I have been actively involved in the decorative plumbing showroom business for 36 years. Half that time was spent starting, owning and operating my own three-location showroom business. The second half has been spent consulting, teaching, writing and trying to “give back” to the industry that has treated me so well and that I continue to have a huge passion for.

The evolution I’ve witnessed in this industry over all these years is astounding. Every day it seems like changes come at us faster and bigger than ever before.

Within the past year I’ve seen a new buzzword — omnichannel — showing up in relationship to how the Internet and brick-and-mortar retailers are trying to attract and hold customers.

Omnichannel is a multichannel approach to sales and marketing that seeks to provide the customer with a seamless shopping experience whether the customer is shopping online from a desktop, on a mobile device, by telephone or in a brick-and-mortar store.

With an omnichannel customer communication solution, you can meet the personal needs and desires of every customer — young and old. It is more than a generational thing — it’s personal.

Omnichannel is something new and notable — even revolutionary. Omnichannel today is cross-channel being done well.

An example might be a mobile app should match the responsive design of the website, which theoretically should reflect the look and feel inside the brick-and-mortar store — a seamless transition from digital to website to store and consistent in every way.

Omnichannel is about the true continuity of your experiences. But the key is that it extends beyond a single brand’s universe. Being omni-synced is perceiving and understanding all things and not just all things at Best Buy, Target, Macy’s or Gucci. Omni is perceiving all things. The best way for a customer to perceive everything is to allow them to own their own data and experience and then give them the ability to visit and to guide the creation and context of every future experience.

Having a clear-cut IT strategy is key to establishing a competitive advantage over your competition. It can be the difference-maker between a business success and its failure.

There was an article in Forbes magazine that stated “The future of digital commerce will be in-store.” This bodes well for the DPH brick-and-mortar showrooms that add online shopping to the in-store experience. Right now, e-commerce is a very small part of retail. A recent U.S. Census Report puts it at less than 6% of overall retail sales, while some estimates range as high as 10%. The biggest opportunity for merchants to grow their business is to merge digital insights within physical store experiences.

There already has been some impressive work on the backend. Walmart recently announced same-day instore pickup of items bought online. Macy’s installed a system that integrates all its inventory systems and gives store associates almost complete visibility of their items available across all channels.


The future is here

I recently received an email “blast” from my friend Ace Rosenstein who owns Bravo Business Media, which provides its MyPlumbingShowroom.com service specifically for decorative plumbing and hardware showrooms. Bravo is a service provider for PHCP buying groups such as Omni/LPG, Embassy, WIT and others.

Bravo’s email was entitled “Building a Bricks and Clicks Showroom Without Going Broke or Crazy,” which rang a bell with me because it tied into the research I was doing on omnichannel sales and marketing.

I also am aware Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Retail Web Services (RWS) is another company that offers ominchannel sales and marketing services in the DPH industry and is a member of the Forte buying group.

Both companies develop websites for DPH showrooms, including uploading product information on a smartphone app that can be used by both sales consultants and customers, providing an online and in-store solution for showroom businesses. Both companies also help website traffic through improved search-engine optimization. After all, if no one can find your website, what good is it?

We’ll start with a brief interview I did with Bravo’s Rosenstein and we’ll check in with RWS in a future column. For starters, I asked Rosenstein his opinion on the long-term future of brick-and-mortar DPH showrooms.

“There are several factors unique to the products sold by plumbing showrooms,” he said. “Each leads customers to want to see the products. The ability of plumbing showrooms to compete in the future hinges on the ability to fulfill this simple request — online and in-store. And the inability to deliver means you’re invisible to your online shopper and less effective than you could be with your in-store visits.”

I also inquired to Rosenstein about the topic of showrooms providing real product numbers and prices on the Internet.

“This is a philosophical issue; one businesses must align with their own company culture,” he said. “That being said, we live in a very transparent world today. The search engines rely on the manufacturer’s item numbers to present relevant results to their audiences. By “hiding” the truth, showrooms are limiting their ability to participate in their local marketplace and furthermore dramatically reducing the benefits of submitting their online presence to the search engines (such as Google or Bing).

“In this type of discussion, I always ask, ‘Do you white-out all the SKUs when giving out a catalog or manufacturers’ brochure?’ This is the reason I have done a 180-degree change from recommending you don’t share model numbers until you have the order. Today’s clients want and expect complete transparency, and if you don’t give it to them they will go somewhere that does. There are too many alternatives out there.”

 If I still owned my showroom business it would have the best website and we would offer our customers the chance to buy online. I would be very transparent in how I did it and my sales team would have all the tools necessary to get the job done, including iPads, smartphones, showroom apps, a digital catalogue on all products and the very best showroom(s) in the best location(s).

Please take this message to heart and learn about what omnichannel marketing/selling can do to help your business. Omnichannel marketing is the wave of the future.

Good selling!