Here are some tips regarding how to handle showroom customers on Saturdays and other busy days.

If you've read very many of my past articles, you know how hard I preach becoming as customer friendly as possible. Well, SUPPLY HOUSE TIMES' 2003 Showroom Survey found that wholesaler showrooms are becoming friendlier: 84% offer customer delivery; 11% offer financing (up from 7.9% in 2000); 89.6% will accept credit cards (down slightly from 91% in 2000); 11.6% offer installation (up from 10.1%). But the two items that pleased me most were the percentage of showrooms that offer evening hours: 39.9% (up from 32%), and those that are open on Saturdays: 74.6% (up from 71.3%).

Let's talk about being open on Saturdays. It's a proven fact that it's the biggest shopping day of the week. It's when both the husband and wife can go shopping together. It's also true that Saturdays may be a bigger "looking" day than actual buying. These potential clients will probably visit one or two other showrooms. I hope you'll agree that it's very important to impress, yes even convince, these folks that you and your showroom are where they will want to buy. Too many showroom managers and sales consultants look at the so-called "tire kickers" as something of a bother. They think that they're not ready to place orders so they don't spend as much time or energy with them. Wrong! Your attitude should be to go all out to convince them that you, your company and your products are absolutely the only place they should shop. Obviously, you have to do a great job qualifying each and every prospect so you can make a judgment as to just how much time and energy to expend.

Most showrooms spend a lot of money advertising and promoting their businesses. The ultimate goal is to drive potential clients into your showroom. So when you succeed and they do come in, your next objective is to make sure they know you are the best showroom in town (or out of town for that matter). The Saturday shoppers may not be placing orders that day, but if you take them seriously and do a great sales job they will be back.

Showrooms are definitely destination stops. That means that the prospects have researched where they want to shop and have committed their time and gas to drive to your showroom. They have a purpose in mind: maybe a new home or a remodel; maybe only a replacement faucet or a washer to fix a leaking faucet. Whatever their reason is, you have to make a 110% effort to make them happy. Hey, the client that buys the washer today may need a new faucet in the future and then may build a new home. He could even be the biggest custom home builder in your area. So make them happy on the little things and they'll be back for the bigger things.

Back to being open on Saturdays. I know from owning my own showroom business (three showrooms) that Saturdays are the hardest to staff and work. If your advertising, word-of-mouth, etc., works as well as ours did, you'll have more prospects coming into the showroom on Saturdays than you can handle. Your challenge is to keep them occupied, involved and busy. If they're just standing around waiting for a salesperson, they'll get frustrated quickly. I know - too many folks left our showrooms on Saturday feeling they didn't get helped in a timely manner. It's a tough challenge because you only have "x" number of trained sales staff and most prospects require a fair amount of time to be qualified and sold. Following are a few ideas that will make Saturday (and any other busy day) a better shopping experience for your prospects.

-- First, have a well-qualified person meet and greet clients as they come into the showroom. A receptionist near the front door works well. This person's responsibility is to welcome the client; thank them for coming in; find out if they've been there before; why are they here today; and then explain that Saturdays are exceptionally busy and it takes well-trained salespeople to work with clients. This "meeter and greeter" should try and "sell" the prospect on making an appointment for a weekday or evening when they will get the salesperson's undivided attention. During the meeting and greeting is a good time to explain how your business works and why you are the best. We asked all prospects to sign a register when they came through the front door. This gave us valuable information about the prospect and insured that they were waited on in the proper order.

-- Here's another idea that several of my consulting clients are experimenting with: put YOUR model number and YOUR price on every item in the showroom. Yes, this is a big change in my personal philosophy of no model numbers and no pricing. But note that these numbers are YOUR numbers! Today's knowledgeable shoppers, many of whom have pre-shopped on the Internet and in other stores, want to know a model number and price of the item they are looking at. So, as part of trying to be a more customer-friendly place to shop, you need to give them this information. The price is YOUR price, not manufacturer's list price less a discount. It's easy to explain that every manufacturer has different discounts and many have different discounts on various products. YOUR price will range from list price (or even higher on some products) to a few very competitive prices on "leader items" (popular items sold by the big boxes). Most prices should be between 10% and 20% off list. There's a risk that a client will have shopped somewhere else and may see a higher price on your product. But this is where salesmanship comes in. Find out what the client's project is. If he or she is just buying one or two items, the price shown will be the price. If the client is buying a full house of product, explain that you have better pricing in this situation. Let them know that you¿re the biggest and best wholesale showroom and you'll extend your "best" pricing to them.

-- Okay, it's Saturday and you have more prospects in the showroom than you can handle. Have your "meeter and greeter" give them a quote form on a clipboard, listing every type of product that you sell. Show them how they can start looking at product and marking down YOUR item number and YOUR price. This gives them something to do. They're happy - and they start to qualify themselves in terms of style, color, finish and price. When a salesperson is able to work with them the job is already started. This will save the salesperson time and it's a win-win for everyone concerned. I have several consulting clients doing this and the early reports are excellent.

-- Another customer friendly thing you can do is develop a CD/video that will run on a continuous loop near the front door. It can include a welcome to your showroom; tell who you are, why you are good and how you do business. It can encourage making appointments, explain your deposit policy and any services that you offer. It can also start to "sell" your value-added package by telling them the reasons why they should do business with you. When you do a good job selling your value, price will become less important.

The obvious reason that you give out only YOUR model numbers is that you don't want to spend several hours with a client, give them real manufacturer numbers and have the client go down the street and shop your hard work. If you're computerized, your software has to allow you to do YOUR numbers on the quote and then convert them back to real numbers for the ordering process. Many companies are doing this very successfully.

Here's another customer friendly idea I've had, but I haven't seen it put to use yet. Most of you have walked through museums carrying the small recorder and wearing earphones. You walk up to a display and press a button (either on the recorder or on the display). While you stand there the recorder tells you about the products in the display. Wow, what a great way of "selling" features and benefits on you and your products. Plus, the prospect is involved, busy and learning!

Becoming customer friendly in every way possible should be the goal of every showroom business. Learning to be retail customer friendly has been a difficult transition for many wholesalers. But SUPPLY HOUSE TIMES' 2003 Showroom Survey and the many folks I work with and visit tell me it's really starting to happen! Keep up the good work! <<