Are You Ready to Add Talkies to Your Product Pages?

Lately vendors and showrooms have been speeding around gathering as many images as we can for our websites. Quality is not really a factor, as any image is better than having the customer search for a specific item and see “No Image Available.”

Your customers hate it, you hate it, and most of all, Google ignores it. So, you chase any image you can and make the product web page complete. Voila, all are now happy. My page looks every bit as good as Amazon and my competition. Congratulations, you have leveled the playing field. Job well done.

Now what is next? I suggest it is time to add videos.

As a product description without an image is a shallow story, a product image and description without a complimenting video is passé. 

SnapChat videos and Instagram stories are grabbing people’s primary attention and TikTok’s unique users have almost doubled in the last six months[1]. All are adding simple click to buy capabilities. Video is now the norm and we all have new work to do.

Take a moment to see how the world wide web has changed during the last few years. Amazon’s go-to-market strategy of selling everything possible and delivering it to you as fast as they are able is an amazing feat. Google’s algorithm promotes websites that continually offer new products that are supported by best in class content. 

These two companies have dictated how we build our individual websites. We mimic Amazon’s product page and enter all the data that Google is searching for. If it works for Amazon, let’s do it. If this is what Google is looking for, let’s give it to them. And with all that hard work, we all look the same. The Internet is a huge place full of potential and to succeed in winning a luxury market we need to be unique. Frustrated? Yep! Confused? I found this roundup from a16z quite helpful in better understanding what is working. 

Imagine a client is looking for a specific product. They visit several websites and find similar product pages. The product looks the same on each site. The descriptions are similar, and the pricing and delivery times are comparable. Take a moment and search for a product you sell and see what you find. 

What can a vendor or distributor do to break this tie? Add short, focused video stories to each product page. Each product does not require an individual video. Just a quick story of the many things that make your brand unique.

Start by making ten 15 to 30 second videos that celebrate what your brand does well and what makes you unique. Then take these videos and partner them with products on your website product pages. These videos will also play nicely on Facebook, Instagram and SnapChat. Distributors and vendors can share them to tell why they work together and expand each other’s video libraries. 

Do not overthink or overdo these videos. Yes, you can bring in a crack crew with a talented director and spend a lot of money to create fine contact. You can also enlist your team to tell honest, authentic stories about your products, about your service and about your strong brand history. These can be recorded on a smartphone. 

While the big companies are taking the time to plan each step, you can have 10 videos ready to go live in weeks. Then 20 in a few more weeks. Once you learn how to do this, you will be surprised how easy they are to craft and how effective they will be. Simple stories about styles you love, customer service stories you are proud to share and quick chats with clients. 

The Internet has grown past text and images and is asking you for video stories about who you are. I think you know the script. It’s all in your head.

[1] Emarketer, US Consumers Are Flocking to TikTok

Vendors: May we please improve training?

The training quality in our decorative showroom business is all over the place. 

A few companies create solid content, but have not trained their trainers on how to train (Say that fast three times!).

Selling is not like training. They are two distinct talents. Would you let a school teacher sell your portfolio? Other vendors weakly educate the local representative and tell them to go forth and educate all involved. They send them in with catalogs and some samples. 

Really, is that how a brand should be presented?

Here are some notes:

  • No one likes product knowledge trainings. Showroom salespeople are extremely busy and do not want to give up the time during the day. Also, no one wants to come in early or stay late. 
  • Abide by the venture-capital-pitch 30/30 rule. No font should be smaller than 30-point, and no presentation should be longer than 30 minutes. Our minds can only stay focused in a perfect environment for a maximum of 20 minutes. So build a solid 20-minute presentation and have time for questions. Do not overreach! You will not gain a thing. In fact, you will lose what you gained in the first 20 minutes.
  • Do not train on a product that is not yet on display and ready to ship. The salespeople will forget all the information by the time you are ready to receive orders, even if it is just a week away.
  • Beta-test your training content in the field. Present your new training program to a few local showrooms, then note and implement the feedback. 
  • Train your own customer service team first. Present the training draft to them first and gain their feedback. Then, when a showroom salesperson calls with a question that references the training, all are on the same page.
  • Do not hand out any reading material during the presentation. You want the trainees to look at the presenter, not at a price book.
  • Recap, ask questions and offer rewards during the 20-minute training. Questions keep them engaged, and rewards make all stay engaged.
  • Do share samples; A LOT of samples. It is proven if people have product in their hands they will remain engaged.
  • Feed them AFTER the session. If they have food during the session, they will focus on that.
  • Finally, if you really want to do it right, hire a 100% full-time trainer. As we noted above, your talented salespeople and representatives are not always adequate trainers. 

