How To Leverage Your Brick and Mortar Brand Online

Okay, we all are cooped up at home. Our normal workflow is gone and some of us are making busywork so we feel productive and to keep us from going bonkers.

Now that you have both a clear mind and time, let’s look into some new ways to grow your business. Have you ever thought to leverage your brick and mortar brand and go big time e-commerce? Have you thought about 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, and right now they are all stuck at home. By simply leveraging your day-to-day brick and mortar showroom business you can be THE player online.

Before building your online business plan, let’s dig deep to make sure your plan covers all affecting factors. 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. Keep in mind that your target customer in this instance is likely your current showroom customers, as they can’t access your showrooms right now. You may not even need to be fully e-commerce, but simply allow your clients to browse on your site and then receive a call or email from your showroom staff who may be working remotely.

  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 only shop for your core products 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 brick and mortar showrooms? 
    1. Free freight
    2. Expedited delivery
    3. Free returns on all products
  3. What factor will you use for marking up 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?

I suggest you take the time to answer these questions. With this information you will be able to build a better selection site that will delight your customers. After all, if you build a go-to site you will have added another quality way for your customers to interact with brand.

P.S.: In the e-commerce world it is easier to start small with one profitable, underserved product niche. This path allows you and your team to market your E-store to a 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 and keep sane…

A version of this article was included in DPHA’s newsletter Connections.

Value = Experience / Price

We are in the midst of the largest retail shakeup in history.  To put the DPH showroom performance in perspective, Coresight Research notes in its November 15 update, “US retailers have announced 9,052 store closures and 3,956 store openings.”  Having just returned from the annual DPHA conference, I can tell you that the overall feeling is that business is good and will remain that way for the next 18 months.  While this is not a statistic, deeply researched or confirmed, it has been a good indicator for years. I would like to congratulate all DPH showrooms for continuing to run ahead of the brick and mortar pack.  Let’s make sure we stay ahead.

Think back to the time before the term “customer experience” was used to evaluate everything from Jiffy Lube to Hermes.  As the industry began to pull itself out of the muck of the recession, the term “product value” was all the rage. Its catch phrase was: “Is that a good value for my money?”  Customers were looking for value – the best products for their dollars, not low price. 

As the industry became skilled on the “value” sales conversation, that term slipped into the background and “customer experience” emerged as the overall, undefinable, defining metric.  Repeatedly we read and have been told that, “All great businesses offer a top-notch customer experience.” We see it referred to in case study after case study but, as with “value,” the challenge is to define and measure great customer experiences.

Angel investor Darren Herman offers guidance in his blog, Operating Partner.  He proposed the following simple formula:

Value = Experience / Price

On first thought, that formula appears to be too simple, when you evaluate the equation in more detail, it makes sense.  The kicker is defining experience. Price is simple: the lower it goes, the lower the experience factor can be to still deliver attractive value. But, if you are playing on the luxury-premium level, you have to improve the experience to justify higher pricing. 

It has been proven continuously that the lowering price value strategy is a never-ending race to the bottom and that’s not a successful formula for DPH luxury experiences.  The decorative plumbing and hardware industry can deliver on its value paradigm by focusing on the following five touchpoints: Showroom, Website, Salespeople, Customer Service and Vendors. 

Breaking them down into easily defined deliverables allows you to create a manageable list to use as a brand experience evaluation scorecard (equally applicable to Manufacturers, Representatives and Showrooms).

  • Website
    • Is your website easy to use and comfortable for your customers to shop?
    • Does your website offer the information your customers require?
    • Is your website easy for Google to find?
    • Are your key vendors’ presentations and product pages up to date?
    • Is your website respected more than your competition’s?
    • For e-commerce sites, does your showroom’s in-stock inventory cater to the products your customers really need before the vendor can deliver? 

Side Note: Today’s customer wants to do their work whenever and wherever they are.  To have a poor website is interpreted as you are not interested in their business.  An effective and easy-to-use website is a must have.

  • Salespeople
    • Are your salespeople more knowledgeable and respected than your competition?
    • Are they consistent from customer to customer?
    • Do they listen actively?
    • Do they want to improve?

Side Note: Every time I am at a showroom or attending a conference the number one problem our colleagues mention is finding good people.  Yet, few companies offer any type of sales training to make their good people better. I have never met a salesperson that cannot get better and that includes me.

  • Customer Service
    • Do you offer uncompromising cradle-to-grave service?
    • Do you proactively communicate both good and bad information with your clients as their job progresses?
    • Do you reach out to the client and end users after the job is finished?
    • Is your product return process painful for the client? Are they presumed guilty before being proven innocent?

Side Note: A significant factor in the continuing growth of showrooms and vendors is based on selling more to good customers.  Will that hold true if you continue to offer the least?

  • Vendors
    • Are they what they say they are?
    • Do they train and keep your purchasing, sales and customer service teams up to date?
    • Do they design and craft products in line with their pricing?
    • Do they deliver on what they promise?
    • Are their demands in line with their value to your business?

Side Note:  Vendors, when was the last time you surveyed the key 100 showroom salespeople about what they think will help your brand improve?  When was the last time you and your distributor showroom surveyed their good builder and trade customers about what they think will help your brand improve? Sitting in your office listening to a few loud folks is not the best way to build your brand’s foundation.

  • Showroom
    • Is your showroom easy and comfortable for your customers to shop?
    • Is your showroom easy to use by your salespeople?
    • Is your showroom perceived as stylish by your core design trade customers?
    • Are your key vendors’ displays up to date?
    • Does your showroom’s inventory contain the products your customers need before the vendor can deliver?

Side Note: Maintaining a showroom is hard work and expensive, but when done effectively is can be very profitable.  The more vendors, representatives and distributor showrooms stay in step, the better for all parties involved.

This list provides a tool to evaluate your business and to determine your customer experience rating.  Each point can be valued good or bad or with a five-point scale. Determine which metric works best for your business and team.

There is one other factor to consider.  Each point on the list focuses on eliminating FRICTION your customers encounter when working with your company.  Both trade customers and end-users HATE friction. Removing friction requires an investment of money and time. Willingly taking back a polished nickel lavatory faucet that looks as if it was attacked by a steel grill brush is not easy or cheap, but necessary.  

Do not lose sight of the fact that you are working to increase your customers’ perceived value of your business.

The bottom line is that each individual customer will evaluate your business.  Having a metric to determine how your business is perceived will improve your customers’ experiences and help you develop effective strategies to address weaknesses.

A version of this article appeared in the January issue of Kitchen & Bath Design News