Operating the best showroom with the  best-trained people won’t bring customers through your door.

OK, I’m about to step out of my comfort zone! I want to talk about the importance of having a great website. I’m certainly not a techie and never will be, though I have to say I’m caught up with the computer and my new iPhone!

As a good businessman and marketer, I know how very important it is to have a terrific website. It has to be easy to read, consistent throughout and up-to-date at all times. It must drive potential customers into your showroom.

Today’s busy, harried customers don’t pull out the Yellow Pages anymore. They go straight to their computers. Here’s a very real example of what’s happening out there. Mr. and Mrs. Gotrocks (my favorite customers - they have rocks on their fingers, hanging around their necks, on their wrists and who knows where else?) decide to do a major remodel of their master bath.

It’s Friday evening and they want to spend Saturday researching the marketplace; that means visiting showrooms. They pour a glass of wine, boot up the computer and start searching for the “best” showrooms to visit. They make a list of three or four showrooms … all from the websites they visited.

You have by far the nicest showroom, best trained people, best selection, best service, etc., but if you have a poor website the odds are you’ll never get to tell your story to the Gotrocks! On the other hand, your competition may have ugly showrooms, untrained salespeople, a lousy selection of products, etc., but if they have a good website - guess what? The Gotrocks will be paying them a visit!

Get A Second Opinion

So, how did you answer the question that is the headline of this column? If you think you have a good site but want confirmation, ask several friends to review it and give you honest input. Better yet, retain a professional to review it and give you feedback.

As part of prepping for this column, I Googled “ideas for creating the best websites.” Do you have any idea how many pieces of information came up? Hundreds! Yes, most are businesses wanting to help you design your website. But aside from those, I still found a ton of great information. I’ll share some of the best of the best with you shortly.

A very good friend of mine and an industry expert, Leslie Hart, wrote an article on this subject in the June issue of Kitchen & Bath Design News. I’ve asked her permission to share with you some of her comments.

Leslie says that a lot of website advice is geared toward businesses that sell online or for retailers who have daily or weekly purchases. It’s a little trickier in a business like ours where the purchase cycle is much longer and more infrequent, and when discounts, coupons and other recommended techniques are not as relevant.

So, what do we know about consumer behavior on the Web as it relates to bath-and-kitchen products? There’s no question consumers are clicking fast. Leslie states that statistics at some showroom sites in our industry indicate the average time on a site ranges from 43 seconds up to 2 1/2 minutes. That means you have to grab their attention quickly.

When a potential client goes on your website, the first questions they will have are: “Am I on the right site and did I get where I thought I was going?” One of the highest priorities is to show your name, logo, address and phone number in the same spot on every page. (Your name and logo should be in the top left of each page with the search box located at the top right.)

Remember Good Graphic Design

You want your site to appeal to women. Keep it clean and uncluttered. Don’t try to cram too much into your homepage. In “Why Women Buy,” author Bridgette Brennan writes, “Clutter online makes women shut down. Clean and simple works best.”

Leslie notes that too many websites ignore time-tested basics of good graphic design. For example, large amounts of white type dropped out of a dark background is a no-no! It’s hard to read and slows people down. I visited several of your websites to get a feel for the quality out there. Too many of you are using white type on dark backgrounds.

Italic type is also proven to slow reading. A hodge-podge of bold, italic, color and a melee of type sizes makes for a poor design. In her book “Gender Design and Marketing,” Gloria Moss states that women prefer website graphics with rounded shapes and lots of white space, along with color, especially brighter colors. Women also prefer detailed surfaces to plain ones.

Most businesses have a homepage. But after going to the trouble of designing one, they then invite the visitors to “Skip Intro.” When you only get one or two minutes of their time, why would you ask them to skip something?

People that analyze bath-and-kitchen website traffic generally indicate that visitors tend to spend the most time looking at pictures of baths and kitchens. So put your best efforts into the portfolio section of the site. And yes, copy is important here. Point out features and benefits of the design and products. Have some testimonials on projects you’re showing. Women love to hear stories from other women on how their baths and kitchens came together.

You might also offer a “share” option. Clients trying to make a decision on a bath or kitchen project may want some of their friends to comment. Make it easy for the prospect to send information on to a friend for their opinion. If you send pictures, be sure there’s a watermark on the photo so you get credit for the work.

Pay attention to page view statistics of your site so you can determine which ones get the most traffic.

Make It Personal

Potential clients are drawn to faces. Show your face and the faces of your staff. Give brief bios. Personalize the site. When people are visiting several showrooms it will help when they go back to your site and say, “Yes, that’s the lady who was so helpful.” Be sure to include photos of your showroom not only to entice people to visit, but also to help them remember what they saw in yours vs. other showrooms.

Due to our current economy it’s more important than ever before to show budget ranges.  It will help pre-qualify prospects and will show them that you are able to offer a “Good, Better, Best” selection of products. Prospects, especially women, are reluctant to talk about money (budgets). By showing budget ranges, clients can absorb this information in the comfort of their home. I would suggest you arrange the product on display in your showroom by both price (good, better, best) and design (contemporary, traditional, transitional). You’ll save time for your prospect and your staff. 

Leslie makes another suggestion: The contact page should not have an anonymous “email us info @ ABC Fixtures and Faucets.” It feels as if you’re trying to hide from a prospect. Asking someone to fill in a long, involved form and then email it into cyberspace sends an impersonal message. A better idea is to have it emailed to a real person. In fact, you should show email addresses for all your staff on your contact page. The more reasons someone has to return to your site the better!

Web professionals frequently recommend a “call to action.” This would be a coupon or “call now for a special discount.” While that doesn’t really work for our type of business, you could offer a free consultation or a free seminar on how to approach a new or remodel construction project. If you do periodic e-newsletters, consumers could sign up for these on your site also. Do what you can to keep your name in front of the client.

Leslie advises not to try and get too flashy. When the Web was new, everyone was trying to outdo the competition. Today, consumers want clean, friendly, uncluttered, user-friendly and easy-to-navigate sites with valuable content.

In summary, I can’t urge you strongly enough to make sure you have the very best website in your marketplace. Yes, you’ll have to spend some money to do it right and to keep it current - but it will be some of the best marketing dollars you can invest.