Hank Darlington: The changing role of the DHP rep
Recently, I had the pleasure of participating in two very well-done industry events. As always, I saw a number of longtime friends and met quite a few new people.
In talking with several of the manufacturers reps, I was surprised by how much their job descriptions have changed in the past 10 years.
In order to get a good cross section of viewpoints for this topic, I reached out to four highly respected reps from different parts of the country. All four specialize in representing DPH products. I put together a list of six questions directed at this topic. They are:
Mary Labowitz, the principle of Premiere Marketing. Her firm employs eight and has served all California and northern Nevada for the past 30 years.
Debby Stehr, the owner of Stehr Enterprises, which has been in business 22 years and covers the Mid-Atlantic states.
Noel Garcia, the lead person at Decorative Sales Associates (DSA). His firm started in 1993, and covers Florida east of Tallahassee, the Caribbean and select Latin American markets.
Cynthia Carter, owner along with her brother, Kevin Carter, of Next Generation Marketing. Cynthia and Kevin serve Texas and Oklahoma and have been in business for 18 years.
All four are very active in the Decorative Plumbing and Hardware Association and several other industry trade organizations and have been recognized as the outstanding manufacturers rep firm in the country by DPHA. What follows are some key points from my discussions with these folks.
What have been the biggest changes in your job description in the past 10 years?
- There is a lack of time available for training. Where our PKs (product-knowledge training) used to take an hour, now we try to meet one-on-one for about 20 minutes and customize the training for each individual.
- Being a rep is no longer just being a salesperson. In today’s computer age, vendors are using CRM (customer relation management) programs that require detailed reports.
- Additional responsibilities now include the need for the rep to make more calls and help develop relationships with the architects and designers.
- Instead of simply handing out a business card, we use a line card that tells our company story and highlights the vendors we represent.
- Two of the companies said that to meet the need for immediate information, they have responded with the creation of a cloud-based media library on their websites. This gives showroom customers and the architecture and design community access to all their manufacturer catalogues for easy viewing and downloading.
In your opinion what do DPH showrooms have to do today to stay relevant and succeed in this digital age of marketing and selling?
- One main rule: Don’t ever sell on price alone — you won’t win!
- Content marketing is vital. Customers today do not want to be “sold.” They believe by doing their own internet search they will receive unbiased, truthful information.
- Spend at least a couple hours per week on content marketing and social media. Continually be networking to build new contacts.
- Be sure showroom sales consultants are trained to be the experts in the industry.This is the unique value they can bring to the equation in the battle against the internet.
- Stop complaining about the internet. It’s not going anywhere! It’s not about having a website, it’s about what it does for you!
- Showrooms must invest time and dollars into marketing on the web and on social media.
- We’re finding we need to help showroom salespeople by teaching them about the complete showroom selling process from the customer coming through the front door all the way to after-sale follow-up. The internet can’t do all this!
- Every firm agreed their goal was to engage. Our goal is to engage the design community and keep in front of them to get them into the showrooms. Showrooms should consider offering CEUs and other product and design seminars. We suggest holding events in the showroom to help tell your story.
- Are you helping your showrooms market and sell online?
- We have a communications specialist on staff that will meet with our showroom customers and assist them with social media marketing. We also will offer them a nonbiased review of their website.
Do you believe manufacturers reps will become even more important to the success of their DPH Showroom customers?
- Yes, but only if the showrooms recognize the true value the rep brings to the table and take advantage of the help they offer.
- We are the experts on the products we represent and can be of great value to our clients.
- We are an extension of the showroom and we should be working together to secure new customers, projects and specifications in local marketplaces.
- Reps are the best source of information for the products they represent. We are the eyes, ears and pulse of the industry because we are the bridge between all segments of the industry: vendors, specifiers, installers, showrooms and consumers.
- We can (and should) encourage diversification of products beyond the traditional DPH products. This will help showrooms to attract more clients into their stores and will help grow revenues.
- The manufacturers reps have a responsibility to include sales training on how to sell their products, not just provide technical information.
- Reps of the future will be more active in helping train the trades.
- Reps will have to continue to work hard to be the liaison between the manufacturer and showroom where internet sales are concerned. We must explain the difference between IMAPs and MSP and how to monitor and enforce these policies.
Do you believe there will still be a need for brick-and-mortar showrooms 20 years from now?
- Absolutely! Human beings like to shop. They like to see, feel and touch the products they purchase. If you sell kitchen products, then taste and smell will be added as well. This is especially true of high-cost, longer-lasting products.
- Plumbing and hardware is a bit of a mystery for most homeowners. They always will have a need for detailed information that the internet doesn’t offer.
- Yes! We will need showrooms because we offer a luxury product that can’t be experienced on a screen. The wide variety of products that make up a large remodel or new construction job must be pooled together from a wide variety of manufacturers to create the space and experience consumers want. This can only be done in a brick-and-mortar showroom.
- The age of being an order taker is behind us. Developing a unique and compelling customer experience is in front of us!
The answers on the above question were 100% unanimous. Yes, there will be a need for DPH showrooms. But how they will be doing business will dramatically be different than how it is today. That’s the good news! The bad news is the showrooms that don’t embrace that incredible shopping experience will fall by the wayside.
Do you have the very best reps in your trading area helping you to become the very best you can be? I hope so because a large degree of your success depends on them.