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.

The 21st Century Customer Experience

Photo by Alexander Kovacs on Unsplash

21st century retail rule: upper-end retail can only survive by offering an amazing customer service.   

But a great customer experience does not have to be a blow your hair back carnival ride.

An honest, quality driven sales process remains a great customer experience.  Some customers will want a Flying Whoopee but that might not be your customer.

If you set up a solid process, hire smart people and work with good vendors, your customer service experience will be attractive to many.  

It’s not easy but do not make it harder than it needs to be.

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