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

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

Where is the Space?

So much of bricks and mortar merchandising is about the products we sell.  We vehemently believe we have to have a lot of them. We have to have more than that other company  If we have some empty space, we find something to fill it ASAP. Imagine a pawn shop case versus a product presentation at Tiffany.  The product quality could very well be the same but the presentations are so very different.

Why do we do this??  Is more really better?  Is there to be no place for the customer’s eye to rest and download all these products? 

It is no wonder that people will continually buy the same products over and over.  With such an onslaught of products we are not able to notice something new, something that might be better for me and my needs.  

We have grown so used to going to the store to buy, not shop; we get just what is on our list and get out.  Never thinking to see what might be new and interesting.  

Instead of working to make sure every little space is drenched in product, why not focus on improving the presentations of what sells and where we make more margin.  Big brands are nice but I think making money is better.  

Why not incorporate an interactive screen where customers can swipe to see what is new in the store?  Why not mark new products where they sit on the shelf? The combination of the two will let customers know that you are the source for what is new and innovative.  

Anybody can show a lot and sell, sell, sell, play the price game and hope to survive on razor-thin margins.  If you work to tell your story and help you customers discover new products, you will set your store apart and above.  Your store will be THE source for product and information. The brand that attracts customers that are looking for new, better and different.  

These customers will pay a bit more for finding the new, the unique, the cool products…not the same old, same old.

Tinder In My Showroom?

“I like that but could I see it in this tone of yellow?”  How often have you heard this on your showroom floor?  

This is a question that has been haunting showroom salespeople for decades and, I think, we just might have the answer.  At the 2019 Lightovation show at the Dallas Market Center, a leading luxury lighting manufacturer had strategically placed 4’ x 3’ interactive touch screens amongst its spectacular products.  The screens were programed so the user could simply swipe right to easily move from image to image.  Even amongst hundreds of beautiful lighting fixtures, these screens, with their larger-than-life images, were the draw.  An EXPERIENCE garnered more interest than the actual product.  People would stand and swipe to their heart’s content as the images were quickly delivered from its huge database.  Yes, it was a large screen that was the star of a show attended by the purchasing agents from the top lighting showrooms in the United States and Canada.  Not a specific fixture, product series or brand, but a SCREEN.  Are we focused on our screens or what?

Brick and mortar showrooms are not going away, but if a physical luxury showroom does not incorporate a 21st century experience, that will hurt its image.  Imagine a customer walking into your showroom and heading straight for the interactive screen.  In a matter of minutes, they are flipping through your products as fast as they can swipe.  Customers travel to your showroom to interact with the actual product and still want to be able to see everything imaginable.  They want to experience the best of both the physical and digital worlds in your showroom.

When a customer asks what this faucet looks like in another finish, no problem.  You can show it to them on your 4’ x 3’ screen.  You cannot physically show it all, but you can show a large image of your customer’s dream look by simply accessing your mighty, mighty database. 

The answer is to bring the internet power into your showroom.  Slap a screen on the wall and voila, millions of product images are alive!   Unfortunately, it is not simply plug and play.  It will take some programming, and access to properly configured vendor databases to make this dream a reality.   

When I returned home, I did a little digging and discovered these two “Kiosk” companies.  It seems kiosk is the preferred terminology in the self-serve retail world, as opposed to large touch screens.

Also note, these company’s understand that your screen needs are different from McDonalds and they have programers ready to deliver what will surprise and delight your customers.

I believe kiosks (screens) will be a big showroom draw and expand showroom offerings to infinity and beyond…

A version of this article appeared in the December 13, 2019 issue of DPHA’s Connections

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:

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.