No More Boring Retail Showrooms, PLEASE!

Great showrooms are memorable. Good showrooms have a few special products scattered about. Bad showrooms are well, boring. I believe those that take risks with their product and product presentations are more memorable and will win more customers in the long run.

A majority of today’s Internet shopping sites present a vast array of products that are easily viewed on your screen, but a customer is still not able to feel the material and see how colors pop in person. Luxury clients enjoy visiting creative spaces to see, touch and shop for beautiful products. This is why people leave their screens. This is why people seek out great brick and mortar showrooms.

So, what is a great showroom? A popular definition is one that continually both surprises and delights its customers with its engaging ambiance and inventive product mix supported by talented salespeople and five-star service. Simple right? Unfortunately nothing that can be labeled great is simple and therein lies the challenge and fun, yes FUN.

Your luxury showroom is catering to designers who fly all over the US and Canada and enjoy antiquing in Paris. If your showroom is populated with gray and white factory displays and has not had a colorful addition in months, these good customers will visit once and move on. They do not need to shop in your place, there are plenty of other boring showrooms within driving distance. If your showroom is to make their go-to list, you must let them know you are willing to take chances by showing new, unique, even startling products and learn what they crave today

The next step is threefold:

  1. First and most important: before you start working on numbers two and three, you must set a regular time, I suggest monthly, to quietly walk your showroom looking for ways to make it great. I suggest focusing on: 
    • Displays that are tired and need updating.
    • Displayed products that are not selling, boring and need to be replaced.
    • Discovering places where you can add an attractive display, small or large. This display should both provoke your salespeople and captivate your good clients.
  2. Second, commit to #1 above and start having fun in your showroom working to make it full of surprise and delight.
  3. Finally, start learning what you customers purchase and discover what they are dreaming of. This comes from your sales data and setting up opportunities to talk with your good clients. We will dig deeper into this in following post.

Now, let’s get to the fun part.

“The one thing we all agreed on, our chief aim, was to be totally unpredictable and never to repeat ourselves,” Mr. Terry Jones of Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

So why not have a bit of fun in your showroom. I am not saying that you have to completely redesign your showroom with a Candyland color scheme, but use your imagination and create punches of color and inventive product vignettes that will challenge your repeat clientele, intrigue new shoppers and keep your sles people hopping. People love to see and touch shiny new things.

One note of caution: bold displays lose their edge over a period of 6 to 9 months. Construction should be simple and easy to change out. Paint and wallpaper are easy to change. Also, try to work with vendors that understand that products in your bold settings will increase the visibility of their brands and increase bands awareness.

Luxury showrooms are there to delight and challenge their good customers, so make some changes and get out of the white and gray palette. It is really dull.

P.S: A good play here is to allow a good, strong willed, designer to design the vignette. This helps them extend their brand’s reach and you will presents a new look to your clientele.

P.S #2.: Those daring displays will play great on social media. If you can set six and change one out every month, you will always have interesting content for you and your customers to share.

A version of this article appeared in the January 31, 2020 issue of the DPHA’s newsletter, Connections.

Related reading: From Nielsen.com: Battle of the Brands: Consumer Disloyalty is Sweeping the Globe

Vendors, May We Please Improve Training

The quality of training in the showroom business is all over the place. Training is not like selling; they are two distinct talents.  A few companies create solid content but have not trained their trainers on how to train (say that fast three times). Other vendors weakly educate the local representative and tell them to go forth and educate all involved. They send them in with catalogs and some samples.  Really, is that how a brand should be presented?

Here are some notes:

  • No one looks forward to product knowledge training sessions.  Showroom salespeople are extremely busy and do not want to give up the time during the day.  Also, no one wants to come in early or stay late.  
  • Abide by the Venture Capital pitch 30/30 rule.  No font should be smaller than 30 pts. and no presentation should be longer than 30 minutes.  In a perfect environment our minds can only stay focused for a maximum of 20 minutes. So build a solid 20 minute presentation and leave time for questions. Do not overreach, you will not gain a thing.  In fact, you will lose what you gained in the first 20 minutes.
  • Do not train on a product that is not yet on display or ready to ship.  The salespeople will forget all the information by the time you are ready to receive orders, even if it is just a week away.
  • Beta-test your training content in the field.  Present your new training program to a few local showrooms, then note and implement the feedback.  
  • Train your own customer service team first.  Present the training draft to them first and gain their feedback.  Then, when a showroom salesperson calls with a question that references the training, everyone is on the same page.
  • Do not hand out any reading material during the presentation. You want the trainees to look at the presenter, not at a price book.
  • Recap, ask questions and offer rewards during the 20 minute training.  Questions keep them engaged and rewards help all stay attentive throughout.
  • Do share actual product samples…LOTS of samples.  It is proven that if people have product in their hands they will remain engaged.
  • If offering food, save it for AFTER the training.  If they have food during the session, they will focus on that.

