I’ve had the unique honor and pleasure of writing this column for more than 22 years. That’s more than 260 articles! I’ve worked with six different editors. All great bosses that have allowed me to choose the topics and who have been tolerant of my rather casual writing style. I have tried very hard to stay ahead of the curve on what I believe you need to do to operate a successful showroom business. Some months selecting a topic has been easy — others not so easy.

I have tried to stay active with the various trade associations, have delivered dozens of keynote talks, done a bunch of face-to-face workshops and several-dozen webinars on showroom selling skills. The main thing that has allowed me to stay current and relevant has been doing a considerable amount of consulting work with dozens of well-known plumbing distributors and vendors in this great decorative plumbing industry.

As a result, I have developed an amazing number of great industry friends which has allowed me to network on what’s really going on out there. What an incredible ride it’s been — and I hope it lasts a number of years.

These opening thoughts of nostalgia were prompted by the topic I wrote about recently. There are many changes that are and will be taking place in terms of how a brick-and-mortar decorative plumbing and hardware showroom will look like and operate in the next decade. How consumers (your main clients) shop is changing dramatically. Much of this is caused by the internet, big boxes and a vast array of new technologies. Here are some Darlington predictions.

  • Luxury decorative kitchen and bath products will continue to be popular and grow.

  • Retail is not dead, just changing — fast.

  • Consumers will continue to shop at brick-and-mortar stores.

  • Luxury showrooms will mainly feature big, well-known brands.

  • These well-known brands will be the big winners.

  • Some manufacturers will open their own showrooms and start selling direct to the consumers.

  • Distributor showrooms may start charging rent for display space.

  • You may find some manufacturer salespeople working in and for distributor showrooms.

  • The larger players will get larger and the smaller will become fewer.

  • Boutique showrooms will struggle.

  • More displays will have internet vehicles.

  • Instead of local manufacturers reps doing the product training, manufacturers will have professional trainers doing the in-house training.

  • Manufacturers will offer more video training on their products and companies.

  • The traditional methods of advertising and promoting the showroom have changed. Your website and showroom will be the new media. Both will have to first attract customers to come into the showroom and then keep them there.

  • Influencer incentives and loyalty programs for specifiers will become common.

  • Major big-brand manufacturers will ally themselves with major distributors or retailers. Or, go it alone.

  • The kitchen and master bath will continue to be the most important rooms in the home.

  • Many malls will either go away or be transformed.

  • More well-known retail businesses will go away.

  • Online shopping will continue to grow. E-commerce is projected to grow to almost 20% by 2025.

  • Omni-channel selling will grow with distributor showrooms. (Buy online and pick up at the showroom.)

  • Luxury showrooms will show and sell fewer competing vendor products. Less will be more!

  • Your showroom location and hours will have to be customer friendly. Locations and size to be dictated by your demographic data. Hours will be dictated by the customer shopping habits. Yes, even Saturdays, Sundays and evenings, as well.

  • New-home sales declined by 73% during the recent big recession.

  • New-home sales are on the rise, but have a long way to go to get back to the 1.4 million built and sold in 2006.

  • New homes will be smaller, but will have lots more technology built in.

  • By 2020 millennials will be 1/3 of all buyers.

  • 40% of all millennials still live at home.

  • And when they move out, they prefer condos in larger cities to the suburbs.

  • 46% of all Gen-Xers and millennials rent vs. owning a home.

  • Only 10% of both have enough savings to afford a down payment on a new house.

  • Gen-Xers and millennials are marrying later and will have fewer children.

  • To attract Gen-X and millennial customers you will need to tout health and experience benefits.

  • With baby boomers declining and fewer Gen-Xers there will be fewer potential clients for the next 10 years.

  • The percentage of baby-boomer shoppers is declining and Gen-X and millennial shoppers will grow.

  • Today baby boomers account for 55% of all luxury product purchases.

  • But they are retiring, passing on and downsizing.

  • They are great candidates for aging-in-place products.

  • Millennials can make great employees, but you will need to respond to the new mindset of these folks.

  • They are much more techy and receptive to change than the boomers, and they have more energy.

  • It’s the digital age. You will need to use smartphones, iPads, HD monitors and every other digital device possible to keep customers engaged. It’s what they are used to and what they expect.

  • AI (artificial intelligence), virtual reality and augmented reality will be used in showrooms and from home.

  • Emails will phase out as messaging apps become more popular.

  • Likewise, social media will become less popular as chat networks takeover.

  • Learning how to deliver a great customer experience will be a key to continued success.

  • Your brick-and-mortar showrooms will have to build in the tools, data and technology that customers are becoming reliant on to make informative decisions.

  • Brick-and-mortar stores are here for the long haul — shopping is a human activity. Our brains love shopping, clients demand knowledgeable salespeople, and clients want the experience of touching, feeling, seeing, sitting on and sitting in our products.

  • One-stop shopping for all kitchen and bath products will become more prevalent. Clients want this.

  • Amazon will continue to be the big online shopping winner.

  • Don’t be surprised if Alibaba, China’s equivalent to Amazon, doesn’t try and give Amazon a run in the U.S.

  • Homeowners, with the help of their designers and architects, will be the main decision-makers. The plumber will continue to lose position in the buy-sell transaction.

  • DIY shoppers will continue to shop online and at the big-box stores.

  • D4M (do it for me) shoppers will need your help and advice.

  • You will be the authoritative voice in helping make the buying decisions.

  • I would be remiss if I didn’t include these very important predictions:

  • Practicing good, basic business-management skills in the showroom will be paramount to success.

  • People will continue to be your most important asset.

  • Setting and achieving gross-profit margin goals of 35%-plus must happen.

  • And probably the most frustrating thing for me during this 22-year span of writing these articles is seeing the lack of teaching your showroom sales consultants how to sell. It is a selling business, and you won’t be successful if you don’t sell enough of these great-looking products.

So, start now by incorporating a first-class showroom selling skills program into your training. As I’ve said so many times before, nothing happens until sales are made.

I would be very interested in whether you might agree or disagree with any of the above thoughts. Who knows, there may be another article hiding in there. Feel free to email or call at darlingtonconsulting@gmail.com or (541) 622-8008.

Good selling!