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.

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.

You Got This Cold… Are You Sure?

Most of us are familiar with the Müller-Lyer Illusion that teaches us that what we think we see is not always correct.  It is an illusion that the top line is longer than the bottom and if we had not been told that they are the same length, we would have walked away thinking the lines are not equal.  Sometimes we simply need to slow down and take a good measure of the situation we are reviewing.

The key to these “tests” is to remind us to take time and bypass our fast, save our B-Hind thinking process and use the other part of our brain to press pause and think the situation through.

This takes on greater significance in our business.  We all know we know the most knowledgeable folk in our individual businesses.  In fact, if the Supreme Court required an expert witness to testify on anything about your industry, you would be number one with a bullet on the list.  But this “insider” knowledge does not preclude us from making errors. Examples such as these two simple arrows ought to remind us to take a moment and slow down.

“Looking back over the last decade, I have made many good fast decisions, but I have nearly never made good rushed decisions. The former can be made from a place of calm, whereas the latter come from a place of turbulence and blurred judgment.” Tim Ferriss, 1-20-2020 Blog Entry

A few reasons that you might want to STOP and review your decision

  • This decision might be for a customer that has specific unique demands.
  • This bid just might have unique opportunities that have not been addressed.
  • This product is for a custom job with a lot of bespoke products and regular sizing might not work.
  • This product line does not look great but the team behind it really talented

No matter what we know, it can and will change.  So everytime you see interesting brain teasers like the Müller-Lyer Illusion illusion, remind yourself that the brain teaser is not the focus, it is training you mind to stop for a moment and make sure your “easy’ decision is correct and complete.

Suggested reading: Thinking in Bets, Making Smarter Decisions Ehe You Do Not Have All The Facts by Annie Duke

Should We Wait Or Should We Go?

There has been a lot of speculation on how AR, VR and AI are going to change the way we do business and no one really knows where theses platforms will affect their business next. So, instead of waiting, let’s turn the tables and decide where we would like AR, VR and AI implemented in our businesses.  Where can these amazing toods help improve and simplify your business right now?

Take a moment and meet with your teams and make a list of where they think theses programs can make you better.  Once you have the list go out and talk to people that work in these worlds. Find out what is available, now or in the immediate future and start planning.

Is it better to reach out to learn or stay in the dark wondering what will hit next?

Photo by Marlene Leppänen from Pexels

It's Holiday Time, Yipee!

Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay
I hope everybody had a lovely Thanksgiving.  A wonderful holiday allowing American families to pause for one day to celebrate the passing year’s blessings. Then consume mass quantities of delicious food.   

As Thanksgiving fades into memory, Christmas Day is on its way.  The massive barrage of advertisements for Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday, Giving Tuesday have passed and they have been replaced by a consistent torrent of emails, ads and banners telling me that I can only have XX% off if I buy now!  It is all so annoying. 

Outside of that noise, I do enjoy holiday shopping.  I love to discover just the right gift for my family and friends.  Each gift I select has deep logic behind it, and I know it is something they never would purchase for themselves and will treasure for years.  I hope to watch them peel back the shiny paper and see a bit of delight on their faces when they discover what it is.  I love that look!  Then sometimes they unwrap the gift and look at me, what the….?  Off to the return counter.

The important thing is that my time searching, not dealing or discounting, is time that I spend thinking about the wonderful people in my life and in small, very small, way give them a bit of Holiday joy.  
 
Happy Holidays!  
 
Ohh, P.S.  As the 2019 Holidays pass, all will turn to talking about 2020.  Before that happens, find a moment and congratulate yourself, yes you, for all the hard work you did in 2019.  Every once in a while, it is good to look in the mirror and say, great job, well done!  Cheers
A version of this article appeared in the December 20, 2019 issue of DPHA Connections.

Mr Musk, Why A Luxury Toy CyberTruck?

Elon Musk had the entire automotive world abuzz about Tesla’s first truck design.  From design freaks to wanna be green building contractors, all were awaiting the unveiling of their electric Tesla truck aspirations.  And what did they see? A DMC DeLorean/Hummer mashup accented with a dash of Cayenne. Tesla’s first “cyber truck” is a toy for the luxury market.  Mr. Musk completely ignored the people that were dreaming of driving their torqued-up high-toned truck to their job Monday through Friday and church on Sunday.  If this vehicle had been designed right, it would have allowed Tesla entry into a new segment of the market. The wealthy blue collar worker. The people that craft our living and working spaces and enjoy  craft brewed IPAs.     