Finally, if you really want to do it right, hire a 100%, full-time trainer.  As we noted above, your talented sales people and representatives are not always adequate trainers.  Do you really want to get into an automobile with new brakes that were installed by a mechanic that was trained by the brake manufacturer’s local salesperson?  Then why do you ask talented salespeople to educate the salespeople that sell your brand’s story to design and building professionals?  

If your training content and presentation are solid, you’ll always get the best product knowledge training time slot and the showrooms salespeople will gladly attend ready to learn.

A version of this article appeared in the February Issue of Supply House Times

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

No, No, Not That Mask, Oh Vendor, Oh Vendor!

A large vendor had just entered our market and we were just crushing it.  We had no displays. When a customer sounded interested, we brought them into the warehouse and opened boxes to present the products.  Every time, the product captivated both the customer and the sales associates.  This was going to be good.  

Then, the corporate mask descended over the product line.  The rules and conditions of their “program” appeared.  To become a full-fledged distributor, you HAVE to display this, and it MUST be supported with these products.  Oh, and the display WILL look like this.  

A large portion of the line was not for our customer base, and the display looked like an alien spaceship.  It was…unique.  We pleaded our case and were politely informed that they would think about it.  A few months later a quasi-competitor brought in the entire program and we were told to order from them.  By then, sales had diminished to nothing.  It was an opportunity missed.  Even more frustrating for me was that I had done the same stupid thing in my early years at Phylrich.  It was a hard lesson learned.

Each DPH showroom is unique for the simple reason that they are all owned and managed by confident, assertive individuals.  On paper, luxury businesses may focus on the same target markets, but their styles, product mixes and cultures are crafted by their owner.  Today they are referred to as entrepreneurs.  They are not generic individuals, their businesses are not generic businesses and they should not have to follow a generic program.   

Let’s also not forget the premium and luxury market clientele, whom many of showrooms target.  Interior designers and style-conscious homeowners do not gravitate to “factory displays”.  Stylists and style lovers are attracted to knowledgeable people presenting dynamic displays.  I cannot even begin to number the times a person of these talented professions would tell me that they were so turned off by that sterile “generic display”.  

Please do not make successful showrooms wear the corporate mask of what a remote merchandising person concocted as best for the general market.  There is not one general luxury market.

Meet with your distributors and co-create a go-to-market strategy backed with numerical goals and targeted market penetration.  With a program in place, both parties can get to work and make it happen.  Please stop trying to put a constraining mask on a successful entrepreneur and their company.  This is a sure-fire path to mediocrity.

So on November 1, 2019, after the ghosts of the past have settled back home, let’s stop with the black and white ideas and rote proposals and let’s work together to surprise and delight the style-conscious individuals by removing the generic mask and let the showrooms unique style shine.

A version of this article appeared in the November 1, 2019 issue of DPHA Connections.

Websites Only Take my Jobs on Price! Horse Pucky…

Earlier I wrote an article with the opening line, “So why is it that 47% of top interior designers purchase products online?” and most of your comments were that the websites offered free freight and lower prices.  Wake up gang, that isn’t the major reason designers are buying online. We are losing more business to digital savvy designers that are specifying and buying on the Internet. Jobs that we will NEVER know about. Sure, there are top shelf luxury designers that are price obsessed, but most are looking for easy access to information when and where they want it.  

Every time you lose a job to a low-ball bid, you hear about it directly from your customer.  It hurts badly and sticks in your mind! All that time, all that effort, amounted to nothing.  What about the job at that same design house that was completely specified and purchased online?  You knew absolutely nothing about it and were not involved at all. What is worse for your business, losing a job to a low balling #@!*#**, or never getting a whiff of a large job as it was all worked on online?  

