Jeff Valles: What I learned at DPHA Seattle
What do you get when more than 350 decorative showroom-savvy people gather for a conference? Insight into how to do things better, exposure to new business tools and a first look at the new decorative products for 2020.
This year’s Decorative Plumbing and Hardware Association’s conference in Seattle was that and more. Let’s look at a few of the recurring topics:
What is hot: Except swans and dolphins, anything goes. Customers are looking for their unique look. No longer is traditional or Euro-contemporary or minimalist No. 1. Selections are all over the style map and in any number of metal finishes and colors. One day a talented designer will select a steampunk faucet and on their next job specify a quiet, classical fixture. It is about delivering a finished look directly reflecting the client’s vision. In fact, highly profitable bespoke designs are gaining traction. In this market, it is so important for your salespeople to really listen to their clients’ wishes and not simply take them to a will-this-work solution. The salesperson should present the option of custom-made and configured fixtures and not be afraid of the price point. They have the money. The luxury market is strong. There are a lot of people walking into showrooms with substantial wealth. Do not under-sell these clients.
Business: The state of the decorative plumbing showroom business is good. Across the U.S. and Canada, vendors and showrooms have remained busy throughout 2019. However, some industry veterans are seeing a bit of a slowdown in the future. No, 2020 will not be 2008. These well-connected folks see their good, luxury builders not coming in as fast for their next job. They all have backlogs, but it might not be as large as it once was. Also, 2020 is an election year and it is shaping up to be a doozy. That extra uncertainty could well slow us down a bit.
Who owns the showrooms? In the past, most decorative plumbing and hardware showrooms were family businesses that were handed down from generation to generation. Today, that seems to have changed. From New Jersey to California, showrooms are being purchased by large building material brands, wealthy DPH outsiders and by other DPH showrooms expanding into new markets. As at any show, there were numerous rumors about who was selling to whom. A lot of cash is looking for investments and our industry is a viable option. If even a small fraction of the rumored purchases come to fruition, we will see quite a few new people at the 2020 DPHA conference.
Digital and social media: As in past years, everyone was talking about social and digital media. Yet, very few are utilizing these powerful tools. Most businesses are not even using email to share their story. Digital is still new and always changing, and its takes time, knowledge and money to do it right. The prevailing attitudes are, “my business is good and growing so why add an expense? I have not been able to find the time to learn how best to use it and I certainly do not want to hire a social media consultant.” This seems like a missed opportunity and leaves the door open for competitors to swoop in and grab a piece of your hard-earned market. Even with that probability, I think digital and social media will remain a small part of the DPH showroom go-to-market strategy in the near future.
Price competition: Amazingly, stupid. Low-ball price competition was not a big topic. Either it has slowed in this strong market or people just accept it as part of business. I would think the latter. It was a pleasure not to have to think about margins for a few days.
The DPHA conference remains an important conference on my schedule. It is not a buying show or a huge brand building, product galore show. It is all about how we can improve our premium, luxury business models and educate our new and veteran people. It is so valuable to have the time to go over a complex issue with people who have experienced what you are working to improve. The frustrations are shared and the insights are honest. If your showroom business is important to your company’s volume and its future growth, I suggest you attend the 2020 conference in New Orleans. Your showroom team will get smarter and your showrooms strategy will improve.