The truck’s design did not have to reflect the familiar lines of today’s working diesel powerhouse trucks.  It simply had to have a unique Tesla look to make a statement as a mobile, jobsite office. Showing that a company, perhaps a contractor or landscaper, is successful and thinking green.  The gadget that Tesla will send to market looks more like a toy purchased to show off by someone who thinks work is having to carry their cases of wine to the car.

Tesla is a luxury brand and a significant amount of luxury brand sales are to customers trading up.  This step-up customer becomes enamoured with a certain brand’s specific product and will do what it takes to bring it home.  I have seen flatbeds, US Army Jeeps and Dodge Power Wagons in elegant automobile collections but never an Escalade at a will call counter. 

For Mr. Monk, a visionary who prides himself on engineering a better way, this vehicle was a startling turnabout.  With SpaceX, The Boring Company, Neuralink and OpenAI, he is working to disrupt the status quo and make the impossible possible.  This Tesla truck strays off that path and that is a shame. 

I think this is a big moment lost for Mr. Musk.  I admire a lot of what they have accomplished but this Tesla Truck is a missed opportunity to take the Tesla brand into a new and very loyal market.   

P.S. This professional market purchases its trucks for their business and that would have made the purchase tax deductible.

Seth Godin’s interesting Tesla thoughts, Attention vs. the chasm

What Happened at the 2019 DPHA Conference in Seattle

As always, the 2019 DPHA conference was abuzz every day from 7 in the morning until well after midnight.  It has been another good year for our industry, and most are enthusiastic about their individual futures and excited about the expanding opportunities in the decorative plumbing and hardware market.   The days were punctuated by captivating product booths and many varied discussion topics.  Below are the more popular trends and topics that were consistent threads in my many conversations:

  • Business remains strong with some secondary markets anticipating a small slowdown in early 2020.
  • New products introduced were mostly simple upgrades and product line tweaks with only a few truly new products presented.
  • People are interested to see if industry consolidation will continue and how it will affect the DPH showroom world.
  • The industry needs to remain focused on luxury versus premium. 
  • Where do the fascinating new technologies fit into our hand-crafted product business?

The education sessions were anchored by talented, insightful people.  Here are my key  takeaways:  

David Avrin enlightened us by helping us to:

  • Locate customers we did not know existed
  • Continually work to surprise and delight our customers
  • Remove FRICTION at all points of customer interaction
  • Allow your team members to make what they think is the best decision versus “doing what the book dictates”
  • Learn why your customers want to buy
  • Remember trust is the root of a good relationship

Jay Acunzo open our eyes to:

  • Never stop looking for the next big thing
  • Never wait for what was the next big thing to die before moving on
  • Never stop improving your business’ unique draw
  • Never stop evaluating your process and structure
  • Understand what the anchors of your business are
  • Build on and refine what is working
  • Meet your customer where they are
  • Make your business’ culture embrace change and creativity

Designer Panel: Overcoming Confirmation Bias, What The Trades Really Want 

  • Do not get rid of printed catalogs
  • As a group, they do not want to buy plumbing on the Internet
  • They need more door hardware training to improve their confidence with product applications
  • Trades cannot always get to the showroom to work with a client, and might send in client alone with STRICT instructions on what to show them
  • They need CAD files now and will soon need BIM (building information modeling) product files
  • A lot of clients are not adventurous and want their entire bathroom designed from one brand’s product series with no deviations
  • New product updates are important, so please ask how each designer would like updates delivered (email, text, etc.)
  • CEU’s are important but not mid-day
  • Designers need finish samples to complete client design presentations – why are they so very hard to get?

The DPHA conference allows the talented people in the DPH world the opportunity to focus on bettering their businesses. Other gatherings are focused on product and purchasing programs. Last week we talked about everything from what ERP to use to earning customer trust.  If you did not attend, you missed the opportunity to gain valuable insights into your business by bouncing ideas off of some very knowledgeable and engaged people.   It is now only 11 months till our next DPHA conference.  Please make plans to join your fellow Decorative Plumbing and Hardware professionals in New Orleans, October 22 – 25, 2020.     The more we work together the more our industry will improve for the benefit of us all. 

Below are the products. companies and individuals that were honored at the 2019 DPHA conference:

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.