Speaking to showroom staff across the country, it seems many consumers have forgotten how to interact with people since emerging from their COVID-19-related isolation. They are particularly rude, entitled and just mean. It seems there is a collective lack of patience and an expectation of nothing but perfection from every brick-and-mortar visit.
Please take solace in the fact you are not alone. Showroom employees are burning out all over the place from having to say, “I’m sorry” and “We can’t get this” to the many opportunities coming in the door. It is particularly frustrating while the economy is good and you are on commission. No product availability equals no sales. All I can say is hang in there; hopefully, it will get better.
Typically, I write for the showroom employees in my columns as I feel they need a voice — but for this one, I really want owners to understand the needs of showroom employees just a little better.
Owners, on that note, make sure you are talking to your entire team monthly. Let them know you understand what is going on and make them feel that being with your company is important. Share your vision, your culture and your goals openly and frequently. If you do not understand what they are going through, you need to spend more time in the showroom and observe.
Many showrooms are struggling to find employees, but the truth of the matter is most showrooms do not pay employees enough. It is the poor culture, poor training and poor compensation that keep people from working for you.
Now for what I really wanted to chat about this month.
Think of your showroom as a product. What kind of product is it? Is it beautiful? Innovative? Does it confer social status by shopping there? Or is it more like an old Sears department store, where you try to satisfy the customer looking for a lawnmower as well as a pair of Levi’s?
Pay attention to the following three pillars of profit.
Pillar No 1. People are willing to pay more when:
• The product (showroom) is easier to use.
• The product (showroom) has innovations that others do not.
• The product (showroom) improves social status.
• The product (showroom) makes them feel special.
If your showroom draws an emotional response when you walk in — then you are on the right path (if the emotion is Wow! and not Ugh!). There is what is called the “walk-away feeling” — it is when you get back in your car and say to yourself whether it was a great time being in that showroom.
Let us talk ease of use and innovations. Open a Pottery Barn catalog and you will see a collaboration with Sherwin Williams and one with Airstream. The first page is how they saved 3 million trees, their education program helped 100,000-plus workers, and they recycled 66 million bottles.
I am sure none of this can be verified, but who cares? They claim they are saving the world. They also offer design services with certified interior designers on call. You can order easily online or in person. So, Pottery Barn is checking all the boxes here.
There is no reason you can’t replicate this on a smaller scale. What would happen if you selected preferred designers to refer business? What would happen if you partnered with a local paint store to share leads on customer remodeling?
Take that same thought process — many showroom owners wonder why they cannot find good help and fail to look at themselves as the problem.
Pillar No. 2. Employees are willing to work for less if:
• The employer is flexible.
• The employer offers benefits no one else does.
• The employer supports and enriches the employee.
• The product is appealing to work with.
I will say this again: You need to pay showroom people more. Bottom line — you want quality, you want knowledge, you want orders right — pay up. If your showroom has no training program, no mentors, no metrics, no floorplan, well — it is not an appealing product then, is it?
Take the same thought process, and if your product is seen as superior by the manufacturers, you will grow in profitability.
Pillar No. 3. Vendors are willing to give more concessions if:
• The showroom offers a superior product.
• The showroom offers employees engaged with helping customers. (You pay for, protect and train great people.)
• The showroom has a strategic roadmap (marketing, product curation, etc.).
This is where margin improvement happens. All three require initiatives that are relatively simple and easy to implement. Let us consider an example. Showrooms with a great website offering online appointment scheduling and extended hours are, in my observations, much more successful than those that don’t.
Creating Difficult-to-Replicate Experiences
It is no longer acceptable to be best in class in your market. The key to margin and success is creating a unique experience that is difficult to replicate. Most of that starts with great people, a great showroom, great processes and great vendors that have your back. The key to any initiative you may have for your company should create improvement for your customer experience, your employees or your vendors — otherwise, don’t do it.
Outside of our industry, luxury showrooms think about their experience strategies like a theatre play. The best luxury experiences are scripted and reflect a brand’s storytelling in rational and emotional positioning dimensions.
For example, many hotels promise a “paradise-like” experience. But many of those experiences resemble each other (no differentiator), and few hotels manage to create something that feels truly magical. Think about the check-in experience at most hotels. It is basically the same and, for the most part, rotten. But companies such as Tiffany’s create a thoughtful, welcoming experience that make you feel as if you are truly important.
Most showrooms in our industry fall short of creating a target emotion or, frankly, any consistent emotion throughout the physical brick-and-mortar experience process.
As consumers spend much more time online, they expect dramatically more when they decide to spend time with a showroom in the physical world. Many showrooms forget that one underwhelming experience can end the relationship between the customer and them.
So, when the rude and entitled customer comes in, it is because they expect excellence from you. They are losing valuable time from doing something they enjoy to see you. Find a way to overcome by doing something truly different — using the three pillars — and you will create a path to success.