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of advertisements for Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday, Giving Tuesday have passed and they have been replaced by a consistent torrent of emails, ads and banners telling me that I can only have XX% off if I buy now!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.

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

In the 20’s Your New Best Friend Will Be In The Cloud. But Will You Have Fun?

As our calendars flip from 2019 to 2020, we bid farewell to the iPhone decade.  Yes, the iPhone was announced on stage by the late Steve Jobs in 2007, but its monumental effect changed the way we lived, worked and played in the last decade.  That (toy) tool enabled Facebook, Twitter and numerous other apps to help, hurt and advise us through our days and it is always by our sides. For many people, their smartphone is their first interaction of the day and the last thing they touch before going to sleep.  It has truly changed the way we live and is poised to remain a large part of our lies in the 2020’s

So where do we and our phones go from here.  Will the 20’s be the decade of iGlass? Everything from our toothbrushes to our homes are completely connected to the internet or automated vehicles take us wherever at the tap of an app.  My guess is that by December 2029 artificial intelligence, AI, will be the glue in all of these deliverables. It will be our constant companion at work helping us create better products and deliver exemplary service.  While we are brushing our teeth the toothbrush will communicate our vitals to our AI in the cloud and it will make sure all is good-to-go for the day. AI will be up there, with us everywhere we go.

Where all this amazing tech will take us, I have not a clue.  But just like each decade before, it will be the most amazing decade ever.  Okay that is where the world around us wants to take us. Where do we want to go in the 2020’s? 

How about more FUN in the 2020’s?  I challenge all this tech and AI to add more jot to our lives?

We have always worked to make life easier, more fulfilling…what about FUN.  Let’s contemplate that. Yes, fun, you know those amazing moments when you laugh so hard tears stream from your eyes and you think you are going to have a heart attack.  FUN. When you ride a wave and it spins you like a top and your nose is full of the ocean and your shorts are full of sand, and you just take a moment and laugh at what just made you feel alive.  That is it! I want more alive, fun time in the 2020’s How about it, AI, are you listening?

Do Enjoy…

Is Everyone Ready for Your Sales Call? Really?

It is the third Tuesday of the month and as usual, this outside salesperson will be visiting account ABC at 9am, DEF at noon for lunch, LMN at 2:30 and finish the day at XYZ at 4:00.  

This looks great. During a full day of outside calls, you have the chance to tell your brand stories to your targeted customers. That’s a lot of ground to cover, so let’s hit the road.  One question: are you prepared?   

Some interesting questions to ask before you schedule any and all outside calls: 

  • Do they know you are coming?
  • What do you want to accomplish at each call?
  • Do you have plenty of samples to share?
  • Have you checked the companies’ websites and social media posts to know what they are working on and promoting?
  • What happened on your last call there?  Did you review your notes?
  • What have been your company’s interactions with each customer since that last call?  Do you need to bring any parts or soothe any ruffled feathers?
  • DO THEY KNOW YOU ARE COMING?

This call routine was the first thing that was drilled into my head by my mentor, Al Dubin.  If I couldn’t answer all of these questions, Al told me to get back in that chair!  Unprepared salespeople were his number one pet peeve. R-E-S-P-E-C-T your customer and do your homework. You have to give to get.

I am still amazed at how often salespeople, sales managers and local representatives would stop by with no plan, no product samples and no idea of what was going on with our shared interests.  

They would show up when staff was busy selling, purchasing agents purchasing, designers pitching, plumbers fighting inspectors and builders trying to find subcontractors.  They would drop in at 11ish just to say hello and see if there were any issues or questions.  People, time is incredibly valuable for all involved and must be used effectively. Put simply, no one should call on anyone if they do not have an appointment and a beneficial agenda for all parties involved.  

Management has to be on top of this.  Every sales call made should align with your company’s focus and what your marketing team is promoting.  It is amazing what a company can accomplish when all the teams have the same game plan. 

Let’s stop unprepared calls; take that time and generate the quality and additional sales from your showroom visits that you and your clients expect and deserve.
A version of this article appeared in the December 6, 2019 issue of DPHA’s 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:

What Gifts Should I Send this Holiday Season?

Let’s think about walking into a showroom, a purchasing office or an interior designer’s studio during the holiday season.  What do you see?  There are large and small Christmas trees, twinkly lights, cookies and candy galore, tall rectangular lavishly wrapped booze boxes and holiday cards by the score.  Lots of people exchanging numerous gifts, thanking their customers for a great year and others trying to be remembered in the New Year.  So many companies and individuals trying to make an impression.  So what happens to all of those gifts?   

The business holiday season is a traffic jam of companies trying to be remembered by old accounts or impress new ones.  Is this where you want to spend your marketing money? Hoping that Johnny at ABC will recall yet another logo coffee cup that will motivate him to lead his next customer to your display?  How many gifts will Johnny receive?  Will yours be the one that is magically remembered?  It is a big HOPE.  But you don’t want to be that company that plays Scrooge and does nothing. 

I would like to offer an alternative solution for holiday brand building.  

I always tried to find a solid charity that offered a holiday card where we could place a picture of our complete team on the cover wishing Happy Holidays.  The money went to a good cause and when anyone asked a team member, they had a good holiday story to share and show where they are in the card cover image.

Doing this freed our holiday marketing money to use during a time when it made a more substantial impression.  By mid-January, a lot of people are back in the day-to-day workflow and miss the “entertainment validation” of the holidays.  This is a good time to take a target to dinner, bring in a catered lunch or hand out gift cards.  By waiting until the January holiday hangover, you will be the lone brand thanking key players and it just might wash away the gift they received from your competitor way back in December. Some companies that follow this plan have a large event in early spring to welcome the building season and rev everyone up.  

This plan also removes the stress of trying to do the best thing for your clients and allows you to better focus on your family’s holiday festivities.  Because isn’t that what the holidays are all about? 

P.S. Let’s never forget that HOPE is not a strategy.

This article previously appeared in the November 22 issue of DPHA’s Connections

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.