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Retail has entered a new era thanks to a generation of shoppers who shop online as effortlessly as they do in physical stores. Despite the convenience of online shopping, people still prefer to buy in a store. That is good news for plumbing showrooms willing to do the work to capture the next generation of remodelers.
Showroom designers Karine Francoeur and Léanne Lalonde explore new trends in decorative plumbing showroom design while working with owners and managers who recognize the need for physical spaces that defy expectations. To create the concept and craft the experience, Francoeur and Lalonde look carefully at the audience defining this shift in showroom design — millennials.
This group is defined by marketers as a generation born between the early 1980s and the mid-1990s. With an estimated $200 billion in annual spending power, millennials have been targeted by retailers as the generation to attract. It hasn’t been easy, though; this generation’s tastes and habits have confounded brands, and they frequently change strategies to keep millennials engaged.
In the home improvement industry, millennials are major players representing one-third of U.S. homeowners. Now in their early to mid-thirties, they are buying homes and investing in renovations, remodels and upgrades. The millennial tendency to buy older homes is partly due to the state of the housing market (as more baby boomers decide to age in place, there are fewer homes on the market) and partly to due to the millennial love for DIY.
Also, it is worth noting that 40 percent of the country’s 137 million homes are 50 years old or older, so available homes are truly in need of renovations.
Changing the Buying Experience
Millennials are smart shoppers who are very sensitive to the look and feel of a retail space. They are highly suspicious of gimmicks and are so overwhelmed by online and offline ads that they barely see them anymore. Instead, they trust reviews from other people and will sometimes choose to patronize companies whose values align with their own. On the other hand, millennials prefer to shop in places that look great and offer something different.
This powerful generation of shoppers has new tastes and habits. Millennials are compelling decorative plumbing retailers to change not only the way products are sold but the entire buying experience. For specialty stores, lowering prices to match Internet offerings are not enough to get people in the door.
Francoeur and Lalonde’s research concluded that sensory experiences are essential in any physical retail space wanting to pull millennials away from their online shopping habits. In addition to seeking out multisensory experiences that trigger emotions and excitement, this generation also demands retail spaces designed with trends and style in mind.
Here is a scenario to get into the mind of the millennial shopper: A 30-year-old homeowner is looking for a new faucet. After some online research, she saves photos of her favorites to her Pinterest board and shares those ideas with friends to ask their opinion. She decides to buy at a brick-and-mortar store so she can see the faucets in person.
She can go to a big-box store where prices are lower, and she can get in and out quickly with the product she wants. Or she can choose a local plumbing showroom where she will spend time with staff discussing her purchase and exploring her options.
While it is easy to say shoppers automatically choose the quicker, cheaper option, this is not always the case. Research suggests millennials will pick a retail store based on the experience they expect to have there, even if the prices are higher. This is especially true if the showroom has good online reviews or has a great social media presence.
The shift from selling products and services to selling an experience has affected the biggest brands in the world, who pump massive amounts of money into designing immersive experiences in physical locations. Some of those locations don’t even sell anything.
The Showroom Advantage
Considering the amount of money invested in these experiences, local showrooms may feel as they don’t have the resources to compete. The reason top brands have to put so much money into creating these experiences is that they have a much harder time creating meaningful connections with the customers. In fact, plumbing showrooms with strong connections with their customers have the advantage.
Showrooms have the right products and the right connections to turn the millennial home improvement shopping trip into something special. Add the right design and suddenly you’re not selling products — you’re selling an experience. The best way to offer an experience is to appeal to people’s emotions.
“We can predict and drive people’s behavior based on where we put the displays,” Francoeur says. “We can easily use design to guide people through the showroom in a strategic way. That’s only the first step. More than showing people where to go, more than directing customer behavior, we want to influence their actions.”
She adds: “If you want to make them act, you have to make them feel. How do we make people feel? We trigger their emotions.”
Emotions, like experiences, are personal and internal. Two people can enter the same space and have different experiences because individuals are engaged in so many different ways — emotionally, intellectually, physically, even spiritually. In a retail setting, one person might be impressed by the lighting, another delighted by the displays.
Since it is impossible to predict how each distinct individual will react to curated in-store experiences, a smart move is to trigger some or all of the physical senses almost everyone shares — sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell. As customers journey through the space, lighting can trigger their sense of sight; a diffuser can create an atmosphere reminding visitors of being in a spa or at the beach.
Encouraging customers to try faucets or showerheads is very powerful as well, creating an effect that is both exciting and rooted in reality.
The excitement created by unexpected experiences will compel clients to purchase so they can keep the good feeling going after they leave the showroom.
A showroom with millennial buyers in mind can work on combining sensory experiences with on-trend aesthetics. Inspiration for style, color and design can be found on millennial Instagram accounts and by searching for photos of restaurants and hotels frequented by younger generations.
Creating a carbon copy of a trendy space should not be the goal of a showroom looking to target millennials. A showroom has to stay true to its mission of offering quality merchandise and helping homeowners find what they need. Despite wanting unique experiences, millennials aren’t looking for a plumbing showroom to be like Disneyland. They appreciate sincerity, excellent service, good value and expertise.
Looking at millennial habits and tastes is not about stereotyping or ignoring other segments of your audience. The strongest showrooms provide the best service and highest-quality products to dedicated customers; adding experiences and emotions to the mix are sure to make a showroom stand out from the crowd.