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In the new normal, keeping your top performers close to you is more important than ever. Between your employees, customers and best vendors, your leadership as a showroom manager or owner is at a critical time. Communication has never been more vital, and managing your financials is essential.
Working your showroom budget isn’t as fun as it’s cracked up to be. Asking for vendor support in the new normal will be very different. Many manufacturers hold funds close to the vest until you provide the plan that makes them want to set those dollars free.
Of course, with the recent changes to the business environment, you may want to rethink your plan and consider new consumer trends in the process. While a virtual showroom was goal No. 5 last year, it will quickly become goal No. 1 moving forward. Some immediate needs would look like:
• The ability to make appointments online with a mobile-friendly website;
• The ability to compare two items on your website; and
• A virtual tour of your website so customers know exactly what to expect when they come in.
In getting marketing funds for such things, the program isn’t always the program. Manufacturers and distributors spend a fair amount of time and effort spelling out what is and what is not covered, and how they can help your business grow and how they cannot. Maybe 20 percent of that is black and white.
The rest is up to the better showrooms to leverage. Now, with budgets chopped and forecasts rewritten, it is time to look at what would present the best return on investment for both parties. Is it a solid social media campaign? Is it a functional website?
Most everyone’s written policy is that you will have a budget representative of a percentage of purchases available for advertising, marketing, merchandising and physical improvements. You have to remember that the manufacturer has struggled as much as you have in the past few months. While new displays and marketing would be helpful to you, please understand the manufacturer has run through the very same stress tests you have.
I hope you have used some of the downtime to look at your displays, determined what isn’t giving you a return on investment, and used social media to help sell off the dead displays. At least that’s what the best showrooms are doing these days. Then, with open floor space, you can plan some compelling vignettes to be in line with the shift in trends that will quickly take place once social distancing relaxes.
Here is some advice I would encourage showrooms to consider:
• Stay loyal to your partners. If they got you to the dance, stick with them and don’t fall victim to the new kid on the block who is looking to set up displays in your showroom. Now is not the time to add — it is the time to edit. Consider working with your current vendors and up the game on social media or CRM. If working new displays and vignettes, be conservative in your approach and price points.
• Stay relevant to customers. Reassure them, explaining all the measures being taken to protect people — customers and employees. Foster a sense of community amid social distancing through engaging editorial content and virtual social gatherings involving customers. Give one-on-one attention to top customers. Do good things in the community to show you are aware and active in social causes.
• Protect the top line. Invest more in online sales and marketing. Update your CRM playbook to engage and sell to customers in the new circumstances; tactics could include virtual shopping sessions and direct messaging of top customers by store managers, for instance. For all initiatives, quickly evaluate expected upside and related costs.
Start preparing for the recovery, setting clear go/no-go deadlines for decisions. Test new approaches to the next sales campaign (such as a virtual showroom).
• Adjust operating expenditure and capital expenditure. Postpone events and other “nonconverting” marketing activities. Manage retail and other costs, such as hiring, training and visual merchandising updates.
Five Post-COVID-19 Consumer Trends
Here is what we can expect moving forward:
1. Accelerated shift to digital shopping. When safe, consumers will return to physical stores, possibly with a renewed passion for in-real-life experiences. Still, some digital shopping habits built during the outbreak will stick — especially if showrooms raise their game in online assortment, user experience and digital marketing.
2. Heightened environmental and social consciousness. Consumer concern about sustainability and social issues is set to continue, consolidating the importance of environmental and social governance. Enlightened brands may rethink the end-to-end product life cycle, supply chain management and disposal of unsold stock.
3. Rise of a post-aspirational mindset. Ethics will become as important as aesthetics as consumers prioritize purposeful brands.
4. Strengthened local pride. Public opinion during the outbreak has sometimes stigmatized certain nations, triggering assertive displays of cultural pride in those territories. Brands need to avoid inflaming these local sensitivities.
5. Expanding need for inclusion. Brands will need to use all their ingenuity to revamp their offer at accessible price points, reflecting the reduced spending power of many middle-class customers.
I know I pitched a good deal of advice and trend talk all in one column, and I also know as I write this that a good deal will change by the time it hits the streets. I hope all of you are safe and healthy and continue to make phone calls, not just emails, but phone calls to reach your customers daily.
The human connection and necessity of brick and mortar will only continue if we all make it the experience it is supposed to be.