How To Use Your 2020 Data To Better Understand, Support and Delight Your Customers

In the last post we discussed building the ultimate data collection process for multi brand stores to place your business in the best possible position to grow. The more you can learn about your business, your customers and your targeted market, the better prepared you will be for the newly emerging algorithms, artificial intelligence support and insight.

For now, let’s look at the data you do have. Let’s set it up to answer questions that will allow us to better understand what is happening in our business and what we can do better to improve and gain market share.

Start with asking your ERP system to create the following spreadsheet for up to the last five years. It will be a big file, but full of data to help you and your team better understand what is actually happening in business.  

I suggest the following 11 headers for each line item invoiced:

  • Invoice Date
  • Customer 
  • Qty shipped
  • Vendor
  • Vendor Product Number
  • Description
  • Finish (if you can)
  • Margin (if you can’t pull this information directly, you can create a simple formula with information below)
  • Total line cost
  • Total line sale
  • Showroom salesperson

Please note here, only ask for the data if you are confident that the data in each of the cells is correct. If you had any past data integrity problems or consistent mis-entry issues, do not include those topics or time periods in your spreadsheet. As the saying goes; Garbage in, garbage out.

Once you have this data, make sure each cell in a column is formatted uniformly. If they are not, the data will be off when combined for a table or report.

Find your best and brightest spreadsheet expert and ask them to set up a pivot table and pivot chart with this data. If you cannot find such a person, ask your accountant, myself or YouTube. Click here for a simple overview of pivot tables to get you started.

From this data you will be able to ask the following questions:

  • What am I actually selling by: 
    • Vendor
    • Finish
    • Product category
  • Are my customers:
    • Purchasing everything they need from me?
    • At what margin?
    • What product categories that I sell that they are not buying from me? 
  • What are my salespeople selling:
    • By brand
    • By function
    • By finish
    • What are they not selling?
  • What are my margins by:
    • Brand
    • Customer
    • Vendor
    • Salesperson
    • Product category

Notice that I have included questions related to product categories even though that is not one of the spreadsheet headers. We do not have exact information here, but we know that most brands are primarily focused on one product category. It is not a perfect metric, but it will offer you added insight into what your customers are buying/not buying. This filter will help you identify which product categories and vendors are reaching your margin goals, opportunities to sell more product categories to your good accounts, and if your salespeople are remembering to sell all the products you offer.

Once you have these answers, along with answers to questions you deem important to your business, you can focus on the opportunities you see that offer the largest upside and are the easiest to address. 

After you set this up, you can run the data output and create your pivot table reports at the end of each month. You will now have actual, black and white data to allow you and your team see what is actually going on and plot a course to improve sales, margins and team performance. Not to mention getting the right products on display and building a more dynamic inventory.

Aversion of this post appeared in the February 14, 2020 issue of Connections, the Decorative Plumbing & Hardware weekly newsletter.

What is Wayfair’s Business Model?

Wayfair Lays Off 550 People 

Are you surprised?  

What actually is Wayfair’s business model?  A model that was, once upon a time, fully vetted and admired by many successful investors.

Let’s take a quick look and try to discover what Wayfair’s model is today.

#1: Is Wayfair a tech company?

No, and I think it is time to draw the line between companies that use tech versus companies that create new tech that differentiates them from the competition.  Wayfair is not a tech company. Their presence is 99% on the internet and their format is what so many online-selling companies use. I refer to it as the Filter, File and Find structure.  The hosting company takes all of their product and files them by categories, sometimes four and five deep. Wayfair’s look like this:

  • Home Page
    • Bedding
      • Comforters & Sets
        • Size
          • 7 more filters
        • Color
          • 15 more filters
        • Pattern
          • 15 more filters
        • Set/Single
          • 3 more filters
        • Material
          • 17 filters
    • Or I can use the search engine to drill down to find what I am looking for.

This has not been considered new tech since pets.com.  

Do you agree that Wayfair is not nor has ever been a tech company?

#2: Is Wayfair a DTC company.

No.  They redistribute mid market popular brands and mix in some of its own brands’, inexpensive alternatives.  But they do not really shout out their brands. They are presented as just another option. So if Wayfair’s brands cannot stand on their own and function as a profit point much like a Target or Kroger private label brand.  They are part of the shopping offering but not a significant reason to shop the site.

Do you agree that Wayfair is not, nor has never been a DTC company?

#3:  Is Wayfair a Discounter.

