Keeping up with change is not easy. You must keep up with changing trends, a changing industry, a changing retail landscape, changing customers’ wants and changing customers’ needs. Yes, trying to keep up can prove to be overwhelming.
Over the past decade, changes in consumers’ shopping habits and what they expect from their shopping experience have altered the way they shop as a whole. With retail goods becoming increasingly abundant in variety and easy to access ways, consumers are moving away from stores in search of a shopping experience that differs from the standard.
Consumers have a broader selection of goods available to them than ever before. But regardless of the abundance of choice when it comes to goods like plumbing fixtures, only a handful of brands truly dominate the market.
The result of this commoditization is that consumers stop seeing the attributes that distinguish similar products — such as uniqueness or brand — and focus on the price. In short, when faced with a wall of nearly identical plumbing fixtures, they will tend to buy the cheapest. So how does a brand change that?
By creating a mono brand store for its brand. This gives the consumer the opportunity to experience the brand in a way that multi brand stores offer only to a limited extent. A mono brand store can be a good solution for companies with a wide range of products or offering luxury goods.
Many of you may at first not be familiar with the term mono brand retail, but you may have already participated in the concept. I mean it is pretty straightforward, and you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure it out. Mono is a combining form meaning “alone,” “single,” “one.” So, a mono retail store has just one brand. The Nike store or Coach Boutique are examples of a mono brand retail store. Retailers of every kind are looking for ways to give customers reasons to shop their brick-and-mortar locations over Amazon.com.
Brand narrative as a retail strategy
The strategy of multi-brand stores is to offer a broad enough selection of similar goods to maximize the chance of a sale. The focus on closing a sale is so great that staff are often only trained in describing the products they sell, essentially ticking off enough boxes on a customer’s checklist. What they rarely do is build a narrative around the product or brand. This is what most of our showrooms are, a multi-brand store.
Mono-branded stores arguably have an easier time in building a shopping narrative centered on a single brand, its products and the image or lifestyle it promotes. We are seeing them emerge within our industry.
The Kohler Signature Stores
No matter what you think of Kohler, no one can question that as a brand Kohler has an amazing presence and relationship with the retail consumer. Kohler expanded upon its mono branded retail approach about five years ago with its Kohler Signature Store concept. Kohler Signature Stores are distributor- owned and operated. The first in the country was opened by First Supply in Edina, Minnesota in 2012. Since Kohler has partnered with distributors from coast to coast to open its mono-branded concept. The stores feature Kohler, Robern, Kohler Surfaces (tile and stone), Kallista, and Ann Sacks. The Kohler Signature Store brings to life the Kohler Co. brand promise of design excellence and high performance by consistently delivering a delightful shopping experience. Kohler Signature Stores are a uniquely modern, innovative store and a mix of merchandise that completely indulges you as you experience the Kohler brand.
David Kohler, president and chief executive officer, defines the Kohler Signature Store experience as, “delivering to our customers a full-service shopping and design experience that allows them to appreciate the quality of gracious living that has been a hallmark of Kohler Co. since its inception.”
The Kohler Experience Center
Expanding on the success of the Kohler Signature Store concept, Kohler recently launched the Kohler Experience Center (KEC). The flagship center at 6 West 22nd Street in New York City opened on May 24. The KEC contains more than 20 fully functioning displays of the firm's global product line, including showers, tubs, sinks and toilets, arranged in kitchen and bath vignettes. Visitors can not only look at products, but try them out, too. Customers can make appointments at the Experience Center’s private bathing center to use Kohler’s bathing products first-hand. These include the Real Rain water delivery system, which mimics natural rain; the DTV+ digital showering system, a smart shower interface; and VibrAcoustic Hydrotherapy, a bath speaker/water vibration system.
The KEC will also offer a global specification service, geared toward design professionals working on international projects. The service will allow architects and designers access to Kohler products across the globe. A team of experts is available on-site to help source and resolve project issues, and videoconferencing with international experts is available by appointment.
“We recognized a tremendous need across the industry for a deeper knowledge and insight into how our products work,” says Larry Yuen, Kohler president of Global Kitchen & Bath Group. “From a plumbing perspective, the products that work in a bathroom in Milan are acutely different from those that need to work in a hotel in Dubai, for instance. Our goal with the KEC is to provide design professionals with both the ability to source and resolve all plumbing needs on a global scale from any KEC location.”
“Our Kohler Experience Centers build upon the success of our Signature Stores and will uniquely provide a deeper immersion into our product offerings for trade professionals sourcing and selecting the best products for any project, wherever it may be in the world,” David Kohler says.
Eight more centers are set to open this year, including in London, which also opened in May, Los Angeles, and Shanghai. Each KEC location will house select pieces from Kohler’s permanent art collection and from the Arts/Industry resident artist program through the John Michael Kohler Arts Center.
Mono branding might not be for everyone
The big advantages to developing a mono brand store is creating a brand identity (or reinforce it). Moreover, through correct and targeted promoting actions, you can develop a database with clients that are loyal to your brand and to your products. You can convert them with offers that are specially designed for them. They are already your clients and loyal to your brand, so it’s easier and cheaper to keep them as loyal customers. Of course, it is necessary that you invest in a marketing budget to promote the store, not only the brand, which can generate higher costs than the ones allocated to a multi-brand store. If you take into consideration a long-term strategy, the option of a mono brand store might be appropriate for you and your market.
A mono brand store brand does not have to compete for customers’ attention with other products, but the challenge for the creator of the concept is huge. Opening a Kohler Signature Store or Kohler Experience Center is a great cost and tremendous amount of work. It might not be for every market or everyone, only time will tell. I can see the appeal of only having to focus on just one brand. I also see the appeal of having a wider variety of products. It just depends on what is best for you and your market. Take First Supply, though it operates three Kohler Signature Stores, it also operates 14 multi-brand stores. I think for the multi-branded retailers the key will be to design, craft and execute the most unique experiences available in their categories to compete and attract the consumer.