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

The Unique Customer Journey

Your company has been successfully working with this wonderful client for years, but today seems a bit different.  Do you handle them the same way as in the past?  Do you start asking questions to learn what is different or do you simply listen a bit harder and slow down.  I vote for the latter, you?  

Truth be told, we must always keep in mind that every time a customer visits your showroom, their path on every purchase path is unique.  Not only is this meeting unique, but every meeting pertinent to this one purchase will be unique.  Your customer still retains the trust, but time moves on and situations change.  Who knows what has happened personally or professionally to any of the players since you last spoke? 

Your main job is not to expose any issues, but engage them in a way that they know you are there to help, listen and learn.  If you start probing and expose issues, you will have to deal with what is exposed.  If that happens, the underlying issue is their trust in you. You are the outsider, therefore, the easy scapegoat. Be carful here.

Am I digging too deep on this?  Most luxury showrooms,, on average, close roughly 35% of its bids.  We can improve that percentage if we improve the way we engage our customers.  
Little things matter.  One little flub can throw a monkey wrench into hard won trust and confidence of an old or new customer.

I think you will agree that every sale is unique. Understand that each time clients enter your showroom they are on a unique journey.  Engage with them to learn all you can. 

I suggest taking a few minutes in your net sales team meeting and discuss this.  This simple awareness is important for your new budding sales heroes to understand.  New salespeople are wrongly looking for repeatable sales processes to follow, and that will not play well in the long run. The best salespeople approach each meeting with an open mind. Their experience has them ready to engage each fresh opportunity and the unique collection of issues that job will drop in their laps. 

Image Photo by Ehimetalor Unuabona on Unsplash

A version of this post appeared in the January 10 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

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:

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.

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.

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.