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Does brand matter in our industry? When a consumer enters a showroom, are the decisions made based on the brand they want or the style? When I shop, I do tend to be brand-aware with certain items such as food, automobiles, tools and furniture. However, when I research an unfamiliar product, I lean on YouTube demos and customer reviews.
I recently switched brands on a major purchase because of great reviews of a competitive product, even though it was slightly more expensive. The brand is unknown, it has no “story,” but the customer service and support were from the same company I worked with on the last purchase. So, I trusted they wouldn’t stock an inferior product, and their review was correct. I trusted them as an advisor.
If you google “best plumbing brands,” Kohler, Moen, American Standard, Grohe, Toto, Delta, Gerber and Elkay come up. I don’t think I would dispute those selections nationally. Search further down where Forbes magazine picked the top faucets in June 2023 and it lists Moen, Kraus, Grohe, Delta, Pfister, American Standard, Danze, Kohler, Elkay and Waterstone (https://bit.ly/47dBpP4). I would certainly dispute that list.
And while we all have our opinions, what is clear is when consumers conduct this research, they are being fed the same information. It is your job to give the consumer clarity. I guess the interpretation of what “top” means would be the next issue of debate. I will leave it up to you to decide if you agree with the list from Forbes.
It is a great example of using Google search and showing that Forbes is listing faucet brands where the brand no longer exists, or faucets are a sideline business for them. It proves that a ton of fake information is on the Internet, and the consumer should trust the showroom to give them the right brands at the right price point.
Still, most consumers will start online, at least to find the design that is most appealing or have some inspiration pages to refer to. The luxury customer is hopefully the one headed your way — the consumer who is selecting products not sold in home centers and likely not on the “top” lists online.
Plumber Brand Recommendations
The next links as you scroll down the Google page are from plumbing companies who are giving their opinion on which are the best plumbing lines. When a plumber recommends a brand of faucet, it is usually because of familiarity with installation, and he knows there are parts available he can source easily. This means that if it is easy to install, uses the same cartridge he has at his shop, and doesn’t need to read or learn anything new, it’s a great brand.
It does nothing for consumers when the plumber says they can only buy brand X; it is only to make the plumber’s life easy.
So often, inexperienced showroom specialists fall into the trap of a consumer walking into the showroom with specific instructions only to buy a certain brand, and then creating a bad experience since the consumer is dissatisfied with the showroom because it limited the options. It became the showrooms’ fault, not the plumber’s.
It is up to the showroom specialist to overcome this hurdle. If you run your showroom properly, you should trust that every brand you carry is not only excellent quality but has a story or heritage behind it that makes it command a higher price. You must help train the plumber to make the brands you sell familiar to them and remove the fear of installation issues by giving them proper training with the help of your rep agencies.
It is human nature to take the path of least resistance otherwise, and it is human nature to avoid looking unprepared on a jobsite.
A great showroom salesperson is an artist, scientist, therapist, counselor, teacher, purchasing agent and the bridge between getting the consumer what they want and making the plumber and consumer feel good about it. Oh yeah, I forgot the designer, too. Must keep them happy as well.
Lighting, cabinetry and hardware seem to have less of a brand recognition issue and are sold more on great design and product quality first. If you see it, you like it and it is on budget, then it is an easy sale. Like anything oversimplified, there are hurdles to overcome with lighting, cabinetry and hardware that require the showroom specialist to understand much more technical information for wiring and lumens, cabinet drawer glides and drillings for hardware.
Once again, the showroom specialist is the trusted advisor here, and the consumer at some point in the sales process will stop shopping online and want to touch, see and learn about the products in the project they are undertaking. Usually, they have done the research online, and only need the affirmation they are selecting something that will work.
As much as this is your time to sell product, it is more of your time to sell the heritage of the brand that is “you” and “your showroom.” I know I mention this way too much, but ensuring the customer knows that the dollars they spend with you will stay local and not be sent to the corporate office in Atlanta or pay for a rocket ship (Amazon) is important.
Photos on social media and displayed in your showroom demonstrating the investments you make back into your community can help drive that message home. Whether it be community service projects, donations to clean up properties or other activities — be sure to make the message clear and real.
Real Reviews are Important
And while in the beginning of this column I was happy to say there is a good deal of misinformation on Google, I would also say that you should make sure your business has plenty of good and real online reviews.
Be sure to ask and even reward your best customers for writing up something short and great about your showroom. Maybe a $5 coffee shop gift card (make it a local coffee shop, not a chain). Think about how many times you look at restaurant reviews before going for the first time. Reviews matter.
Another thing I mentioned earlier, YouTube, is woefully short of great, unsponsored content with real reviews about unboxing and installation. As an industry, I would love to see some young faces putting together training online and learning as they unbox and install. That would be fun and different.
Looking at the way Gen-Z consumers are spending regarding luxury brands in general, their loyalty to traditional brands is not what you would expect. Gen-Z, especially in luxury, is rebuffing national brands and looking for local alternatives. With a little hope, I would love to see an industry shift to domestic production of bath, lighting and hardware products in the next 10 years.
It wouldn’t be a bad idea to get in front of this trend and have a “Made in North America” display where you can feature, if nothing else, a great talking point in the showroom.
I hope this column acts as another tool in your shed when thinking about how you position your showroom for success. Products matter, but the story behind the products matters more, and the story behind your showroom and people matters the most.