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Decorative showrooms continue to run with brisk business across the country, with supply chain issues becoming more predictable and employee turnover still a problem nationwide. As we acclimate to the constant stresses of the business, I can say that those who are creating memorable experiences in the showroom are having record years.
I have had a few interesting conversations lately and want to share them with you.
The first was with a well-designed, good metro-suburban location showroom selling to upscale clients, appointment only. A staff person spent several hours steering the customer to a high-end brand and took their time to put a quote and spec sheet booklet in place for the customer. Since the showroom did not have an agreement to sell the particular brand of tub the customer wanted, the showroom sent the customer online to find the tub and buy it from an e-commerce company.
As you can expect, the customers went online to get the tub, then did more research and bought the whole package online. The showroom then complained about the online company undercutting them and how it “isn’t fair” since the e-commerce company had a lower-than-minimum-advertised-price (MAP) in the checkout box.
My first thought was, what did you think was going to happen when you sent the customer online? You are encouraging them to shop online when you cannot be bothered with sourcing the tub from a super wholesaler or another local friendly company.
Sure, the e-commerce guys don’t always play by the rules, but you should never expect them to go away. A ton of volume is driven through e-commerce because so many showrooms nationwide offer a lousy experience and don’t know how to close the sale.
If you can’t buy Brand X direct yourself, you better find someone who will sell it to you. Be ready, willing and able to source the products your customer wants if you aren’t able to steer them to a brand you can buy direct from.
The e-commerce companies will exist because the vendor/manufacturer will never say no to that type of business volume. If one company says no, another will open up. They will never go away and the lower price in the cart trick is here to stay. A few sites are famous for this, and I am certain you know who they are.
Vendors will continue to play “whack a mole” and try to stop MAP violations, but there will always be a company playing these games — on weekends, evenings or when they are fairly sure the data scraping isn’t happening.
When the e-commerce companies turn to the manufacturer and say, “We are going to violate MAP this weekend, but you will get an order for $900,000 afterward,” do you really think the manufacturer is going to stop them? Do you really think this will change? Maybe they don’t use the exact terms, but offering the extra 5 percent or 10 percent weekend special is a friendlier version of this conversation.
You have one option, and that is to provide the absolute best experience the consumer could ever possibly have, in the best-looking showroom possible, and be able to close the sale by sourcing any products the customer even considers. I don’t care if a sheet of plywood needs to be sourced; if you send consumers out to figure it out on their own, they will. And you won’t be on the winning end.
Make sure your showroom is perfect every day. I have spent countless columns talking about this and yet continue to see incomplete vignettes and showrooms with 50 lines of faucets, and they are experts at none of them. I have visited countless showrooms where Slatwall is on every wall of the place. Ask yourself, have you ever gone into anyone’s home and seen Slatwall in the bathroom?
Learn and teach your showroom team where to source from friendly competitors and super wholesalers. Most importantly, cultivate a culture of saying “Yes” to everything. Yes, I can find that for you. Yes, I’ll find someone to help you with that. Then act quickly to show you can solve their need.
Perfect showrooms come at a cost. The best displays are not free; in fact, it is usually the substandard products offering free displays. When a showroom owner tells me a display is too expensive, even though it can deliver massive gross profit and fill a need for the customer base, it paints a picture of how the showroom is performing before I ever set my foot in the door.
You do have a second option, and that would be for any vendors continually supporting this type of e-commerce behavior — stop selling their wares. Get rid of the displays and move to vendors who do support you.
Life Experience and Selling Luxury
The other conversation I had recently came with some newly hired showroom people who were friendly and enthusiastic and made me feel old. The problem I noted was because they had zero life experience, they had never experienced any luxury or hospitality in their life, and couldn’t fathom selling above their own pocketbook.
When I started to see how comfortable they were when selling a $3,000 tub-and-shower system, they were unable to articulate how it would make the consumer feel, and why something of this quality would prove to be something the consumer would look forward to using daily.
Luxury selling is emotion-based and takes time, practice and a personal commitment to being refined. Making the customer feel special and that they are getting something amazing is key.
The new showroom employees had never experienced a fine dining experience or even a sommelier. A good sommelier can take a $20 bottle of wine and, with an elegant description of the terroir, flavor notes and heritage of the brand, make you pay $100 for the bottle in the right environment.
Showroom sales are the same thing! In the right environment, creating the right experience and describing the products with passion, knowledge of the function and care for the customer will close more sales and make for a great investment for you and the customer.
As an owner, I urge you to push your showroom to get to the level of the favorite restaurant you go to, where the experience makes the food taste better. I also urge you to invite your showroom employees to join you at that favorite restaurant, so they can see why you love it so much.
Car dealers are selling above the manufacturer’s suggested retail price, not below right now. Keep that in mind if you have product and know how to sell.