooms target.  Interior designers and style-conscious homeowners do not gravitate to “factory displays”.  Stylists and style lovers are attracted to knowledgeable people presenting dynamic displays.  I cannot even begin to number the times a person of these talented professions would tell me that they were so turned off by that sterile “generic display”.  

Please do not make successful showrooms wear the corporate mask of what a remote merchandising person concocted as best for the general market.  There is not one general luxury market.

Meet with your distributors and co-create a go-to-market strategy backed with numerical goals and targeted market penetration.  With a program in place, both parties can get to work and make it happen.  Please stop trying to put a constraining mask on a successful entrepreneur and their company.  This is a sure-fire path to mediocrity.

So on November 1, 2019, after the ghosts of the past have settled back home, let’s stop with the black and white ideas and rote proposals and let’s work together to surprise and delight the style-conscious individuals by removing the generic mask and let the showrooms unique style shine.

A version of this article appeared in the November 1, 2019 issue of DPHA Connections.

Websites Only Take my Jobs on Price! Horse Pucky…

Earlier I wrote an article with the opening line, “So why is it that 47% of top interior designers purchase products online?” and most of your comments were that the websites offered free freight and lower prices.  Wake up gang, that isn’t the major reason designers are buying online. We are losing more business to digital savvy designers that are specifying and buying on the Internet. Jobs that we will NEVER know about. Sure, there are top shelf luxury designers that are price obsessed, but most are looking for easy access to information when and where they want it.  

Every time you lose a job to a low-ball bid, you hear about it directly from your customer.  It hurts badly and sticks in your mind! All that time, all that effort, amounted to nothing.  What about the job at that same design house that was completely specified and purchased online?  You knew absolutely nothing about it and were not involved at all. What is worse for your business, losing a job to a low balling #@!*#**, or never getting a whiff of a large job as it was all worked on online?  

After the recession, website companies remained unsophisticated and price was their key advantage.  The surviving sites, and new designer-oriented sites, offer an addictive combination of an easily navigable user interface and anywhere, anytime accessibility with live solid phone and chat support.  This is why talented designers are working on these sites. It has absolutely nothing to do with price. Do not mix these two up. Price competition is not going away, but in the luxury market it is not as big an issue as we portray it.  People will take the easiest path first.

If a customer comes in and says they want to order a $6,000 list bathtub from lowestofthelow.com, just let them.  Make a note on your calendar to check back when the job is trimming out and ask how that worked out.  I think you will remind them not to do that again. I suggest not fighting individual pricing debates, unless it happens often.  There will always be sites and stores that offer silly pricing. It is really not worth your team’s time, and you are worth your profit.  Take the energy and focus it on the future.

I was not aware how many talented designers were specifying products online until we started to receive RFQs that were 100% built on websites.  When we reached out to these good clients, they told us it was nothing against our team or showrooms, it was that our website was hard to work. So they matriculated their favorite brands’ websites that offered them the intuitive interface they craved.  Now that hurt. We did everything right except offer our good customers the tools they wanted.

We have to believe and think big.  Big like when you opened our business.  We knew everyone would come because our look was so damn good. Let’s take that same attitude and build magnetic web sites. 

Note: Please take another look at the proposed strategy in an earlier post.  “So why is it that 47% of top interior designers purchase products online?” It offers a few tips.

A version of this article appeared in the November 256 issue of DPHA Connections.

Did You Know Design Professionals are Purchasing 47% Online?

Photo by TOPHEE MARQUEZ from Pexels

Anna Brockway, co-founder and president of Chairish shared the following data in her presentation at Business of HomesFuture of Homes 2019 Conference in New York.

  • 84 percent of professional designers start their sourcing online.
  • 81 percent of designers buy high-end items after first viewing them online.
  • 47 percent of all products in a typical design project are purchased online.

After sharing the data, Ms. Brokway reflected. “Considering that furnishings are the third-largest spend after the household itself and cars, the shift to online should come as no surprise.”  I would venture that any significant purchase somehow involves the Internet. 

Before you start looking for a buyer for your showroom let’s dig in a bit.  These statistics do not say where the designers spend a majority of their time shopping nor what type of website the purchases were made.  Were they purchased from internet only sites or the internet site of their preferred showrooms? We continually hear that customers want to buy when and where they want.  In a designer showroom, on the phone, by email or online. Your showrooms must be where your customers are. Your showroom and team is the most knowledgeable in your market and it is time to investigate a digital expansion. I think it is time for designer showrooms to better understand their target customers and what they expect.

