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.

COVID-19 Opp: It’s A Good Time to Communicate with Your Customers & Improve Your Team

As I was reading the Monocle Minute’s update on Italy’s CONVID-19 situation, this paragraph popped out: “La Scatola Lilla, a bookshop in Milan, might be closed but the bookseller, Cristina di Canio, isn’t on holiday. Instead she is recommending a book a day and taking orders for free home deliveries.”  

Yes, the next few months will be rough, but there are opportunities to be had. Customers may not feel comfortable coming into your showroom or office. Why not ask them if you can deliver samples for a meeting and sit in to help present your part of the job?  This can be at their office or at their client’s preferred location. This is a good time to show how you can support your loyal clients. 

If they are also slow, ask them if they have time to talk about your shared business. This is a great opportunity to gather information on your product mix, service and sales support. They might be interested in you training their team on key product categories. This can be done in person or via Skype, FaceTime, Zoom or any other digital video conferencing tool. 

If your showroom slows down, this becomes a good time to improve your team. Reach out to manufacturers to see if they have time to do a video PK. These don’t have to be in person!  There is a plethora of video classes on everything from sales to AI. You could take a few key personnel, put them in the conference room and play a video discussing sales techniques and follow up with a round table discussion.

This is a challenging time and you cannot wait for your customers to come back to you. This is a good time to reach out to those customers that do not buy from you.  You just might get the attention and earn a new customer. In slow times it is those think creatively that will emerge with a stronger business. 

P.S: Should you like any suggestions on videos do use with your staff please email me

Image by www_slon_pics from Pixabay

To Sell Products To Experience Junkies, Tell Them Stories

It is all about the experience economy.  Millennials would rather buy an experience versus buy a product and they love the journey involved discovering those experiences. An experience that is memorable and that they will relish. 

These are the last of the mall kids.  Everyday they ventured to the mall to experience life with their friends.  Not to shop but to be together and share wild stories of what they will do in the future.  They have matured, they have replaced those daily dream sessions with a passion to make dreams realities.  They desire to encounter the new, the unique and the thrilling. They want experiences they will always remember and can share with their tribe.  Clothes fade from style, cars degrade and cheapen and rented homes can be vacated at a moment’s notice. They are so temporary. Our minds stay true to our viewpoint.  What we wanted to recall about our trip to some exotic destination remains in glorious images. The bad hotel and that one meal that made you sick have been minimized or recast as comedies.  The trip in our mind was WON-DER-FUL.

That is what the next luxury monied generation is: experience junkies.  And that is a good thing. They are not looking for the products that are sold in Home Depot, Macy’s and the local supermarket.  They are searching for stores that offer an always changing palette of small manufacturers and importing vendors that are centered on creating new looks or innovative ways for a product to function.  These stores will remain the destination when Millennial, Y and Z generation are looking for special products to transform spaces in their home into a unique experience from themselves and their guests.  It is about making a statement.  

That is the future of non-price-competitive retail.  New, different and sometimes challenging products. All selected with a story to move it far away from the expected and everyday.  A product with a memorable experience to share.

Image by Diego Delso at Creative Commons

Being listened To Can Also Be Transformative For All Involved.

We all know if we listen effectively, we will better understand our clients and partner’s thoughts, needs and desires.  This knowledge will help us expand our knowledge and create great solutions.

The other wonderful benefit of listening effectively is how it engages and rewards the person you are listening to.  They are immediately flattered. Think how you feel when someone attentively listens to you. You feel that what you are saying has meaning.  When people know you are listening to their every word, they will feel more comfortable sharing information with you. They will then repay you by listening carefully to your thoughts.  This forms a strong partnership of understanding and trust.  

Listening well is a powerful talent no matter your job and improves with constant practice.

Suggest reading: 4 Exercises That Prove Listening Matters by Allison Press from the IDEO Blog

How To Use Your 2020 Data To Better Understand, Support and Delight Your Customers

In the last post we discussed building the ultimate data collection process for multi brand stores to place your business in the best possible position to grow. The more you can learn about your business, your customers and your targeted market, the better prepared you will be for the newly emerging algorithms, artificial intelligence support and insight.

For now, let’s look at the data you do have. Let’s set it up to answer questions that will allow us to better understand what is happening in our business and what we can do better to improve and gain market share.

Start with asking your ERP system to create the following spreadsheet for up to the last five years. It will be a big file, but full of data to help you and your team better understand what is actually happening in business.  