Yes.  Below is Wayfair’s home page on my computer on 02-14-2020 at 8:10am PDT.

Not only is this page shouting SALE, it is boring.  Is there anything on this page that would motivate 21st century shoppers to do anything here but look for the best deal.  There is nothing here to drive to you see the latest and greatest. How many other home goods websites homepages offer the same “shopping experience”?


Below is an image of a product section at 9:25am PDT.  Sale is the first selection in every column.

Wayfair might have started out with a model that did not rely on price but it has evolved into a company that sells products based on having the perceived lowest price.

Again, the page is boring.


Do you agree that Wayfair is a Discounter?

If we agree that Wayfair is perceived by its customers as a discounter, then they are no different than any other big multi-brand stores, brick & mortar and internet based, that, unless they find a true brand differentiator, will slowly disappear.  

Just because Wayfair can show and ship countless more items than any other home furnishing bricks and mortar store, does not make them the place to buy.  Maybe shop but not the place to buy.

Displaying a huge collection of products and product categories is not a path to digital success.  Sure, it is a pain to drive from showroom to showroom but, online, another, more engaging and mabe cheaper site is a click away.  Presenting a lot of the same products as everyone else will not win loyal customers. People are searching for good curated content that talks to them.  

Even if Wayfair adds an online AI-enabled sales support chat, it will still live on price for two reasons.  

  1. They offer no unique, compelling content.  Couple that with the rising cost of digital advertising and SEO.  Wayfair has no cost-effective way to lure new customers except price.
  2. If we agree that Wayfair is a discounter, the brand image is set.  There is no turning back.

It is obvious that Wayfair is in survival mode as they have to deliver more sales in more markets and show a profit.  The site has no zip, no zing marketing, only banners screaming SALES to drive purchases.  

What are the odds of that model winning the day?  10%?

What do you think?

I would love to read your thoughts.

Is Your Data Helping Your Business Grow?

Last posting we discussed ways to help your showroom presence add pop and sizzle to captivate and delight your customers. Now let’s now dig into collecting the best data possible to give vendors and showrooms insight into what is working in your business, what is not working and what steps will improve your business.

I suggest building this model from the multi-brand store’s perspective. The showrooms offer a more micro-client focus, allowing all a deeper dive into the market and a better understanding of its potential. The first step is to build out your Enterprise Resource Planning program (ERP) data collection system to gain a better understanding of the viability of your product mix, current customers, vendors and target customers and markets.

Look at your computer system’s data entry matrix for your customer relationship management (CRM), accounts receivable and payable, purchasing and shipping and receiving departments and note what additional data topics you would like to add. This is the time to dream big as it is easier to remove than add topics. Before you finalize your data capture matrix, think of problems you dream of solving and opportunities you would love to capture. Then ask yourself, what data do I need to win these battles?

Now for the fun part – all of this data must be seamlessly linked to all of your businesses databases. The sales data must interface with the marketing data (CRM), the purchasing, shipping and receiving data and the accounts payable and receivable data. All these data silos must be able to seamlessly talk to each other to offer you the best possible understanding of your customers, vendors, your teams and your target markets.

This is the dream package and if you are not collecting this depth of data that is easily shared across all your company’s platforms today, I suggest you start planning a way to collect this information as soon as you are able. This information will be the foundation of your business decisions and a necessity in next few years as Artificial Intelligence, AI, becomes evolves into the foundational platform of yours and your competitor’s computer programs.

All of this data is available from your vendors, your team and in your mind. If it is an abstract topic, set your company guidelines and add the information per your team’s definition. This is primarily information from and for your business. Get with your team, hash it out, set parameters, define the terms and get to it. It is not important that people outside your business understand this, these classifications are for your own business analysis. It only matters that you and your team know what they stand for and how they are defined.

Once you have this data, it may be filtered, sorted and broken down in countless ways to give you powerful insight into your business. Today, data of this variety and quality can be manipulated by Excel or an off the shelf SQL database and, very soon your AI helper.

It is important that multi-brand showrooms and their vendors work closely together on this. Data updates such as pricing, individual delivery times, order acknowledgements and updates must be easily uploaded into these dynamic databases. Stores must also share their sales data with their key vendors. The showroom can remove the customer names, company names and their private CRM info, but the overall data should be shared. This is not the time for hiding and hoping. It is time to build true relationships focused on customer service and generating quality margins.