I suggest meeting them individually, starting with the key interior designers in your market.  Please do not only select designers by dollar sales. Quite a few designers use a DPH showroom to make or confirm their specifications and then send the specification list to the homeowner or the build or the plumber.  You know who I am talking about.  

Here are some helpful questions to get what you both need to work together effectively:

  • How can we improve our bricks and mortar showroom to make it easier for you to work with and without your clients?
  • How can we improve our website to make easier for you to work with and without your clients?
  • Many “A” designers ask their clients to visit specific websites and note what they like.  It is a big time saver.
  • Do you want access to your quotes online?  If so, what information do you need?  
  • What information would you like us to send you in a monthly product DPH update?  New Products? Best projects finished? Top sales people selections and comments…

Take all that glorious information (data) and save it. 

Then repeat the process with the builders that build what your top designers specify and might be purchasing.  This is not about only your good builder accounts. Talk with those that are in your target market even if they do not buy from you.  You will learn a lot. 

Now you have a lot of data that you need to work through and decide what your next steps will be.  

This is not the simple path but, I strongly feel, an important opportunity to grow your business.  It would be a shame to let this business go to another just because your bricks and mortar business is so strong but missing business that you can capture on the Internet.  The Internet is not going away and it will continue to gain market share.

A version of this article was published to DPHA’s Connections 10/18, 2019, https://dpha-sales-thoughts.blogspot.com/2019/10/welcomed-thoughts-from-fellow-jeff_16.html

If It’s New, Display it!

Photo by Daria Shevtsova from Pexels

If a solid vendor releases a new product, put it on display. No debate. Get it on the floor ASAP!

It is not about your taste, your style or what you think is hot. How many times have you heard the phrase, “I cannot believe they bought that!” There are fabulous tightly-focused luxury showrooms that are directly reflective of its owners’ style.

Roman and Williams Guild is directly derivative of the design style of the Robin Standefer and Stephen Aleshch. They curate the store’s collection of just about everything for the home with their style filter. This curation is also seen at stores such as Room & Board, Rejuvenation Hardware and Blu Dot Design.

They all have their design niche and stick to it. However, if you are to succeed in one or two home product groups, such as luxury plumbing and hardware, be known to have all the latest and greatest. How many times have I heard a showroom saying, “No one will buy that,” and it ends up being the hot look for the year. The truth is we do not have any idea what Mr. and Mrs. Smith will fancy, but it is up to us to make sure we can find it.

Sure some of the new designs die ugly deaths, but that is not the point. If you think every brand always hits the right note, think again. I am not going to dig deep here, but I would postulate that if a designer or go-to vendor hits one out of four, they are in rarified air. 

Our market is too small to only show Euro-modern or transitional. At Phylrich, the great dolphin and swan series only accounted for 2% of product sales, but 7% of dollar sales. We never know what look will ignite a passion in a client. Show the new as long as you can. If it is only a fabulous dust collector, then move on. But if it hits a certain cord, Wahoo.

If I am a successful distributor of a quality company and they invest all the money and time to create a new product line, I will put it on display. In fact, we had the rule with our good representatives that if this brand introduces a new product, get it on order. We wanted to be the first in town to display its new look.

P.S. Vendors: If your good distributors follow this path, you should make sure they are supported in their willingness to get your new products on display. A DPH vendor’s best marketing is making sure the best salespeople in the best showrooms have its latest and greatest on display. Without the display, sales are tough.

Except for a few heavyweights, luxury DPH showrooms are poor marketers. Yell and scream all you want, but it is true. It’s not that we cannot market. We do not have the funds to do so. Five percent of $15 million is a lot less than 5% of $100 million. Heck, running a basic digital marketing package runs between $7,000 to $10,000 a month, not including website maintenance. To reach the design and building trade along with the interested homeowner takes coordination between factory and showroom. Both need to work together to get the word out.

Our strong calling card to our design and trade accounts is our function and deep product knowledge. If the Smiths want a faucet they saw in Domus magazine that is manufactured in Denmark and not yet available in North America, we get it. 

If it is out there, we will find it and make sure it will work as specified.

If it is new, show it and share the story with anyone and everyone.

Anonter version of this post appeared in the November issue of Supply House Times.

AI Is Coming Soon. Let’s Start To Get Ready Now.

Original Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

“This is a race. It’s a race to be relevant. The big difference between today and yesterday is speed. You need to be much faster on the execution.”  Arthur Sadoun, CEO of Publicis told the Financial Times in June 2017.

Many luxury showrooms take the time to inspect each received product.  Each piece is carefully removed from its shipping container and painstakingly inspected then returned to its box to wait for the customer to arrive.   Such attention to detail separates your showroom from the competition and makes your clients so very happy. 

