One of the most common conversations I have with showroom managers centers around the desire they have for manufacturers to protect their showrooms.
Some showroom managers believe they support their manufacturers by displaying and actively selling their products, so in turn, those manufacturers should help ensure profitability of those products by maintaining a strong MAP policy, not selling directly online and helping showrooms reach a broader audience of target customers by using marketing funds and showroom locators.
Showroom managers also want their manufacturers to provide free displays, training, support at events, a stronger discount for volume jobs and fast delivery. With some lines, they expect the UPS fees to be already wrapped into the price of the product because in this Amazon Prime world we live in, freight charges are unacceptable. Sounds like a lot to ask for, right?
Oh, I almost forgot the clincher. Many showroom managers have expectations that the products they sell should be exclusive to showrooms — manufacturers should not engage in any level of online sales. Instead, manufacturers should have a “where to buy” section on their website with links to their showrooms.
Advocate for Your Manufacturers
In examining the feasibility of that scenario, here are a few questions we must ask ourselves:
What is your showroom doing, in turn, to protect manufacturers and their lines?
Is your showroom staff calling designers and architects daily inviting them to stop by to see and feel your new products?
If your showroom has an outside sales force, do salespeople share the same message by encouraging influencers and trade professionals to visit their showrooms?
When calling on designers and architects, do members of your staff typically mention any particular manufacturer or features of a product, and invite them to attend since they are the resident expert on the product?
Is your showroom taking advantage of training opportunities by manufacturers so your staff can confidently sell their products’ features and benefits?
Are members of your staff still tossing around line cards that also include the company’s commodity lines?
Are you using Constant Contact or any other type of customer relationship management software to manage your customer data and local target markets? Do you share the information with manufacturers who can partner with you on some no-cost marketing support? Does your showroom send email blasts to your CRM list?
As the showroom manager, are you coordinating and organizing multiple CEU events to attract the designer community?
If so, do you keep records of who attends so you can share the information with manufacturers? Are you engaging in follow up with those who attended to ask if the event provided value and if they would consider using your showroom in the future? Did you send attendees a survey afterward?
Do you host “designer nights” and mixers with ASID, NKBA and other local design groups to engage that community? Similar to the CEU events, do you keep records of those to attend and personally follow up with them afterward? Do you collect the email addresses and contact information of everyone who attends these events?
Do you ensure that your showroom is spotless, and offer tasteful and memorable food and beverages — or is it the same old crap you would find anywhere else?
Will the design community take notice during your event and talk about it the next day? Think about an event you attended that was memorable. Then think about one that was awful. Usually, the hospitality was the difference, not the presentation.
During your events, does the showroom owner personally meet and greet every guest and thank them for coming? Time is the new currency and it’s important you express appreciation to attendees for sharing their valuable time with you.
Is your showroom protecting your manufacturer partners who support events such as this by not bringing in any substandard lines? I challenge showroom owners to stand up for the manufacturers who support the community of showrooms. It is where you can see a few brands stand out. I know the ones who do — do you? They are the ones who always step up and sponsor great events. They also help support you with events producing zero return on investment for them. But they do it because they know it is important to you.
Does your showroom support the lines of manufacturers who have a strict MAP policy and try at great length to protect your showroom? Or is your showroom selling what is easier or what has a better spiff? Some manufacturers spend a bundle on MAP enforcement to prevent products from being sold cheaply online, to support the brick-and-mortars’ efforts. Do you know which ones they are?
When a manufacturer gives out marketing support funds, do you have a mechanism in place that measures the return on investment for those funds? Is your showroom doing something of value with the funds? Can you measure it?
When your manufacturers offer training, does your showroom take advantage of it? And do you take the time to provide them feedback that could help improve the training going forward? Or are they “too busy” for training?
Living Up to the Deal
I’m appreciative of the efforts made by manufacturers to protect showrooms — if the showrooms live up to their part of the deal. I believe there should be conversations in the form of action plans every year. Those plans should outline who is doing what, and ensure that showroom owners, managers, manufacturers and rep agencies are in lockstep. There should be no surprises as to who is doing what.
If we put the plan together correctly, the showroom staff and the influencer community are engaged and communicating with each other. If showrooms are doing their jobs, there should be no reason for manufacturers to look for alternative channels of doing business and submarine the hard work of showrooms to make all this happen. Unfortunately, the fear of private labels, rogue brands and other online opportunities has made some manufacturers sell directly online. While we all seem to know this is happening, I don’t think we should be happy about it.
My conversations with showroom executives often revolve around doing what is best for their businesses. I am curious what the future of showrooms will hold in the next 5 to 10 years. I think a proliferation of private label brands will continue to happen, and manufacturers with strong brands will accelerate their trajectory toward the end user, with reducing the friction of an independent showroom in mind.
I think both manufacturers and showrooms should be very careful in making decisions on who to partner with. Good showrooms should create a great experience, partner with brands that understand the value of brick-and-mortar showrooms, and continue to prosper.
And accomplish all this with showrooms that are fewer slat walls and more destinations. (Hint: Destination is going to be a hot topic in future articles.)
I know this article might sound like another rant but really supporting each other follows some unapologetically simple logic. Sometimes, we need to be reminded of the simple things, especially as we’re in the fourth quarter of 2018 and getting ready to roll into a new year. Maybe we can all resolve to make some positive changes — even just a little can help a lot.