The more comprehensive the data you are collecting is, the better you will be able to understand what is working well, what can be improved, and enhance your strategic planning for your company’s future. Remember, no matter how powerful the tech, the applicability and insight of its output is directly dependent on the quality and depth of the data collected and the focused vision of the questions the computer is asked to answer.

Below is a suggester starter list of of the customer and market information that should be collected to create a flexible database to crush your competition.

Take you time to plan out this data collection carefully. This is not about speed, it is about quality. Please take the time to this best.

For the short term, the next post will suggest ways to work with your current ERP data now to offer more insight into your customers and to improving your customers experience.

  • Customer
  • Company
  • Customer Type
  • Job Name (if applicable to your business)
  • Sales Person
  • Invoice Date
  • Invoice #
  • Job Notes and Information (if applicable to your business)
  • Brand Sold
  • Product #
  • Color, Finish…
  • Product Classification
    • Filter for where the product is used or applied… (Blouse vs Pants, Kitchen vs bathroom, Skin cream vs Foot cream…)
  • Product Function (if applicable to your business)
  • Series Name (if applicable to your business)
  • Style
  • Quantity Sold
  • Sell Price each
  • Net Price each
  • Total Price paid for product
  • Total Net Product Cost
  • Customer Influencers
    • Referred by
    • Advertisment
    • Google
  • Job miscellaneous notes
  • WHATEVER ELSE YOU DEEM IMPORTANT

Aversion of this post appeared in the February 7, 2020 issue of Connections, the Decorative Plumbing & Hardware weekly newsletter.

Are You A Speed Or Design First Company?

We are all focused on product speed. Quick, quick, quick design the product, market the product, sell the product and then count the profits!  Why so fast? Is it not better to take the time to do it best? Slowing down is not all bad. Taking the time to design the product best for its target market can create a product that can survive profitably for decades.

No matter what the price point, every product needs to be the best design for its function in the target market.  It is not difficult to understand. Will your target customer buy the second best? Why not be best in market?

I think we can all agree, Apple is a very successful company?  And they take great care in designing their products. They are not working for a price point, they are focused on delivering products that delight the user, and build loyal devotees as a result.  If it delights, sales and profits follow.  

Where do you want to take your brand?  Please do not fall back on the excuse you cannot change.  You can get better.

If you want to play the price game, do so at your own peril.  In the end, only one, or maybe two, companies will win. Is that a good bet?

Aren’t you curious of what will happen if you do take the extra time to do it best?

Are Products Bringing You Down?

Some of your company’s product segments and brands are profitable.  

Some of your company’s product segments and brands are a drag.

What is a small business owner to do?

Sit down and grab the beverage of your choice.

Comfortable?  

Now list the under-performing product segments and brands that are not meeting your company’s minimums.  Those minimums can be profit, service, style laggard. Whatever you think makes them a drag on your brand.

Then list if each product category is a target market essential or an accessory product category.  Please make this black and white, not gray; either you have to have it or you don’t.

This simple exercise will allow you to see what is causing you grief.  You decide: live with it, remove it, or improve it. Then get on with your day-to-day.  You have done what you can. Do not allow yourself to stress over it any longer.

An Engaging Way to Start Your Sales Call

Before you go into an account for the first time do your research and discover something about this business that you really admire. Plan to open your conversation with a question relating to that action. Number one: It never hurts to let them know you studied their business.  Number two: You are there because you admire something that they’re doing and want to be a part of it. Finally, if you open with a positively-toned question about their business, they are immediately positively engaged in the conversation. People love to talk about their businesses.

Do not simply pick something out of the air and say this is really great. If you are lying or blowing smoke you will get caught and it will be a difficult slog to reach your goals for the meeting.  It might be tough to get back in the door.

If you cannot find anything you truly admire about this company, that tells me that scheduling a meeting is a waste of both their time and yours.  I suggest moving on to the next target.

Starting a meeting in a positive tone and engaging your would-be client with an intriguing question will place you in a possible position to earn a new partnership.

No More Boring Retail Showrooms, PLEASE!

Great showrooms are memorable. Good showrooms have a few special products scattered about. Bad showrooms are well, boring. I believe those that take risks with their product and product presentations are more memorable and will win more customers in the long run.

A majority of today’s Internet shopping sites present a vast array of products that are easily viewed on your screen, but a customer is still not able to feel the material and see how colors pop in person. Luxury clients enjoy visiting creative spaces to see, touch and shop for beautiful products. This is why people leave their screens. This is why people seek out great brick and mortar showrooms.