Do you take the same care when you collect your customer data?  Do you check the information to make sure it is correct and siloed in the correct slot in your computer program?  Do you enter notes on each visit, carefully recording the points discussed and any information that might help you and your team better know each customer’s unique style and needs?  

Please, if you are thinking it takes too much time, think again.  If you have time to meticulously inspect each order to delight your good customers, why not work to get to know those same customers so well that you will exceed their expectations.  Your data is a prime foundation of your business and, as the world slowly adopts Artificial Intelligence, good data will become your key to delivering great customer service.

Vendors, your data is also key to the growth of your market reach.  You, too, take the time to design and handcraft each beautiful product.  Then your team inspects every item and carefully packages them so all arrive in perfect shape.  Yet, your data systems are not in line with today’s customer’s demands. Delivery changes, before and during the manufacturing process, are hidden from view.  When a product misses its acknowledged delivery date no one knows until the date passes and the reactive “I am sorry call”. This upsets good customers and damages both your brand and the showroom’s.  When vendors leverage their good data proactively they will make life less painful for all involved.

Put simply, today’s available Artificial Intelligence (AI) is not HAL-like but an overlay on Machine Learning (ML).  ML churns the data and makes it available in a form so that when you ask your AI a question it returns your answer correctly at lightning speeds.  Your questions can cover all facets of your business and help you effectively peek into the future. However, to accomplish this your data must be clean, consistent and well-integrated. Remember the phrase, “garbage in and garbage out”?  That has not changed.  

Even the mighty Microsoft had issues getting applicable answers from it AI.  Its retail division crafted a complete AI sales support system and when they rolled it out, the AI notes and suggestions were worthless.  They revisited the data and the AI questions they were asking and hit reset. Now, sales are increasing. Salespeople are easily able to access customer, product and order information.  With AI, a customer’s entire purchasing history and delivery time for each order take just seconds to view, now that the data is clean, consistent and well-integrated.

This journey starts with your teams.  Careful collection of quality, comprehensive data must become part of your company’s culture.  If you can enlighten them on how it will save them time and strengthen their customer relationships and show them how it will allow them more time to do what they do best!

I believe that AI will be a part of successful showrooms in the next five years and foundational in no more than 7.

So Many Finishes! What’s The DPH World To Do?

Image by Jan Vašek from Pixabay

…because the human experience is as diverse and as unique as every one of us, individually. We’ve seen this borne out in the success of mainstream entertainment as well; one of the reasons YouTube and Google are as popular as they are is they allow us to find exactly the kind of entertainment and information we’re looking for.”

Christopher S.Penn. Chief Data Scientist of Trust Insights

Just a few years ago, key Euro-based decorative plumbing brands were standing firm that chrome and nickel were the only finishes that mattered.  That wall has since crumbled The Europeans are offering as many finish options as the finish-crazy California companies. Even though 60% of the market remains polished chrome with satin or polished nickel taking another 25%.  This new, across the board, wide variety of plumbing finish offerings will slowly eat away at those percentages. Why did this happen?   

Initially, even the best interior designers were afraid of the bathroom.  It was easy to specify simple, chrome and white and their clients knew none the better.  Today designers specify plumbing fixtures with the same confidence as they set a chair and their clients know color options abound.  Why shouldn’t plumbing fixtures offer the same wide palette as fabrics?

Secondly, today’s finish coatings and color-rich powder coatings are every bit as durable as polished chrome. There is no reason for a knowledgeable showroom sales person to talk the client out of the look they envisioned.  If they want the lavatory faucet in black and the shower fittings in brushed nickel, not satin, that is what it shall be.

Let’s face it, plumbing fixtures are now available in more than 100 finishes and colors and the offerings will continue to expand.  

So how does that affect the DPH industry?  

Showroom sales people, manufacturers and independent sales reps have to know how all their finishes look, how they will vary from product to product and how they compare with other DPH brands.  This is not an option and it is not difficult. Big or small, quality manufacturer’s plating lines have definitive go-no go finish samples that dictate the brand’s acceptable looks. This information needs to be shared with all involved, ensuring that the customers will be properly informed.

Also, there is no “standard” DPH finish.  That is a lazy answer. Each brand has its own look and it should be presented as such.

Designers and their clients know and want so much more from their trusted sources.  All of the DPH players have to stay in-the-know or we risk losing their trust. We must be prepared to hear anything and have the sourcing knowledge to deliver it.  To remain the best takes hard work on and off the sales floor and those that put in the hours will remain the primary source for the true luxury designers and their very rich client base.

This article was also published my LinkedIn page.