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So many things are changing in the retail world right now, and so many decorative showrooms still spend time and energy chasing product, finding staff and just surviving. Working in the business but not on the business. By this time of year, the new products are out, the price increases are hitting and, I hope, you have a good handle on what you can sell (based on availability) and your odds of success headed into 2022.
I have misfired on economic predictions in the past, so I tend to avoid gazing in that crystal ball for the sake of this column. Let’s say we should all be OK in 2022 if we stick to what we are good at.
I recently needed to call a plumber to install a new replacement bathtub in my second bathroom. While typically I would venture into the project myself, I realized that my time is limited. I would best be served to have a pro come and handle the job. It just makes sense.
When the owner of the plumbing company stopped by, he was kind, professional and, once he realized I was in the decorative business, chatty about showrooms. One thing that I quickly learned from him is how the local showroom is a source of frustration because no one there listens to him.
“I can help them,” he said, “when it comes to upselling or downselling. There are times when a customer is doing a tub/shower or kitchen faucet; that we know what will fit and work.”
This leads to an interesting situation. Is the showroom selling to the homeowner or the installer? Shouldn’t the homeowner be able to specify what he wants and the installer adjust the surroundings to make the products work?
I found the conversation interesting, as I think I stumbled upon the exception and not the rule when it comes to plumbing installers. This gentleman was perfectly fine installing whatever was put in front of him, offered flat-rate pricing, and yet still was hoping someone would listen to him at the local showroom when it comes to offering sales advice to help serve the market. He claims they don’t take him seriously.
What was more confounding was that he was more inclined to upsell and wasn’t beholden to a certain brand of rough-in system. He was more concerned with the ability to satisfy the customer and get the right product in front of them to capture the best sale possible, in his words.
There’s an App for that
This plumber had a clean website with a contact page. Once I reached out, they texted me when the estimator was coming, when the estimate was complete, and when the install was going to happen — after I accepted the proposal in a simple-to-understand link.
Why aren’t showrooms using this technology? Texting to confirm appointments, texting when the quote is complete. Texting to follow up. Click the link to confirm and order the quote. Now service companies similar to this plumber use platforms such as Housecall Pro, and if they aren’t, they should be. There are plenty of similar platforms out there for showroom companies to use for client management.
The same client management app that texts clients also will ask them for a review and help manage your store reviews. I certainly pay attention to reviews, and as much as it is easy to pick out the fake ones, I still will use them in my purchasing decisions. I would imagine many others do the same. I hope you make an effort to ask your customers to leave reviews, but consider rewarding them to do so.
So yes, showrooms need to head in this direction. It’s easy to see the usefulness in automated text services already with barbershops/hair salons and the medical field. I could write a whole article on the usefulness of this type of app for those with wholesale operations attached since it allows for sharing and communication between employees on the platform as well.
Research shows that if a customer calls your showroom and gets voicemail, 80 percent will not leave a message; they will move on. That is a compelling number. And 82 percent will only call after doing a Google search and making sure you have a website. When was the last time you left a voicemail message at a retail store that you had never been to before?
For some reason, there are showroom owners who think they need an e-commerce site, and invest time and energy into the pipe dream of competing against large, well-oiled e-commerce machines. The owners are convinced this is the promised land. The reality is if the showroom invested in more technology such as client management, there would be better opportunities for them to serve customers who want to touch and feel the products they are seeking out.
My suggestion is that if you are not good at e-commerce, stay out of it. If you are not good at showrooms, stay out of it. Let the companies that are willing to commit the time, energy and talent build great products and delight the customer.
There are too many independents trying to pull on every lever, but they don’t want to cut the check for a showroom overhaul or on the technology that will make the showroom work better. They are getting handed the idea that they really need to be in every channel so they can see which one works and invest a little in every direction.
Let me be clear — showrooms are an expensive and time-consuming business. They will only provide you with a reward after a big investment. That means top talent first, a great store and presentations, and a great website with technology that takes friction out of the sale. If you aren’t willing to make that sacrifice, you should likely not be in the game.
I am lucky to have so many showrooms I work with that are fully invested in the game. We spend countless hours networking and sharing what works and, more importantly, what doesn’t. I hope you all have a lifeline out there in the industry who can give you unfiltered advice, listen and care about your well-being as a showroom member.
By the way, the tub install went perfectly. The millennial master plumber went beyond what I expected in both service and hospitality. I plan on giving him some great reviews — and I may reach out to him down the road for ideas on what the showroom would be like locally if they actually listened to him.