Do you really want to get into an automobile with new brakes that were installed by a mechanic who was trained by the brake manufacturer’s local salesperson? Then why do you ask talented salespeople to educate the salespeople who sell your brand’s story to design and building professionals? 

If your training content and presentation are solid, you’ll always get the best training timeslots and the showroom’s salespeople will gladly attend ready to learn.

A version of this article appeared in the March issue of Supply House Times.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay 

Being Prepared for S L O W

As we’ve said many times here, what will be waiting for us when we are able to leave our homes is a complete unknown. We all know there is some pent-up demand, but how will it come to our stores and factories? When we flip on the lights, will showrooms be overrun by customers and vendors phones ring off the hook? I certainly hope so. That we can handle. We are comfortable with too much business. Working 24/7 is what we do. It’s when things are slow that we struggle. It is easier to work with clients asking questions and placing orders, dictating the workflow. It is far more difficult to sit in a slow office and build and implement a strategy to bring old customers back.

Now that you have time it is best to prepare yourself and your team for both scenarios.

First step is to think of how you will feel and react if all is quiet when you reopen your business. You will be elated at finally getting back to your business, but there might not be any customers. Many unprepared owners will immediately feel frustration, then anger, and then find someone to blame. All of these are logical steps under such circumstances, but they are not constructive and do not have to happen. Take the time now and envision what a slow business reopening will feel like. What will you do? What is your plan to remind your good clients that you are still there and ready to help design new spaces? Spaces that trapped homeowners now dream of and spaces that will perform better should we all have to remain at home again? New spaces that will allow people to go home and feel like empowered, not remind them of these last few weeks. 

Take the time now and build your mindset, strategy and tactics for a boom or bust reopening. If you are prepared, you will not get as frustrated and will have the time and focus to help your team deal with whatever the world has for our businesses. 

This is only round one. How many more trials will Covid-19 take us through, I have not a clue. But I do know that those that take the time to mentally prepare for the roller coaster ahead will come out best. Surprises in business are not always a good thing. Take the time now to be prepared for as many surprises as you can foresee. Best of luck.

A version of this article appeared in the April 24, 2020 Issue of DPHA Connections

Image by TeeFarm from Pixabay 

Good Product Design Delivers Twice

A company discovers an opportunity for a new product!  They first investigate thoroughly, define the target market, set a budget, and send the complete spec to the design and engineering teams.  They craft what they feel is the best product to dominate the defined opportunity. This design is then sent back upstairs to marketing, sales and finance.  This product is reviewed to make sure it can be promoted, it will sell and it will be within budget parameters. STOP. This is where badly designed products start their lives.  

Have we not all agreed that groupthink does not produce the best results?  Do we not tirelessly quote Henry Ford about faster horses and Steve Jobs on how the public cannot see its future?  All the people from sales, marketing and finance are so wrapped up in their immediate worlds, they are just as myopic as John Q. Public.  Is this really the correct path to create the go-to product for your target market?

The best way to woo customers to your brand is with innovative, beautiful and highly functional products.  Your new product’s look catches a person’s eye, they investigate and bring it home. They use it and are impressed with the experience.  Next, they do the greatest thing of all…they tell their friends and family. They extoll your product’s unique style and commend its functionality.  They have become your early adopter and will be on the lookout for your brand’s next cutting-edge product release.

Would you rather be competing against a product made in a cheap labor factory and sold at rock bottom price?

