Enhance the image of your showrooms and boost sales with services customers will appreciate.

Service is that short little word that we all give "lip service" to, but don't always provide! Most of us think we render great service to our clients. But our competitors keep growing, new competitors keep popping up and new sources of supply (the "big boxes") have cut into our businesses. So are we really providing the quality of service that we think we do?

The services expected of a showroom are different from those of the wholesale side of the business and closer to those of a retail business. If your main thrust is high-end product, you need to point your services in that direction.

You can easily do your own market survey to confirm what the most successful retail stores offer their clients. Pick your favorite high-end retail store and spend an hour or two there. Observe how they do business. Make a list of things that stand out. What are their hours of business? Do they accept credit cards? Then go back to your business and see if the services you offer compare favorably.

Although the plumbing contractor is your main customer, the homeowner makes the buying decision, so your service package should be directed toward the homeowner.

Following is a long list of service ideas (in no particular order) that you may want to consider offering your clients.

Showroom location. Is your showroom easily accessible? Are there other showrooms in the area? Does the drive up give you a good impression?

Parking. Is parking close to the front door? Are there sufficient spaces? Is the area well-lighted? Entrance. Does your showroom make a good first impression? Is it clean and well maintained? Do you have a receptacle for cigarettes and trash?

Receptionist and sign-in. A means of greeting customers is important. If the business is large enough, a receptionist (with multiple work duties) is needed. The receptionist should speak to the customers as they arrive. A sign-in book asking for customers' names, addresses, phone numbers, why they are here and how they heard about you will give you valuable information.

Strategically placed salespeople. The quicker you can meet and greet a client, the better. Have your salespeople's desks in different locations in the showroom.

Well-lighted, clean and carefully maintained displays. Don't rob product off a display - ever! Don't have "new displays in progress" any longer than absolutely necessary. Spotless, well-lighted displays speak for themselves.

Dress code. If you have high-end products, then your showroom and staff have to look the part.

Credit cards. You have to offer credit card transactions. The homeowner expects it! Yes, it takes away 1½ to 2 points, but you make it up in higher margins and no accounts receivable. Use the automatic machines that check credit instantly and deposit the money immediately.

Hours of business. Retail stores are open for business every day of the week plus several evenings. You have to be open at least on Saturdays and possibly one evening. Have you considered hiring part-time employees to help with staffing requirements? Home Depot and Lowe's are experimenting with 24-hour, seven-day-a-week service. Ouch!

Jobsite delivery. This is a service that needs to be offered to the homeowner. It can be done with your own trucks or through an outside company. Don't be afraid to charge the homeowner for this service!

Financing. Establish a relationship with a local bank or sign up with one of several finance companies that specialize in this area, such as Transamerica, Greentree or The Money Store. Negotiate a deal in which you earn a finder's fee for your effort. You're paid 100% for your products and services right upfront.

All the "big boxes" offer a turnkey job, as does Sears in its regular stores and its new Great Indoors store. At the least, you should have a list of reliable plumbers, remodel and building contractors that you can give to your clients. The people on this list should also be sending business to you.

Direct ship. Direct ship as much product as possible, especially faucets, bath accessories and smaller items. Don't forget to add UPS or freight charges to the cost.

Educational seminars and demonstrations. Here's a huge opportunity to educate the homeowner, plumber, builder, designer and architect. What's new in products? Why are you the best source? Topics can range from "How to Remodel Your Kitchen/Bath" to "What are the Popular Styles, Trends and Colors?" Offer monthly seminars at your showroom in the evenings. Serve light snacks and coffee. Do zip code mailings to older, high-end neighborhoods.

Do your quotes promptly. If your quotes aren't done in a timely manner, potential clients will lose confidence in how you will follow through on the rest of their project.

Do the complete package. Don't forget the related items, such as supply lines, p-traps, water closet tank levers, cutting boards, colanders or strainers. These "little things" add up in sales and higher margins.

Offer the widest selection of product possible. One-stop shopping will bring customers back and will spread the word to new customers. Don't just offer the traditional wholesale products. Consider adding door and cabinet hardware, bath accessories, tile, saunas, steamers, towel warmers and other related products that can add to your revenues and margins.

Well-trained sales staff. The better trained your people are, the more business they'll write and the better service you'll be offering.

Kids area. Create a small area for the kids. A VCR with appropriate videos, blocks, books and stuffed animals shows that you care and reduces your liability for accidents.

Clean, attractive public restrooms. Be consistent with the image you want to project.

Inventory management. Bring product in on time and hold it for a reasonable amount of time. You don't want to sit on product more than 30 days. Break fullhouse orders into Phase 1 and Phase 2. Phase 1 would consist of rough plumbing, in-wall valves and tub/shower products. Phase 2 would be the balance of the finish products, to be delivered six to 10 weeks later. Timing is everything.

Do spec packages. Provide specification packages for your client but only after you have the order.

Stock fast-moving, impulse-buy items. Showrooms require very little inventory. You should enjoy a 12-time turn but also have a high percentage of special-order items (about 75%). Have some faucets, rough valves, bath accessories, lavatories and water closets to meet the needs of walk-in customers and last-minute shoppers.

Coffee, tea, sodas and snacks. Having drinks and snacks available is a nice touch. It doesn't cost much and leaves a nice impression. Use china cups and plates to stay consistent with your image.

A thank-you card or small gift. Do this for every order of $1,000 or more to express your thanks. Cards, flowers, magazine subscriptions, dinner or theater tickets are nice ways to say "thank you for your business."

Design services. Offering manual or computerized design to assist the customer in the layout of a new bath or kitchen is a growing trend.

Inspect your product. When special-order product comes into your warehouse, you want to be sure it is not broken, scratched or otherwise damaged. Use good judgment.

Working displays. For certain products, such as showerheads, whirlpool systems or pull-out faucets, working displays help tell the story.

Customer service survey forms. A one-page, 10- to 15-question survey with an easy rating system will give you great information on how your clients perceive your service. Enclose a self-addressed, stamped envelope. Offer a small gift or gift certificate for their time. Make it optional whether they sign their name. On negative returns you should always respond and follow through to make the situation better. On really positive returns, share with those responsible.

We've covered a lot of ideas. Some may apply to your business, some may not. Think creatively and do everything possible to make your showroom the No. 1 service showroom in your market place. Good selling!