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.

Do You Have Anything New to Show Me?

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The Zippy Brand just added a great new series – its unique design is perfect for today’s popular minimal, transitional, punky look. The displays arrive and you set them in Zippy’s branded display area and educate your sales team. All is going to be great!   But hold on a minute? Do your key customers know that you just added this magnificent product to your showroom?  When AB Killer customer enters your showroom, will they notice this new amazing series nested among your other branded displays? I think not. 

The purpose of your never-ending journey to discover, sell and support the latest and greatest is to separate your business from your fast-following competition and keep your customers keenly aware that you are the primary source for your targeted market latest and greatest.  Your educated client base feeds on new products and, if you position your showroom as the leader, they will be looking to you to keep them the know. Getting the word out is not complicated. I suggest doing the following: 

  1. Designate an area in your showroom for new products. It should be close to the main entry or the area where most customers conjugate. The new products should be displayed on a table or a simple retail-tiered display. If an individual product is too large for the space, frame a vendor glory image and add a note on the bottom noting the product’s showroom location. Do not over think this. It is about getting the product noticed, not about the display itself.
  2. Use your email list. Send out a monthly email with new product images complemented by a quick brand note. Email service providers such as Constant Contact and Mail Chimp offer minimal templates that are simple to use.

The challenge is to make the time to set up the display, keep it current and build your new product monthly email. Heck, you might even find a vendor or two to share some co-op money.

Also published on the Decorative Plumbing & Hardware Association’s Connections Blog: Welcomed Thoughts from a Fellow (Jeff Valles): Do You Have Anything New to Show Me? 

Our Customers Are Nuts And It’s Our Fault

Woman dreaming of her new bathroom
Image by rawpixel from Pixabay

Today, people grab their smart phone and ask it (not her or him), to fulfill their next need, demand or desire.  An answer appears in seconds, no discussion or debate, just a list. We do not take the time to ask our partner or best friend, we ask our very own pocket computer.  And you are not skeptical of AI? More on that later.

Let’s understand- our customer’s instinct is to look at you as if you were an iPhone.  When they ask, you are to reply with all the information they want to hear, NOW.  

Our customers need an attitude adjustment.  Not a mafia-style baseball-bat beating but an insight into the world that will help them craft their dreams.

As you are getting to know the customer and understand the scope of their job, take a moment and explain this is not a sprint but a long distance run and you are their coach.  Let them know the generic timeline for their job. If it is a master bathroom remodel, 8 weeks is normal, a custom home 18 months. Try to avoid the 6 to 8 weeks phrases. The customer will always hear the 6.  

Then, make sure they know that you are their source for all plumbing and hardware information.  You have studied and worked for years and know your stuff. This is not the time to be reserved.  State the obvious and it will make this job go a bit smoother and maybe ensure they will go to you with their questions versus their best digital friend.

This is important on two fronts.  First, once they understand that they are not in a black and white situation, they will slow down and allow us to present beautiful products that they never would have considered.  Secondly, they will be less likely to lose it when they receive bad news. This adjustment will allow us more time to create the best solution and the customer will be the winner.

A version of this article was in the September 18, 2019 issue of the Decorative Plumbing & Hardware’s newsletter, Connections.

Has The Convenience Economy Evolved Into The Rental Economy?

Have an elegant soirée to attend?  Do you have the right outfit? One that expresses your style and attitude?   What’s a person to do? RENT! Point your browser to Rent-The-Runway and you and Chanel are off to the ball.  

Renting instead of buying is nothing new; my father and I would often go to Sam’s Uhaul and rent tools to help us keep our yard presentable.  In the 60’s, people did not own large, powerful gardening tools. Today, we fill our garages and outdoor sheds with equipment used just once or twice a year.  People wanted to own “stuff” and it had to be professional quality. We stopped renting. Now, the tide seems to be turning.

Today, if you want that special tool, Google will find it and with a few clicks, it will be delivered to your door.  Then, when your yard work is complete, tech will whisk it away, saving you money and space in your garage. Tech makes renting so easy, why buy?  Do you really need all those tools and toys in your garage?