I suggest the following 11 headers for each line item invoiced:

  • Invoice Date
  • Customer 
  • Qty shipped
  • Vendor
  • Vendor Product Number
  • Description
  • Finish (if you can)
  • Margin (if you can’t pull this information directly, you can create a simple formula with information below)
  • Total line cost
  • Total line sale
  • Showroom salesperson

Please note here, only ask for the data if you are confident that the data in each of the cells is correct. If you had any past data integrity problems or consistent mis-entry issues, do not include those topics or time periods in your spreadsheet. As the saying goes; Garbage in, garbage out.

Once you have this data, make sure each cell in a column is formatted uniformly. If they are not, the data will be off when combined for a table or report.

Find your best and brightest spreadsheet expert and ask them to set up a pivot table and pivot chart with this data. If you cannot find such a person, ask your accountant, myself or YouTube. Click here for a simple overview of pivot tables to get you started.

From this data you will be able to ask the following questions:

  • What am I actually selling by: 
    • Vendor
    • Finish
    • Product category
  • Are my customers:
    • Purchasing everything they need from me?
    • At what margin?
    • What product categories that I sell that they are not buying from me? 
  • What are my salespeople selling:
    • By brand
    • By function
    • By finish
    • What are they not selling?
  • What are my margins by:
    • Brand
    • Customer
    • Vendor
    • Salesperson
    • Product category

Notice that I have included questions related to product categories even though that is not one of the spreadsheet headers. We do not have exact information here, but we know that most brands are primarily focused on one product category. It is not a perfect metric, but it will offer you added insight into what your customers are buying/not buying. This filter will help you identify which product categories and vendors are reaching your margin goals, opportunities to sell more product categories to your good accounts, and if your salespeople are remembering to sell all the products you offer.

Once you have these answers, along with answers to questions you deem important to your business, you can focus on the opportunities you see that offer the largest upside and are the easiest to address. 

After you set this up, you can run the data output and create your pivot table reports at the end of each month. You will now have actual, black and white data to allow you and your team see what is actually going on and plot a course to improve sales, margins and team performance. Not to mention getting the right products on display and building a more dynamic inventory.

Aversion of this post appeared in the February 14, 2020 issue of Connections, the Decorative Plumbing & Hardware weekly newsletter.

Is Your Data Helping Your Business Grow?

Last posting we discussed ways to help your showroom presence add pop and sizzle to captivate and delight your customers. Now let’s now dig into collecting the best data possible to give vendors and showrooms insight into what is working in your business, what is not working and what steps will improve your business.

I suggest building this model from the multi-brand store’s perspective. The showrooms offer a more micro-client focus, allowing all a deeper dive into the market and a better understanding of its potential. The first step is to build out your Enterprise Resource Planning program (ERP) data collection system to gain a better understanding of the viability of your product mix, current customers, vendors and target customers and markets.

Look at your computer system’s data entry matrix for your customer relationship management (CRM), accounts receivable and payable, purchasing and shipping and receiving departments and note what additional data topics you would like to add. This is the time to dream big as it is easier to remove than add topics. Before you finalize your data capture matrix, think of problems you dream of solving and opportunities you would love to capture. Then ask yourself, what data do I need to win these battles?

Now for the fun part – all of this data must be seamlessly linked to all of your businesses databases. The sales data must interface with the marketing data (CRM), the purchasing, shipping and receiving data and the accounts payable and receivable data. All these data silos must be able to seamlessly talk to each other to offer you the best possible understanding of your customers, vendors, your teams and your target markets.

This is the dream package and if you are not collecting this depth of data that is easily shared across all your company’s platforms today, I suggest you start planning a way to collect this information as soon as you are able. This information will be the foundation of your business decisions and a necessity in next few years as Artificial Intelligence, AI, becomes evolves into the foundational platform of yours and your competitor’s computer programs.

All of this data is available from your vendors, your team and in your mind. If it is an abstract topic, set your company guidelines and add the information per your team’s definition. This is primarily information from and for your business. Get with your team, hash it out, set parameters, define the terms and get to it. It is not important that people outside your business understand this, these classifications are for your own business analysis. It only matters that you and your team know what they stand for and how they are defined.

Once you have this data, it may be filtered, sorted and broken down in countless ways to give you powerful insight into your business. Today, data of this variety and quality can be manipulated by Excel or an off the shelf SQL database and, very soon your AI helper.

