As I write this, it is Sunday, Aug. 7. I have been back on the road for a while and have just returned from another week-long tour. I would like to report that the decorative plumbing showroom world remains vibrant and as diverse as ever. The question that I am most asked is: How are showrooms and customers reacting to COVID-19 in their business practices in 2022?
Last Friday, I visited three showrooms and each one addressed the enduring pandemic in its own unique way.
Quick description: A luxury-focused showroom specializing in both decorative plumbing and fine architectural hardware.
The policy: Their pandemic policy was a locked front door, appointments only may enter and any and all visitors must be masked at all times. Absolutely no browsers were allowed.
The why: They boldly stated that COVID-19 is not even close to over and "we are not taking any chances." They have three top showroom consultants and do not want to risk their health or that of our good clients and their clients.
Quick description: This is an ultra-high-end, fine architectural hardware showroom that also sells a smattering of luxury-bespoke plumbing fixtures.
The policy: Their door was unlocked, but to enter one must be masked and have an appointment. Only very good and loyal customers could maybe hope to arrive without an appointment and be allowed to shop the showroom.
The why: This showroom would rather be safe than sorry. Some of the team are 50 and older, and a lot of the designers and architects are in their 50s, 60s and 70s. It really is not a nuisance to wear a mask. Business is good and designers and architects continue to consistently to make appointments. Some do occasionally drop in for a quick look-reference but that is really rare. Plus, most of the expertise and art-design disposable monies is with those 50 and older.
Quick description: A successful decorative plumbing supply showroom.
The policy: The door was wide open, it is a hot August after all. Anyone and everyone were welcome and there was not a mask in sight. This showroom was open for all comers.
The why: Simply, why not?
All three showrooms were within a 10-mile radius, in a large, lucrative urban market with sales continuing to set records.
Why are they all different?
COVID-19 pressure remains a constant issue for all businesses, retail, wholesale and consulting. Some people want to it to go away and we see that in their personal and business practices. Others have a fear of COVID and think their customers share it. But I think there is still more going on. What is the underlying driver of these closed-door, appointment-only policies? To understand this, we need to travel back to a non-COVID-influenced world. For decades, two showroom headaches were constantly debated and both are closely related.
If you think your showroom will benefit, in the long term, by moving to an appointment preferred or appointment-only program, this is a great time to give it a try.
Showroom headache No. 1 was the frustration with designers and architects and builders and plumbers just popping into a showroom with a client like they were walking into Macy’s. They wandered in at any time or politely telephoned that they were on their way, demanding immediate attention from their showroom consultant. The job scope can range from a single kitchen faucet to a complete custom home. And in some instances, they wanted a complete meeting even if they entered just prior to closing time.
This common behavior drove a discussion in favor of showrooms switching their top showroom consultants to appointment-only access. This program would be great for the showroom. It would allow a showroom consultant quiet, focused time with their clients. They would not be interrupted by whale accounts calling directly or having to excuse themselves from a selection to talk with unplanned special customer drop-in. It would also grant them scheduled time off of the floor to build and follow up on quotes. This step would help the professional client in making sure their consultant is free and focused on their individual jobs also saving them time in the long run.
Showroom headache No. 2: Must decorative plumbing showrooms be located in a retail or quasi-retail area? Can a decorative plumbing showroom effectively function on the second floor in a business district with difficult parking and no real street identification? How about a low-rent industrial park? Is it important for a luxury showroom brand to be located in an area where homeowners shop and socialize? Is helping a walk-in who saw your pretty bathtub in the window a profitable use of your showroom people’s time?
Do you think these two pain points are the foundation driving showrooms in 2022 to keep their doors locked and demand appointments? Or do you think it is mostly the pandemic power of COVID-19 locking showroom doors?
In the case of showroom #1, it is obvious there is a bit of a fear of catching a nasty Covid strain. Showroom #2 notes age as an important consideration. While showroom #3 is ready and willing for all comers. Of course, it was the driver of the decision. But, I suggest, for many fine decorative plumbing showrooms, setting up an intelligent appointment-only policy can be beneficial. I also think that those that remain behind in a locked door in 2022 have remained successful with the appointment-only strategy. So, why change? Why not play it out as long as we can? Plus, does any showroom consultant really like spending precious time with homeowners chasing a dream-maybe-to-happen? Especially they are compensated on a commission plan?
Forget the pandemic for a minute. If you think your showroom will benefit, in the long term, by moving to an appointment preferred or appointment only program. This is a great time to give it a try. In many instances, I think you'll be able to pull it off with at least your top showroom consultants. We all know showroom people are constantly stressed about who might come in the front door. This nervous mindset limits your consultant’s ability to laser focus on the client they are working with or focusing on getting the quote out correctly and quickly. I challenge you to work in a retail environment while trying to work in a showroom with a luxury client specifying one bathroom. It is not easy.
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