Let customers know you have products for every budget.

I work hard at trying to keep abreast of what’s happening out there. Since we sold our business 15 years ago, I’ve had to keep my finger on the pulse of our great industry through my many consulting clients and friends - good friends that I’ve had the pleasure of networking with throughout the years. These friends and sources of information are from all three segments of the DPH industry: dealers, reps and manufacturers.

Several times a year people will ask me if I don’t miss owning and operating my own showroom business. My reply is, “Sure I miss the many challenges of managing 35+ employees, the opportunity to be creative and forward thinking, and I especially miss the people (our customers, reps and employees). BUT (yes, a big ‘BUT’), I really don’t miss the everyday trials and tribulations of running a business.” And boy, am I glad I haven’t had to live through the last two or three years. Certainly this is the most challenging economic time of my lifetime.

In the last few days I’ve called several of my clients and friends to find out what they are doing to keep their businesses strong in these dramatically challenging times. Here are just a few things that I know you’ve experienced:
  • Fewer people coming into the showroom
  • A lot less new construction
  • Smaller, less expensive projects
  • Many more budget-conscious shoppers
  • A much more competitive market place
  • The ever-growing presence of Internet shopping
  • Your salespeople needing to become more than just order takers
  • Fewer dollars available for marketing and merchandising
  • And of course, across-the-board belt tightening

In spite of all these (and I’m sure many more) challenges, I’m sensing a lot of very good things happening. Many of you aren’t just sitting there saying, “Poor me!”. You’re doing some very creative things to drive more traffic into the showroom and to close a higher percentage of your opportunities.

Allow me to share some of the very inspired and innovative things I’ve learned by talking to a dozen or so showroom owners and managers recently. I came away pleased and impressed by the resiliency, perseverance and creativity that these folks have demonstrated in the toughest of tough times. I also know that there are a lot of other things that you folks have done/are doing to not only survive, but thrive. I’d love it if you’d email me with some of your creative experiences. I can foresee a second article on this exciting subject.

Here are some things that are taking place out there:
  • First and foremost I was concerned that due to a much more competitive environment margins would have eroded. Only one of the 12 people I talked with indicated that this was the case. Everyone else said that by being more creative in their pricing they had been able to maintain the same margin that they had during the good times. Below are a few of the creative pricing strategies that I heard:
    • Don’t cut discounts - move the client into a more competitively priced product.
    • Bring in more competitively priced products.
    • Consolidate lines - be more important to fewer vendors.
    • Get away from quoting list less a discount. Quote a net price only.
    • Get away from across-the-board discounting. Go deep on the commodity items, but make more on the other 80% of the products.

  • One of the toughest things to overcome is when you sell high-end products at high-end pricing and your showroom looks high-end - so the customer’s perception is that all you have to sell is “high-end.” Here are some things that several people are doing to combat that perception:
    • Develop a tagline that suggests you have products for all price ranges. For example: “Who knew style could be so affordable?” or “Luxury on any budget” or “Bath in a Box - $2,000 will get you a new bathroom.”
    • The most important way to help erase the “high price” perception is to make sure a salesperson gets face-to-face with every customer and lets them know that you have products/solutions for every budget range. If a customer comes in, walks around admiring your beautiful space and leaves without a “face-to-face,” that customer will leave with a perception that you only sell high-end products - and they’ll tell their friends and neighbors. Be proactive. Advertise the fact that you have multiple price ranges and tell them at every opportunity. Two folks I talked with have created a “more competitively priced” product area. They have put the lower-priced products in one area. After they have determined that this is truly a lower budget project, they take the customer directly to this area.

  • Look seriously at taking on a greater variety of products. A number of the people I talked to are adding lighting, door hardware, countertops and bath furniture. Some are bringing in exclusive or branded products. One company is bringing in their own brand of paint - because many people showed an interest in the various paint colors used in their showroom. Today’s customers want “one-stop shopping,” why not accommodate them? New products will add much-needed revenues. It doesn’t cost more to advertise and promote multiple products than it does just nice-looking plumbing products.

  • Even with reduced marketing budgets, several people I talked with are upgrading their Web sites. They recognize the power of the Internet and how important it is to the overall marketing effort.

  • Most folks are trying hard to keep their displays current and up-to-date. Almost everyone said they are leaning hard on their vendor partners for “free” or very low-cost displays. I understand this thinking, and if I still owned my business I’d be tempted to do the same thing. But keep in mind that your vendor partners have been struggling also. Their business stinks, just like yours. I never believed in “free” displays. I would rather earn the display through increased sales, more visibility, more exclusivity, etc. So please, don’t beat up on your vendor partners too hard - they’re fighting to survive also.

  • Several companies are hosting more events - for plumbers, builders, architects, remodelers - but mostly for designers! They are doing educational seminars and offering CEUs (continuing education units) for attending. These have been very successful. Getting these professionals into your showroom can reap big rewards both now and down the road.

  • One manager of several showrooms for a very large wholesaler indicated they’ve increased inventories on the most popular showroom items. This surprised me and I asked the rationale behind it. He said when the majority of their sales was for new construction they had longer lead times to get products in. But now, the bulk of the sales are remodel and these projects are much faster, thus shortening the lead time. Inventory on the shelf equates to faster, better service.

    I learned of several more creative ideas that folks are doing, but am out of space for this article. Please email me some of the things you’ve done and/or are doing and I’ll include them in my next article.

    I want to thank the following people for sharing their time and the creative things that they’ve incorporated into their businesses to help fight these tough times: Judy Eaton, director of showrooms for Consolidated Supply, Tigard, OR; Nancy Becker, director of showrooms for Torrington Supply, Waterbury, CT; Joel Seltzer, national sales manager for showrooms, Morrison Supply, Houston, TX; Vicki Findley Pfeil, owner, Miller’s Fine Decorative Hardware, Jupiter FL; Jeff Burton, owner, The Bath & Beyond, San Francisco, CA.

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