After the recession, website companies remained unsophisticated and price was their key advantage.  The surviving sites, and new designer-oriented sites, offer an addictive combination of an easily navigable user interface and anywhere, anytime accessibility with live solid phone and chat support.  This is why talented designers are working on these sites. It has absolutely nothing to do with price. Do not mix these two up. Price competition is not going away, but in the luxury market it is not as big an issue as we portray it.  People will take the easiest path first.

If a customer comes in and says they want to order a $6,000 list bathtub from lowestofthelow.com, just let them.  Make a note on your calendar to check back when the job is trimming out and ask how that worked out.  I think you will remind them not to do that again. I suggest not fighting individual pricing debates, unless it happens often.  There will always be sites and stores that offer silly pricing. It is really not worth your team’s time, and you are worth your profit.  Take the energy and focus it on the future.

I was not aware how many talented designers were specifying products online until we started to receive RFQs that were 100% built on websites.  When we reached out to these good clients, they told us it was nothing against our team or showrooms, it was that our website was hard to work. So they matriculated their favorite brands’ websites that offered them the intuitive interface they craved.  Now that hurt. We did everything right except offer our good customers the tools they wanted.

We have to believe and think big.  Big like when you opened our business.  We knew everyone would come because our look was so damn good. Let’s take that same attitude and build magnetic web sites. 

Note: Please take another look at the proposed strategy in an earlier post.  “So why is it that 47% of top interior designers purchase products online?” It offers a few tips.

A version of this article appeared in the November 256 issue of DPHA Connections.

Did You Know Design Professionals are Purchasing 47% Online?

Photo by TOPHEE MARQUEZ from Pexels

Anna Brockway, co-founder and president of Chairish shared the following data in her presentation at Business of HomesFuture of Homes 2019 Conference in New York.

  • 84 percent of professional designers start their sourcing online.
  • 81 percent of designers buy high-end items after first viewing them online.
  • 47 percent of all products in a typical design project are purchased online.

After sharing the data, Ms. Brokway reflected. “Considering that furnishings are the third-largest spend after the household itself and cars, the shift to online should come as no surprise.”  I would venture that any significant purchase somehow involves the Internet. 

Before you start looking for a buyer for your showroom let’s dig in a bit.  These statistics do not say where the designers spend a majority of their time shopping nor what type of website the purchases were made.  Were they purchased from internet only sites or the internet site of their preferred showrooms? We continually hear that customers want to buy when and where they want.  In a designer showroom, on the phone, by email or online. Your showrooms must be where your customers are. Your showroom and team is the most knowledgeable in your market and it is time to investigate a digital expansion. I think it is time for designer showrooms to better understand their target customers and what they expect.

I suggest meeting them individually, starting with the key interior designers in your market.  Please do not only select designers by dollar sales. Quite a few designers use a DPH showroom to make or confirm their specifications and then send the specification list to the homeowner or the build or the plumber.  You know who I am talking about.  

Here are some helpful questions to get what you both need to work together effectively:

  • How can we improve our bricks and mortar showroom to make it easier for you to work with and without your clients?
  • How can we improve our website to make easier for you to work with and without your clients?
  • Many “A” designers ask their clients to visit specific websites and note what they like.  It is a big time saver.
  • Do you want access to your quotes online?  If so, what information do you need?  
  • What information would you like us to send you in a monthly product DPH update?  New Products? Best projects finished? Top sales people selections and comments…

Take all that glorious information (data) and save it. 

Then repeat the process with the builders that build what your top designers specify and might be purchasing.  This is not about only your good builder accounts. Talk with those that are in your target market even if they do not buy from you.  You will learn a lot. 

Now you have a lot of data that you need to work through and decide what your next steps will be.  

This is not the simple path but, I strongly feel, an important opportunity to grow your business.  It would be a shame to let this business go to another just because your bricks and mortar business is so strong but missing business that you can capture on the Internet.  The Internet is not going away and it will continue to gain market share.

A version of this article was published to DPHA’s Connections 10/18, 2019, https://dpha-sales-thoughts.blogspot.com/2019/10/welcomed-thoughts-from-fellow-jeff_16.html

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.

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.