Many years ago I graduated college, did a stint in the Army, got an MBA and went on a job search.
I was sure I would end up with one of America’s mega corporations. But, low and behold, I took a job with a large plumbing/HVAC wholesaler. It’s the best thing I ever did! I worked in that side of the industry for 15 years and loved it.
I had grown to top management jobs with a couple of large wholesalers when the idea of going into business for myself hit home. I always had an entrepreneurial spirit and the idea of doing a high-end decorative plumbing showroom grabbed hold of me.
My wife, Carol, and I opened a 10,000-sq.-ft. showroom in Sacramento, Calif., in the early 1980s and it was an immediate hit. We grew the business to three stores and sold it to a large plumbing/HVAC wholesaler in 1998. Since then I’ve been doing consulting, teaching, writing and working hard to help others be successful in their showroom businesses. I have loved every step along the way.
Early in my career I was active in the ASA and the NKBA, and for the past 25 years the Decorative Plumbing and Hardware Association. Carol and I along with several other folks helped start the original DPHA, which was associated with NKBA. In 2001 the group broke away from NKBA and became its own entity.
As is true with many volunteer-run organizations the DPHA has had some ups and downs. But, I’m here to tell you that they’re back! Carol and I just returned from the DPHA annual conference in Naples, Fla. It was a huge success and provided so much great information that I wanted to share with you what we saw and learned.
This get-together was better than any of the several high-school and college reunions I’ve attended, and was second only to the great family get-togethers we do. The networking, bonding, sharing, enthusiasm and education provided for the folks in attendance was outstanding. For us it was like “old home week.” There were hugs and kisses, and even a few tears.
The DPHA is a “cutting-edge, nonprofit organization whose mission is to create competitive advantages for its nearly 400 members by advancing the business and professional development of independent dealers (which includes plumbing wholesaler showrooms), manufacturers, representatives and others involved in the decorative plumbing and hardware industry.”
There were more than 300 people in attendance at this year’s conference. It was a great mix of dealers (showrooms), manufacturers and reps.
The digital age
The DPHA website recites a long list of member benefits broken out by industry segments. Suffice it to say education is the group’s hallmark. This year’s annual conference was loaded with some great educational opportunities.
This year’s DPHA theme was “Into the Future.” The sessions I attended certainly confirmed my belief that there are some amazing changes taking place in this great industry. (Read my last two articles which focused on what showrooms may look like and how they may be operated in the year 2020).
The opening session “Teaching DPHA Sales Professionals to Sell in an Increasingly Digital World,” featured speaker Robert Stevenson. His presentation not only was entertaining but was loaded with suggestions and ideas on how showroom salespeople must meet the challenges of selling today’s higher-end clients. He shared the fact that homeowners may spend between four and 12 months researching before making a decision to proceed with a project.
He noted homeowners come to showrooms armed with information from a variety of sources that may include Houzz, Pinterest, HDTV, Luxe, Architectural Digest
and/or hundreds of other sources. He shared that showrooms no longer can “wow” customers with products and vignettes only. Showrooms and their sales professionals must learn to surprise and delight. Sales consultants must learn to ask the right questions and then actively listen to customer
responses to build relationships, establish trust and provide compelling reasons
customers should buy from them instead of from the competitor down the street or the e-tailer online. Doesn’t all this resonate with one of my favorite topics…teaching and learning selling skills?
The next session was led by two friends of mine, Kymberly Weiner, the showroom manager for Best Plumbing, Tile and Stone – a plumbing wholesaler with four showrooms in upstate New York – and Mindy Sevinor Feinberyof Salem Plumbing in Massachusetts. These women talked about “How to Use Tablets in Showrooms to Wow Customers and Enhance the Customer Experience.” Both companies have gone “paperless” in their showrooms. Every sales consultant meets and greets their clients carrying only a tablet and uses that tool throughout the selling process. They listed five reasons why they made this transition:
Enhancing the customer service provided;
Information at their fingertips;
Better recordkeeping; and
To differentiate themselves from their competitors.
They described all the research they did, how they trained their staff and the cost involved in making the transition. Weiner and Sevinor Feinbery also discussed the use of the Cloud, apps, Dropbox, bookmarks and other high-tech tablet approaches. What they are doing is truly the wave of the future. They have incorporated vendor catalogues, price sheets, spec sheets, design options, note-taking and customer relationship management into this incredible tool.
Social (media) call
Where was all this wonderful “stuff” when we owned our business? I had to work hard to absorb all this techie information, but I am smart enough to know this is the way of the future and the sooner you jump on it, the better!
Another session titled “Social Media for Decorative Plumbing and Hardware Showrooms that Generate the ROI Owners Expect and Deserve” was led by Dave Nelson who shared how many millions of people are social media users. He believes most showroom owners know they should be active in this area but very few are effectively using social media to engage their existing and potential customers in order to drive online and walk-in traffic to their websites and showrooms. Here are a few more things Nelson shared:
How to use social media to tell your showroom story;
Which social media site will deliver the best returns and which ones will waste your time and resources;
How to use YouTube to engage your audience;
How to use key words to optimize your website and show up on the first page of a Google search;
The investment of staff time necessary to deliver the returns you want;
How to contract with an outside agency to get the ROI to justify the expense; and
The importance of positive, online reviews and how to get them.
Social media is here. It’s powerful and you better be taking advantage of it. Your competitors are.
Two other educational workshops dealt with Pinterest and creating a consistent and compelling customer experience. Both were well-received and drew packed audiences.
In addition to these great educational opportunities, more than 50 manufacturers were featured in the event’s Product Showcase. These manufacturers displayed new products, introduced new services and over the period of three days had the opportunity to tell their stories one-on-one to the many dealers and representatives in attendance.
If all of this wasn’t enough there was a 5K fun run/walk, awards for the most innovative products, individual and company awards for outstanding performances and most importantly, great networking opportunities.
I didn’t intend for this to be a PR piece for DPHA but the fact is this is a wonderful organization for owners, managers and sales consultants involved in higher-end decorative plumbing and hardware products. Check out the DPHA website
(www.dpha.net) for more information.