When showroom sales and traffic start declining, you need to spend as much or more on creative marketing.

Has your showroom traffic slowed down? Have sales started to slip? This is not the time to cut back your marketing budget. When things slow down, you need to spend as much or more on marketing and you need to be more creative than ever.

Marketing is:

  • The process through which you create and keep customers.
  • The matchmaker between what your business is selling and what your customers are buying.
  • All steps that are involved to tailor your products, messages, distribution and customer service to meet the desires of your customers.
  • About talking with your clients.
  • Telling clients who you are, where you are, what you do and why you’re better, different and more unique than everyone else.
  • How to attract potential customers to your place of business.
  • Marketing is made up of four main pieces:
      1. Advertising
      2. Public Relations
      3. Selling
      4. Promotions

    You absolutely must have a detailed, itemized written marketing plan for 2008. It can easily be done in Excel format. For each month, list every marketing activity you plan to utilize. Assign a budgetary number to each item. I suggest 5% of total showroom sales. You should be able to recoup 1.5 to 2% of this in co-op dollars from your vendor partners.

    Promotions are activities that you organize or participate in that are directed towards:

  • Winning customers away from your competitors
  • Attracting new customers
  • Stimulating larger purchases from existing customers
  • Stimulating repeat purchases
  • Promoting new products and services

    The goal of all promotions is to stimulate people to want to buy. Promotions need to be motivational. They need to move people closer to making a buying decision. They can also be used to educate prospective clients on who you are and what you do.

    Let’s look at a number of promotions that have proven successful in my business or the businesses of my clients. The key to all good promotions is creativity. Most plumbing wholesalers are terrific at managing inventory and accounts receivable. They know how to buy right, warehouse and deliver products. But they are not as strong in advertising, public relations and promotions. The showroom business is more retail than wholesale. This demands the understanding and implementation of great marketing. Here are some ideas:


  • Trade shows or home shows - They’re a lot of work! They have to be well done. They’re hard to “man.” They can be fairly expensive. But when well done, they can generate a lot of leads and introduce your company to a lot of folk. You need a “hook.” You can’t just stand there and hand out brochures. A hook might be to “Sign up here to win a free whirlpool tub,” or “Sign up here to win a free bathroom design.” This way you will have a list of names and phone numbers you can follow up on.


  • Open house - If you’ve recently expanded, moved or redone your showroom, you probably want to re-introduce it to your target audience. I like doing four to six hours for the tradespeople (plumbers, builders, remodelers, designers, architects) on one day, and another four to six hours the next day for past clients and the public. The event should be upbeat and festive.


  • Latte and learn - Here you do zip code mailings to upper-end neighborhoods inviting prospects to educational sessions in your showroom. Target homes that are 10 years old, valued at $700,000 and have at least three bedrooms, two baths and are owner occupied. Make the learning session about 50 minutes and offer subjects like “What’s New In Kitchen And Bath Products” or “How To Approach A Bath/Kitchen Remodel.”


  • Limo lunch or evening - Identify architects, designers and builders that you want to utilize your showroom. The firm should have four to 12 people who would benefit from hearing your story. Pick a date, have a limo pick them up at their place of business and bring them to the showroom. Provide light refreshments, give them a tour, do a short talk on what’s new in styles, trends, finishes, colors, etc., of plumbing fixtures. Take them back to their place of business. The limo ride makes them feel special and makes you look good.


  • Host various trade association meetings - Invite NKBA, NARI, ASID, AIA, realtors, builders and any other building-related group to have their monthly meeting at your showroom. Offer light refreshments or a buffet. Provide a tour and do a short talk about your products and services. Brag a bit about your business.


  • Host charitable events - You can host fundraisers, the kick-off of a campaign, new member get-togethers, etc. Here you wouldn’t give any talks - you are simply offering your showroom as a gathering place. By virtue of having a number of people come and walk through the showroom you’d be planting seeds for potential future clients.


  • Do a sale - This is a great way to get rid of unwanted, obsolete showroom display items and incorrectly ordered and overstock inventory and sell some regular, everyday products. Have a close-out area for the miscellaneous items - and at the same time put everything in the showroom “on sale.” Have professionally done signage showing the percentage discount off - or “Regular Price/Sale Price.”

    At our business, we did an 8-day “Tent Sale.” We advertised heavily (using a lot of co-op dollars). We turned it into a real event: Hot air balloons, free hot dogs and sodas, singing in the shower contests, live radio and more. These eight days generated huge dollar sales. You can scale it down to just a two-day sale. Don’t forget to have the wholesale side of your business include their unwanted items also. Turn and earn!


  • Cooking demonstrations or celebrity chef events - This will apply only if you are selling kitchen cabinets and appliances - and more showrooms are. Cooks love to show off their cooking skills while you “pitch” the features and benefits of the appliances being used. Many cooks have written books. You can promote the event as a book signing also.


  • Participation in street of dreams, parade of homes or designer show houses - The contractor/designer always wants the product for nothing or at cost. You may not get good visibility (signage, advertising) for the products you have on display. But if the events are well publicized and attended, they can give you great exposure. Do your homework before signing up.


  • Ugly bath or kitchen contest - This has to be well publicized and you’ll have to offer a nice incentive, but it can be a lot of fun. Get publicity in the newspaper or local home style magazine. You will get your name out and end up with a lot of ugly bathroom remodel leads. Be creative!

    Following are a few other promotions that have worked for me and others:

  • Loyalty reward programs where customers collect points, miles or credits for purchases and redeem them for awards.
  • Kitchen and bath home tours.
  • Have a party in a client’s new or newly remodeled home. Provide the refreshments and hand out brochures.
  • Give a gift for the referral of a prospective client, and if the client buys from you, send the person a more valuable gift.
  • Use e-mail to put your name, products, services and promotions in front of your clients.
  • Do speaking engagements to design classes, civic clubs and trade associations. Become the local expert on this subject.

    Promotion possibilities are endless. They will cost you some money but the results can be very rewarding. Have something exciting happening all the time. Be creative, look outside the box for ideas and get help from outside professionals if necessary. Have fun and watch your sales grow.