It is important that multi-brand showrooms and their vendors work closely together on this. Data updates such as pricing, individual delivery times, order acknowledgements and updates must be easily uploaded into these dynamic databases. Stores must also share their sales data with their key vendors. The showroom can remove the customer names, company names and their private CRM info, but the overall data should be shared. This is not the time for hiding and hoping. It is time to build true relationships focused on customer service and generating quality margins.

The more comprehensive the data you are collecting is, the better you will be able to understand what is working well, what can be improved, and enhance your strategic planning for your company’s future. Remember, no matter how powerful the tech, the applicability and insight of its output is directly dependent on the quality and depth of the data collected and the focused vision of the questions the computer is asked to answer.

Below is a suggester starter list of of the customer and market information that should be collected to create a flexible database to crush your competition.

Take you time to plan out this data collection carefully. This is not about speed, it is about quality. Please take the time to this best.

For the short term, the next post will suggest ways to work with your current ERP data now to offer more insight into your customers and to improving your customers experience.

  • Customer
  • Company
  • Customer Type
  • Job Name (if applicable to your business)
  • Sales Person
  • Invoice Date
  • Invoice #
  • Job Notes and Information (if applicable to your business)
  • Brand Sold
  • Product #
  • Color, Finish…
  • Product Classification
    • Filter for where the product is used or applied… (Blouse vs Pants, Kitchen vs bathroom, Skin cream vs Foot cream…)
  • Product Function (if applicable to your business)
  • Series Name (if applicable to your business)
  • Style
  • Quantity Sold
  • Sell Price each
  • Net Price each
  • Total Price paid for product
  • Total Net Product Cost
  • Customer Influencers
    • Referred by
    • Advertisment
    • Google
  • Job miscellaneous notes
  • WHATEVER ELSE YOU DEEM IMPORTANT

Aversion of this post appeared in the February 7, 2020 issue of Connections, the Decorative Plumbing & Hardware weekly newsletter.

An Engaging Way to Start Your Sales Call

Before you go into an account for the first time do your research and discover something about this business that you really admire. Plan to open your conversation with a question relating to that action. Number one: It never hurts to let them know you studied their business.  Number two: You are there because you admire something that they’re doing and want to be a part of it. Finally, if you open with a positively-toned question about their business, they are immediately positively engaged in the conversation. People love to talk about their businesses.

Do not simply pick something out of the air and say this is really great. If you are lying or blowing smoke you will get caught and it will be a difficult slog to reach your goals for the meeting.  It might be tough to get back in the door.

If you cannot find anything you truly admire about this company, that tells me that scheduling a meeting is a waste of both their time and yours.  I suggest moving on to the next target.

Starting a meeting in a positive tone and engaging your would-be client with an intriguing question will place you in a possible position to earn a new partnership.

Flowers Are Also Nice

When was the last time you said thank you to one of your good customers.

Not, thank you for the order.

Not, we have this new delight for you to see.

Not, we have not seen you in a while?

Just a simple card saying thank you.

No more, no less.

Flowers are also nice.

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 First Law of Listening

“An experience makes its appearance only when it is being said,” – Hannah Arendt 

And if we do not hear it, it disappears. 

We are told again and again, that the art of listening is the most important talent a person can have.  To be able to really hear what other people are trying to share with us is an advantageous skill.  Now we must ensure that the person or people you are listening to are comfortable so they will share their true thoughts.  They must know that they are speaking with someone that is genuinely interested in what they have to say because, if that’s not true, why meet?  When people are comfortable their true insights emerge, and we learn so much more. Honestly shared information from diverse backgrounds builds the foundation for the best new ideas. We want people to share what they really believe so together we can all get better. 

For example, you have arranged a meeting at a trade show with a key vendor to discuss projections and the pricing schedule for the upcoming year.  Now this meeting will require focus.  Your vendor has been meeting with dozens of people from all over the world, each with unique challenges and cultural concerns.  You have been skipping from booth to booth also talking with people from different countries and investigating everything from drains to crystal handles.

To make this meeting as productive as it must be, time clocks must slow down and all attendees need to be reset to focus on the opportunities to be discussed.

Let’s start with making all involved feel important.  If it is a one-on-one meeting, shake their hand, look straight into their eyes and thank them for sharing their time.  Make sure they know you are looking forward to this conversation.  If it is a multi-person meeting, welcome everybody and take a moment and introduce everybody.  Even if the group is familiar with each other, still take the time to bring them into the meeting by simply acknowledging each person directly.  

Now, with everyone feeling comfortable, it is time to get to work and hear all of the amazing conversations.  

A version of tis article appeared in the January 24, 202 issue of DPHA’s Newsletter, Connections