Risk is a four letter word that can lead to Wow, good, okay, bad and train wreck.

On the other hand, playing it safe mostly leads to okay and bad.  

Please manage this process with the goal of the best product.  Not the best product possible product created within the constraints of sales, marketing and finance.    Even if you have to price the item a bit more than the projected optimum estimated price point. Play the long term game.  When the early adopters get on board and share their enjoyable experiences,price limitations will fall away. I think it is worth the risk.

What game do you want to play?

Related Reading: from Fast Company, Jonathan Ive & Marc Newson comment on today’s design process

Image by FaceMePLS via Wikimedia Commons

Looking To Leverage Your B&M Brand And Go Big Time E-Commerce?

Are you thinking of setting up or expanding your online store?  Why not? You know your business and your customers are already online purchasing and researching everything they can.  By simply leveraging your day-to-day brick and mortar showroom business you can be THE player online. 

Before finalizing your online business plan, below are some questions that are not always included in online e-commerce business plans that are leveraging a successful brick and mortar showroom.

Please take a moment to review your target online customer and their unique needs.  

  1. Why are you adding an online purchase point to your retail showroom?
    1. Make life easier for your current customers.
    2. Reach new customers that shop for your core products only online 
    3. Create a new online brand that focuses on a special niche of your product mix that you think offers an online opportunity.
  2. What special terms will your online customers be looking for that you might not be currently offering in your bricks and mortar showrooms? 
    1. Free freight
    2. Expedited delivery
    3. Free returns on all products
  3. What factor will you markup prices from your cost?
  4. Will you have to increase your inventory to meet your online customer’s perceived needs?
  5. What kind of customer service will they expect?
    1. Email and text only
    2. Personal telephone support
    3. AI chatbot with personal chat support
    4. Any mix of the above
  6. Will you have to add any people?
  7. What do your direct competitors offer?

If you have incorporated all of these in your business plan, bravo.  If you have not, I suggest you take the time to dig into answers from te to your business plan, you will have a more complete idea of the numbers and what you need to reach your income goals.

P.S.:  In the E-commerce world it is easier to start small with one profitable, under served product niche. This path allows you and your team to market your E-store to an needy market and learn the unique challenges of the E-commerce game.  Those that open their E-stores with thousands of SKUs covering many product categories can get quickly overwhelmed and damage the brand they worked so diligently to build. 

Good Luck!

Image by Donald Trung Quoc Don (Chữ Hán: 徵國單), Wikimedia Commons

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.

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?

Make Sure Everyone Knows

As we start out on our grand plans for the new decade.  Can we make sure to take time to thank all those that help us work to succeed.  We cannot improve in a vacuum. 

Over our journey we will encounter many interesting and talented people.  They will assist you in many ways, some of which never crossed your mind.

When you experience that helping hand, take a few seconds to look them straight in the eye and say thank you.  A simple, sincere gesture accented by two words can make another person’s moment a bit better.

P. S.  Even if they only crossed your life path, Good Morning, Good Afternoon, Good Night or Hello is a nice touch.

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

Thoughts For The First Day of 2020

Over the last decade brick and mortar retail stores rode an incredible wave, yet by decade end the weak had been smashed on the rocks.  Internet retailers had taken enough market share to expose those that had survived selling low margin commodities, poor management and stores with poor retail locations.  This is the formula for disaster in any market with any viable competition. Might I mention all of the e-commerce websites that have also blown up: Pets.com, etc.? A poor business model in any venue or time is a poor business model.

My focus in 2020 is to stop blaming the other guy, store or system for kicking my B-Hind.  If I did not see a new technology coming or was running a poorly constructed model, so be it.  

So if you are fearful of the next wave of something that will overwhelm your business…Catch Up.  Get to know what is coming and prepare. This means making time to explore and learn. Time to improve yourself and better your company.  

Let’s prepare for what is next make this next decade one of success instead of pointing fingers.

Best to all in 2020 and beyond….  Engage.

I always wanted to write that…

Image created by Hakeem James Hausley from Pexels