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One of the topics of late that I am focused on is the future of showrooms within our industry, because I honestly believe this is a make-or-break time for many showrooms. It is due to this belief I not only study what the future will bring to our industry, but what it holds for all main stream brick-and-mortar retail stores. Now you might be wondering how does what the athletic apparel store, electronics store or the locally owned mom and pop dress store have to do with selling toilets and faucets? Well, much more than you might realize.
See, we are all connected by one common thread, one that is constantly evolving; the retail consumer. The consumer that needs a faucet also needs shoes, mobile phones, computers, clothes and so on. I think you see where I am going with this. The Where and Why they choose to spend is as important, if not more so, than What they choose to spend it on. I believe customers worth having want to purchase an experience more than they want to save a few bucks.
Even though online retail accounted for 7% of total sales in the first quarter of 2015 according to the U.S. Census Bureau, brick-and-mortar still retains 93% of the market. That is to say, despite the overall growth in e-commerce, physical stores are far from dead. That is good news for small retailers and showrooms like many of our own. Consumers of all ages still prefer physical stores to e-commerce shopping, according to a study by A.T. Kearney. In fact, brick-and-mortar retailing is not only the industry’s cornerstone today – but also its future, the study predicts. While consumers can find virtually any product online and cheaper, stores need to consider what they can offer shoppers that cannot be replicated virtually. I challenge you to think about not only what you can offer, but also how you offer it in order to sell “Experiences, Not Products.”
One advantage physical retail has over online shopping is the ability to provide consumers with a sensory experience that allows them to touch and feel products, immerse in brand experiences, and engage with sales associates who provide tips and reaffirm shopper enthusiasm. Shoppers never really know how a touch faucet will work unless they have the opportunity to try one out. Similarly, it is difficult to know how useful a new technology will be unless users can test it and see how it can enhance their daily routines. If Amazon or Faucetstore.com (fake website I made up) can beat you on price, how can you win on experience?
With stores focusing on experiential practices, one trend I am seeing is stores offering product immersion experiences. Retailers are taking showrooming to the next level offering one-on-one, expert-led demonstrations of their products within the store. By creating these truly immersive experiences, retailers can leverage their physical presence to find new planes on which to compete with their online-only competitors.
So how does this information translate into your showroom? You have to make the experience consumers have in your showroom a memorable one. You need to bring the "wow" — and do so in a big way. For example, more space dedicated to working displays and lifestyle displays. Consider interactive displays, flat screens running product videos, and use of things like iPads.
If you pay attention to who is doing what in our industry then you know one of the companies blazing the way in experience retail is PIRCH. Founded in 2009 by a group of seasoned entrepreneurs and business leaders who set out to prove that shopping for appliances and plumbing products could be inspirational. Now in the midst of a national expansion, the award-winning store has redefined not only an industry, but retail at large. If I started to list the awards PIRCH has won I would need another full page. Just this year they garnered two prestigious industry awards – at KBIS, PIRCH won awards for best multi-location retailer (large), the other for most innovative showroom.
Fostering a culture of hospitality and kindness, PIRCH inspires its customers to dream. PIRCH welcomes entering visitors at their signature Bliss Cafe offering customers signature complimentary beverages. Guests are then invited to embark upon an endless journey of inspired experiences. From design ideas to culinary instruction, the PIRCH experience is best described as magical. The way they present and deliver the consumer a unique experience should be what each of us inspires to achieve in some form or another. I personally consider them the Apple Store of our industry.
Certainly each of us would love if our companies could invest the capitol in our showrooms that PIRCH has in theirs, but that is not in the cards for most of us – though I believe you don’t have to be a PIRCH to deliver the best retail experience within your market. I will use three of my favorite showrooms by Hubbard Pipe & Supply Inc. as examples. Each of the Hubbard Kitchen Bath and Lighting showrooms have been remodeled and crafted to meet the demands and needs of today’s consumers. Hubbard has does something within their showrooms I rarely see done by other showrooms. They have created an environment that is not only inviting, but also gives a feeling of warmth and intimacy. They do so with a mix of textiles, colors and staged displays designed to easily allow a customer to visualize any of their products within their own homes. Their staff conveys a sense of trust and confidence to each of their customers, who come away from the Hubbard experience confident that they have partnered with an experienced advocate there to provide unparalleled customer service before, during and after the sale.
They also have one of my favorite marketing/advertising ideas, whose creation I truly consider nothing less than pure genius. Hubbard has its very own plumbing and lighting fashionista named Sarah Faucet. She is a mix of cartoon character, mascot and spokesperson that represents the Hubbard experience. She can be found on their website, in their advertising, in the showrooms showcasing the latest displays and even about town promoting the importance of shopping and supporting local businesses. That’s right, Sarah gets around, but in a good way. She will show up at local events and other local businesses that Hubbard is cross-promoting with. I follow Sarah’s adventures via Hubbard’s Facebook page. For a cartoon spokesperson she is pretty darn hot; I think she easily could give Jessica Rabbit a run for her money.
Hubbard Kitchen Bath and Lighting showrooms are proof that a family owned, independent local business can deliver consumers an amazing showroom experience rivaling that of showrooms found in major markets. It just takes a little creativity, a vison and the courage to follow that vision.
The size of your showroom — be it 20,000 square feet, or 3,500 square feet — does not matter. What matters is the size of the experience you are offering your customers. Similarly, you don’t have to invest millions to create something memorable. A memorable experience can start with something as inexpensive as the service you personally offer your customers. It can be a cup of coffee or some other beverage that you hand to the customer. Whatever experience you offer, make sure it is one that will make the customer want to buy from you over the Internet or your competition. Make them feel special and I promise the majority of people will reciprocate by patronizing your company and telling their friends they should do the same. To borrow a major corporate slogan — Just Do It!