So, what is a great showroom? A popular definition is one that continually both surprises and delights its customers with its engaging ambiance and inventive product mix supported by talented salespeople and five-star service. Simple right? Unfortunately nothing that can be labeled great is simple and therein lies the challenge and fun, yes FUN.

Your luxury showroom is catering to designers who fly all over the US and Canada and enjoy antiquing in Paris. If your showroom is populated with gray and white factory displays and has not had a colorful addition in months, these good customers will visit once and move on. They do not need to shop in your place, there are plenty of other boring showrooms within driving distance. If your showroom is to make their go-to list, you must let them know you are willing to take chances by showing new, unique, even startling products and learn what they crave today

The next step is threefold:

  1. First and most important: before you start working on numbers two and three, you must set a regular time, I suggest monthly, to quietly walk your showroom looking for ways to make it great. I suggest focusing on: 
    • Displays that are tired and need updating.
    • Displayed products that are not selling, boring and need to be replaced.
    • Discovering places where you can add an attractive display, small or large. This display should both provoke your salespeople and captivate your good clients.
  2. Second, commit to #1 above and start having fun in your showroom working to make it full of surprise and delight.
  3. Finally, start learning what you customers purchase and discover what they are dreaming of. This comes from your sales data and setting up opportunities to talk with your good clients. We will dig deeper into this in following post.

Now, let’s get to the fun part.

“The one thing we all agreed on, our chief aim, was to be totally unpredictable and never to repeat ourselves,” Mr. Terry Jones of Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

So why not have a bit of fun in your showroom. I am not saying that you have to completely redesign your showroom with a Candyland color scheme, but use your imagination and create punches of color and inventive product vignettes that will challenge your repeat clientele, intrigue new shoppers and keep your sles people hopping. People love to see and touch shiny new things.

One note of caution: bold displays lose their edge over a period of 6 to 9 months. Construction should be simple and easy to change out. Paint and wallpaper are easy to change. Also, try to work with vendors that understand that products in your bold settings will increase the visibility of their brands and increase bands awareness.

Luxury showrooms are there to delight and challenge their good customers, so make some changes and get out of the white and gray palette. It is really dull.

P.S: A good play here is to allow a good, strong willed, designer to design the vignette. This helps them extend their brand’s reach and you will presents a new look to your clientele.

P.S #2.: Those daring displays will play great on social media. If you can set six and change one out every month, you will always have interesting content for you and your customers to share.

A version of this article appeared in the January 31, 2020 issue of the DPHA’s newsletter, Connections.

Related reading: From Nielsen.com: Battle of the Brands: Consumer Disloyalty is Sweeping the Globe

Flowers Are Also Nice

When was the last time you said thank you to one of your good customers.

Not, thank you for the order.

Not, we have this new delight for you to see.

Not, we have not seen you in a while?

Just a simple card saying thank you.

No more, no less.

Flowers are also nice.

Do You Dream of Fascinating Creations?

Remember when you were young and you would dream something wild and dash to your crayons. You would then draw a magnificent picture of your creation. A wonder that the world cannot live without.

As we “grow-up” we still dream of fascinating creations. But instead of recording them on paper, we immediately think that will never fly and go on with our day.

Months, then years pass and to our amazement, you see that fascinating creation alive and think, I thought of that..

The moral is that some of the amazing ideas that pop into your head are fascinating creations. Draw them out, write their story. Who can it hurt? It might look better on paper than abstractly floating in your stuffed, overworked brain.

Who knows after a little tweaking and some outside input you might have the next big idea.
It has better odds that the lottery and is a lot more fun.

Why not?

Value = Experience / Price

We are in the midst of the largest retail shakeup in history.  To put the DPH showroom performance in perspective, Coresight Research notes in its November 15 update, “US retailers have announced 9,052 store closures and 3,956 store openings.”  Having just returned from the annual DPHA conference, I can tell you that the overall feeling is that business is good and will remain that way for the next 18 months.  While this is not a statistic, deeply researched or confirmed, it has been a good indicator for years. I would like to congratulate all DPH showrooms for continuing to run ahead of the brick and mortar pack.  Let’s make sure we stay ahead.

Think back to the time before the term “customer experience” was used to evaluate everything from Jiffy Lube to Hermes.  As the industry began to pull itself out of the muck of the recession, the term “product value” was all the rage. Its catch phrase was: “Is that a good value for my money?”  Customers were looking for value – the best products for their dollars, not low price. 