Uber did not invent taxi service, they made it easier.  At the tap of your finger, Uber directs the closest driver to pick you up and deliver you to your destination.  Not only is Uber easy, it is so easy that it has become a viable alternative to owning your own vehicle. Your pristine speed demon sits 80% of the day depreciating.  In fact, if you do take a long drive now and then, it is less expensive to rent a car than to drive your own car. Do we really need two cars in our garage (if there’s even room in your garage!)?

New to the rental game is Feathers furniture.  Feathers believes people do not really want to own expensive furniture pieces and lug them from house to house.  If you move into a new abode, they will simply pick up the old and send the new selections to your new space with no delivery charges. If you grow tired of of the furniture you selected, they will change the pieces out at no change.  In 2018, Waverly and Ikea sold just shy of 15 billion dollars of furniture in the US. Do you think Feathers VC’s might profit from their investment?

Is this the tipping point where we own less and rent when we need a specific product or service?  In many instances it makes so much more sense to rent versus own. If an item costs $150 to buy brand-new or $35 to rent, as the old saying goes, if I use it 4 times I break even.  Is investing in those “IF”s a good investment strategy?

A few relevant links:

Image courtesy of Ksenia Sergeeva via Pixabay

All is Good But Are Others Farther Ahead? Forget About it!

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.

Steve Jobs
Image by Richard Reid from Pixabay

It’s Friday afternoon, the sun is out and your business is strong.  In fact, you are ticking a bit ahead of your budget . Then a representative from from a good vendor walks in and informs you that your business is not keeping up with their other accounts.  Boom! The clouds roll in, the rain is pouring down, and you have to find out what is wrong. Horse poop! 

Always listen and learn; there are always new opportunities to research but remember to keep things in perspective…your perspective.  Short term thinking will only drive you and your team crackers. 

It is your business, not theirs.  You took the time to set your company’s goals and make a focused strategy to reach them.  Do not let others tell you what your business needs to be; it is not theirs.

Go back and enjoy your day.

Now, if you have not taken the time to set your game plan maybe it is time.  

Also published on the Decorative Plumbing & Hardware Association’s Connections Blog: Welcomed Thoughts from a Fellow (Jeff Valles): It’s Your Business! 

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.

Do Your Sales People Really Have All The Story?

Photo by rawpixel.com from Pexels

Your inside showroom sales person is finishing up a great meeting, their client is nodding like a bobble head and a HUGE order is now in play.  Then, the sales person says goodbye and walks straight to their terminal to check their email and text messages.  What?  With all that knowledge and information flowing fresh in their mind, they shift gears and go to email?

And yes, many outside sales people do the same thing.  They give a killer presentation at a top design firm’s office, then wander back to their car, checking email and text messages.  Once done with that task, they simply start their car and drive to the next appointment.  AGGHHH! Maybe, just maybe, they will review their notes and meeting memories before they go to bed tonight.

As both persons described above fiddle with their email and text messages, all that profitable information from their sales calls begins to diminish.  Honestly, we really have to save all those wonderful stories, action items and product notes noted ASAP in order to be completely accurate.  Sure, they took “detailed” meeting notes, but no one can write everything completely and correctly.  Good sales people are listening, thinking and talking.  With all that going on, even the best sales people will miss valuable pieces of information.  

Our short-term memory is designed to help us survive life-or-death circumstances – it is not programmed to recall that the designer we talked to is starting a large job in November.  That has no short-term value and your brain knows that, so the memory can very well slip away.  Everyone needs to make it a habit to stop and review their notes, both written and remembered, and if remembered, that important information should be recorded as quickly as possible. 

At your next sales meeting, take a moment to work with your associates to try and break this habit.  Many may most likely fire back that they have to make sure their other customers have not been trying to reach them with a monumental catastrophe.  The simple response is that the just-concluded meeting may have taken a few hours, so another 30 minutes shouldn’t make a difference.  However, if the meeting notes are incorrect or incomplete, they might indeed be creating a monumental catastrophe for the future.Endeavor to make it a habit that your sales team always takes the time after a meeting, call or training session to review and edit their notes.  Then give it one more go-over.  Now, they are set up to slam dunk this opportunity.

Also published on the Decorative Plumbing & Hardware Association’s Connection s Blog: Welcomed Thoughts from a Fellow (Jeff Valles): Do Your Sales People Really Have All The Story?