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Every time I sit down and write a column or article, I am concerned that by the time it hits the streets, the world will be a different place and the content may be irrelevant. I am both fascinated and frustrated with the new normal and how it is impacting the world of decorative showrooms.
Overall, I would say that business is surprisingly good, even with traffic down in many locations; many showrooms I speak to are on pace to exceed goals and are adjusting staff and practices to keep things moving. I truly miss visiting showrooms and retail stores where great service and inspiration for articles are born.
While the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated everything most independent showrooms didn’t want — such as e-commerce and expanded hours to manage business — there is a part of me that is grateful because it finally is making decorative showrooms improve their online image, modify their hours and update their operation to work for the customer.
Targeting the Luxury Shopper
There is no doubt that this year is going to change design and fashion in the bath, kitchen and lighting industry. As people shift their focus to health and wellness, the ability for your showroom to perform has never been greater.
It’s all about how luxury shoppers view home improvement decisions; better products with longevity and a story of how the product will improve their wellness are trending. Smart home lighting, HVAC and kitchen products are all in high demand right now. My friends in the appliance category are having a record year. If I would have brought up the same issue in March, they would have predicted a nine-month sales year.
Luxury customers do not mind shelling out for full-price items if they offer long-term value or are perceived as investment pieces. They’re also driven less by sales/discounts and more by emotions. These customers are willing to pay more for high-quality items as they opt for a quality piece that will endure, especially if they are moving into a new home — which also is trending right now with a hot real estate market.
Shoppers are paying special attention to staple items such as water conditioning. Shelling out extra for such items pay off in the long term when considering quality of life and value of the home.
Yes, there is the Amazon crowd that buys on availability and commodity price, and as much as every showroom complains about it, they are the same people who use Amazon every day for their own shopping needs. The people who remodel using Amazon are no longer your customers; you must find other brands of products to display in your showroom, and possibly expand your product mix to survive.
If the luxury customer is what your brick-and-mortar showroom needs to target, then you need to cater to the customer who appreciates and rewards exceptional service and expertise.
I can’t speak for the rest of the country, but in the northeast, the real estate market has an inventory problem. As the suburban flight is in full swing, I was able to witness firsthand how easy it is to sell a home — and how difficult it is to find another one.
One thing I noticed is practically every existing property in our market on realtor.com was in dire need of renovation. I don’t think I have ever seen more crystal handle faucets in my lifetime. Very few homes in the price range I was looking at displayed any lighting, bath or kitchen features that I would find appealing or even worth mentioning.
To me, this is a great opportunity! Try it yourself. Go online in your marketplace and look at the interiors of the homes on the market. Every one of these homes, as quickly as they are selling, are going to need updating. Are you doing anything to reach out or market to these new homeowners?
These home buyers are going to be looking for the health and wellness products, and better functional products that luxury shoppers want. There is no better time to communicate via a well-planned marketing approach. And I don’t mean blanket social media or mailers. It must be focused, personal and time-sensitive.
As the coronavirus outbreak has transformed how we work and live, its full impact on our industry has yet to be seen. I think it will cause a fundamental shift in every facet, from the narrowing of product lines to new methods of inventory management.
Lead times are increasing now and will continue to do so. Customers are becoming so used to online shopping that they will visit showrooms only in the final stages of their decision-making. This will change the style of sales in the showroom and change the need for higher-quality people in the showrooms.
I have mentioned before and will continue to say that the salesperson is now a trusted advisor, with the purpose of confirming whether what the customer has selected is going to work together, and an assurance of style. That will be at the point where the sale shifts to your business — so your online platform and brick-and-mortar store must be prepared to take the sale.
Another interesting trend I see worth mentioning is shoppers do not mind paying full price when there is charity tied to the transaction. They shop for a cause concept; a percentage of proceeds donated to relief efforts for COVID-19 could be a way for you to go to market.
It’s apparent that businesses must start speaking through the lens of being sensitive and being human about the situations of COVID-19, as well as other societal issues. Customers are looking for showrooms with a human touch and talking in a voice that’s relevant right now. They must be transparent about how they’re managing their business, the health and safety of employees and customers — and all the things that matter in this moment.
So, before this column becomes irrelevant, you should consider doing a few things:
Market the health and wellness features of your showroom to those who are buying existing homes.
Continue promoting the fact you are a small business with the best people in the business, exceptional product knowledge and hospitality.
Try to do something for the community that would help with COVID-19 relief efforts.
Continue the theater of cleanliness in your showrooms.
Watch for changes in trends, and start changing your showroom displays now to enhance those features your luxury customers are looking for.
Stop worrying about Amazon and start focusing on the lines that aren’t sold on Amazon (at least not at commodity pricing).
Become an expert at water-conditioning, air-quality, smart home, or whatever your market needs.
Consider offering installation, or some other game-changing service as a differentiator.
I hope one or two of these concepts will help your sales exceed goals as well. There’s a little 2020 left to endure, so let’s make the best of it and take advantage of every opportunity given to us.