As the industry became skilled on the “value” sales conversation, that term slipped into the background and “customer experience” emerged as the overall, undefinable, defining metric.  Repeatedly we read and have been told that, “All great businesses offer a top-notch customer experience.” We see it referred to in case study after case study but, as with “value,” the challenge is to define and measure great customer experiences.

Angel investor Darren Herman offers guidance in his blog, Operating Partner.  He proposed the following simple formula:

Value = Experience / Price

On first thought, that formula appears to be too simple, when you evaluate the equation in more detail, it makes sense.  The kicker is defining experience. Price is simple: the lower it goes, the lower the experience factor can be to still deliver attractive value. But, if you are playing on the luxury-premium level, you have to improve the experience to justify higher pricing. 

It has been proven continuously that the lowering price value strategy is a never-ending race to the bottom and that’s not a successful formula for DPH luxury experiences.  The decorative plumbing and hardware industry can deliver on its value paradigm by focusing on the following five touchpoints: Showroom, Website, Salespeople, Customer Service and Vendors. 

Breaking them down into easily defined deliverables allows you to create a manageable list to use as a brand experience evaluation scorecard (equally applicable to Manufacturers, Representatives and Showrooms).

  • Website
    • Is your website easy to use and comfortable for your customers to shop?
    • Does your website offer the information your customers require?
    • Is your website easy for Google to find?
    • Are your key vendors’ presentations and product pages up to date?
    • Is your website respected more than your competition’s?
    • For e-commerce sites, does your showroom’s in-stock inventory cater to the products your customers really need before the vendor can deliver? 

Side Note: Today’s customer wants to do their work whenever and wherever they are.  To have a poor website is interpreted as you are not interested in their business.  An effective and easy-to-use website is a must have.

  • Salespeople
    • Are your salespeople more knowledgeable and respected than your competition?
    • Are they consistent from customer to customer?
    • Do they listen actively?
    • Do they want to improve?

Side Note: Every time I am at a showroom or attending a conference the number one problem our colleagues mention is finding good people.  Yet, few companies offer any type of sales training to make their good people better. I have never met a salesperson that cannot get better and that includes me.

  • Customer Service
    • Do you offer uncompromising cradle-to-grave service?
    • Do you proactively communicate both good and bad information with your clients as their job progresses?
    • Do you reach out to the client and end users after the job is finished?
    • Is your product return process painful for the client? Are they presumed guilty before being proven innocent?

Side Note: A significant factor in the continuing growth of showrooms and vendors is based on selling more to good customers.  Will that hold true if you continue to offer the least?

  • Vendors
    • Are they what they say they are?
    • Do they train and keep your purchasing, sales and customer service teams up to date?
    • Do they design and craft products in line with their pricing?
    • Do they deliver on what they promise?
    • Are their demands in line with their value to your business?

Side Note:  Vendors, when was the last time you surveyed the key 100 showroom salespeople about what they think will help your brand improve?  When was the last time you and your distributor showroom surveyed their good builder and trade customers about what they think will help your brand improve? Sitting in your office listening to a few loud folks is not the best way to build your brand’s foundation.

  • Showroom
    • Is your showroom easy and comfortable for your customers to shop?
    • Is your showroom easy to use by your salespeople?
    • Is your showroom perceived as stylish by your core design trade customers?
    • Are your key vendors’ displays up to date?
    • Does your showroom’s inventory contain the products your customers need before the vendor can deliver?

Side Note: Maintaining a showroom is hard work and expensive, but when done effectively is can be very profitable.  The more vendors, representatives and distributor showrooms stay in step, the better for all parties involved.

This list provides a tool to evaluate your business and to determine your customer experience rating.  Each point can be valued good or bad or with a five-point scale. Determine which metric works best for your business and team.

There is one other factor to consider.  Each point on the list focuses on eliminating FRICTION your customers encounter when working with your company.  Both trade customers and end-users HATE friction. Removing friction requires an investment of money and time. Willingly taking back a polished nickel lavatory faucet that looks as if it was attacked by a steel grill brush is not easy or cheap, but necessary.  

Do not lose sight of the fact that you are working to increase your customers’ perceived value of your business.

The bottom line is that each individual customer will evaluate your business.  Having a metric to determine how your business is perceived will improve your customers’ experiences and help you develop effective strategies to address weaknesses.

A version of this article appeared in the January issue of Kitchen & Bath Design News