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.

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.

Your Customer Needs To Remember You So They Come Back. How About a Postcard?

Image by Brian Merrill from Pixabay

Everyday your showroom sends out products to finish up a job.  They range from the final 3 cabinet knobs on a simple kitchen upgrade to finally delivering the wall accessories on a wonderfully large home.  But once those products are installed, your showrooms starts to fade from your client’s memory.  They will not be visiting your showroom next week or next month.  In fact, the homeowner might not need your expertise for a year or two or even longer.  Your challenge is to make sure you remain front and center in their mind for years to come when it comes to all things decorative plumbing and hardware.  They may remember your business, but if some new “shiny new” company pops up or a friend works with a competitor, your brand will likely slip their mind. 

Sixty days after the job has been completed, I suggest mailing the homeowners a simple thank you postcard from the point sales person.  Nothing elaborates, just your brand on the front and a handwritten thank you on the back with an image of the salesperson. Then every quarter, send a simple postcard with four images of new products recently added to your showroom along with your logo to their home address.  On the back, add a handwritten commentary on those new products, an image of the point salesperson and an invitation to stop by any time. That’s it.  Don’t over think it.  The recipient will probably quickly look at one side, flip to the other side and then spin it into the trash, but they will see a familiar face and a brand they know.  

“Snail-mail” is not what it used to be, but it still offers communication opportunities that the digital world cannot match.

P.S. Only send postcards, since thank you cards in envelopes have to opened and read.  That might not happen.  Keep-It-Simple.

Let Your Sales People Sell

Consistent follow-up habits are one of the most important talents of great sales people. Here’s a giant fallacy – your sales team must be available for the customers at all times. Take a moment and think about that. Your top salesperson is on the phone with a homeowner discussing the differences of two satin nickel finishes from different manufacturers being installed in the same room. Talk about a waste of time, not to mention that this conversation has no “right” answer. So, while your top producer listens patiently to this conversation, potential sales wander around the showroom unattended. Frustrating?

When showroom owners are asked what they need, better and more sales people top the list. So what does one do? Search, hire and pray that all the planets align and this person becomes the “Tom Brady of toilets.” Alternatively, you can make more time for your salespeople to sell. Yes, sell – don’t chase orders or play psychologist – simply sell.

It usually takes 24 months to prepare a salesperson to obtain the knowledge where they are capable of working with a talented trade person, specifying plumbing and hardware for a luxury home. At this point, they are ready to make money for your operation, but you now need to protect your investment from burning out. The question you should be asking yourself now is “How can I find them more time to sell and at the same time, remove the annoying stuff?” Hire a full-time customer service person.

The main arguments against taking after-sales follow-up away from the salesperson people is that the salesperson wants to always service their customers and it strengthens the relationship. The client may also demand that they deal with their salesperson; this is the person they trust. So what to do?

The salesperson has to learn to trust that the company (and your brand) will them back them up and coddle their customers – their customers, your customers. Your sales professionals need to know that the company will service their customers no matter what the situation. The move to add a customer service person will help your brand expand its reach while allowing your best people to do what they do best. This process may take a bit of time, roughly 6 to 9 months, but when it is in place you will have a better company while probably adding even more to your bottom line.

Just do what you do best

Red Auerbach

A version of this article was in the August 2 issue of the Decorative Plumbing & Hardware’s newsletter, Connections.