Here’s another subject I’ve been passionate about for a number of years. It’s also one that has become more important than ever to the ultimate success of your showroom business — and that’s building a “brand” that differentiates you from everyone else in your marketplace.
Over the past 10 years I have visited more than 200 showrooms in the United States and Canada. Guess what? More than 90% of them look and act alike. There is very little difference from one showroom to the next.
I believe a big part of the reason for this is the folks that own and operate plumbing/HVAC wholesale operations are pretty good at running that business, but when they branch out into unfamiliar territory such as showrooms they haven’t done their homework and really learned what it takes to operate a successful showroom business.
Too many times wholesalers have ventured into the showroom business for the wrong reasons. For example, their main fixture/faucet vendors want them to; because the competitor down the street has done it; or because they think/hope it will build plumber loyalty. These are good reasons, but not the right reasons to venture into the showroom business. I strongly believe the main reason you should invest in showrooms is to earn a great return on that investment. The only way to do that is to learn what it takes to make that happen.
Now let’s talk about how you can make your showroom business better, different and more unique. One very important way is to build your brand.
The Xs and Os
Probably the best place to start is by defining what this means. A brand is the sum of the experiences your customers and potential customers have with your showroom. A strong brand communicates what your company does, how it does it and at the same time establishes trust and credibility. Your brand lives in everyday interactions with your customers, the images you share, the messages you post on your website, the content of your marketing materials and in your posts on social networks.
There is more to your “brand essence” than just your logo and a snappy slogan. Your brand is the entire sum of what you do, what you excel at and the experience your customers have with you. It determines whether customers join your “loyalty club” and refer you to other people, or don’t bother with you again.
Here are some specifics that will help you understand what you can and should do to build your own unique brand.
Be unique:Don’t look and act like every other wholesaler showroom. Show and sell some exclusive, semi-exclusive and/or private-label products. Bring technology to your clients’ shopping experience (tablets, flat screens, kiosks, in-store apps, QR codes and more). Hire and train truly professional salespeople. Make the customer’s experience with you unforgettable — in a good way.
Build and grow your community:A successful brand is one that is trusted and respected by customers. Building a strong community online and offline can help achieve this. The good news is you don’t have to spend a lot of money to do this. In fact, I’ve come to believe that concentrating heavily in online and offline community building can reap you great benefits. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Houzz and others are great outlets for this as is your showroom blog. Offline participation in community activities such as local events, fundraisers, charities and hosting your own events (educational workshops or loyal customer events) can all help you build your community and extend the trust you’ve earned for your brand.
Offer great products and services:You show and sell a number of great and very recognizable brand products, but having products that others don’t show and sell will help you build your brand. You might take a hard look at expanding into lighting, cabinets, appliances, countertops, door hardware and tile. Become the only one-stop shopping destination in your marketplace. Have a will-call drive-up area for both online and in-store purchases. Take advantage of the new digital age to differentiate your showroom from the folks up the street.
Have a great name and logo:A strong brand is easily recognizable. As it always has in the past, recognition starts with the name of your business. The name will appear on your business cards, letterhead, website, social networks and promotional materials — pretty much everywhere in print and online to identify your company, its products and its services. Does your showroom name and logo really represent who you are and what you do?
Find your voice:What you say is important! But how you say it is just as important! Your showroom’s voice is the language and personality that the owners, managers, sales consultants and every other employee use to deliver your branding message and reach you customers.
Be consistent:You are selling high-end, expensive products. Therefore, your showroom employees and showroom should look and feel high-end as well. All of your advertising, website, social media and blog communications must look and feel high-end. To build and maintain a strong brand, every aspect must be as good as your product and service. You must be consistent in presenting this brand to the marketplace. You should care about brand consistency because it leads to familiarity and familiarity leads to trust.
Clearly define your brand promise:Your brand promise is powerful. It’s the statement you make to your customers and target audience that lets them know what to expect every time they interact with you, your employees, products and services. A brand promise is based in reality. It’s something you can prove. It’s grounded in your company’s culture, philosophy and atmosphere. It reflects how you serve your customers and deliver value to them. It’s how you make a problem or situation that they might have go away. It’s how you make their life better, why they can’t do without you and would never go anywhere else. If you need help defining your showroom brand promise, complete this sentence, “Our customers buy from us because we are the only ones that ________.” I hope your answer isn’t, “We offer the lowest price.”
Keep your promises:Letting your customers down by failing to live up to your promises can be particularly harmful when you depend heavily on referrals as most of you do. The foundation of brand loyalty lies in great service. A happy customer is a loyal customer!
Have a value proposition:Value, not to be mistaken with price, can help define your brand and differentiate you from the competition. Identify a number of value points that make you different, better and more unique than your competition. A few examples might be family owned, in business 75 years, one-stop shopping, most experienced sales team, open seven days a week, most customer-friendly location, some exclusive/unique products, etc. Think about which benefits and values are emotional. The most powerful brands tap into emotions.
Target who you want to serve:Yes, the plumbing trade certainly remains a very important segment of your showroom business, but the homeowner, designers, architects, builders and high-end remodel contractors have become just as important. Learning how to market your brand to all these target customers will be very important.
Be honest and authentic about who you are:Your brand has to talk the talk and walk the walk! Otherwise, you’ll present yourself inconsistently and confuse the marketplace. When you are consistent and genuine it will make it easier to build trust with your customers, connect with them and enjoy repeat business.
Differentiate yourself from the competition:Knowing what you do better than your competition will allow you to convey that to your target audience. With that in mind, you must be totally honest with your own strengths and weaknesses. Learn how to accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative. For years I’ve encouraged you to “mystery shop” your competition. I even have a mystery shopping form I’ll send you to help you do a good job evaluating your competition.
Sure, you talk with your customers when they come in, call or email, but that’s just conversation. Conversations end while dialogues are ongoing. Here are a few suggestions on how to do a better job interacting with your customers and how to keep your name in front of them.
- · Put videos of your products, services and projects on your website, YouTube, your blog and one or two of the social media websites.
- · Do a poll on Facebook. It doesn’t have to be all business-related. Maybe ask your followers what book they’re reading or what their favorite current movie is.
- · Solicit product reviews on your website.
- · Respond proactively and professionally to YELP or Angie’s List reviews — especially the negative ones.
- · Hold customer appreciation events so they can see you in a new context. People love to know that they’re appreciated.
- · Share useful information about products, services and projects. Don’t just use advertisements.
- · Send email newsletters targeted to your customers’ interests or purchase histories.
- · Share pictures of completed projects and testimonials from satisfied customers.
- · Utilize customer satisfaction surveys.
Make a great experience
Give your customer a great experience at every point of contact. In our digital age it is both easier and harder than ever to reach your customers. They’re only a click away, but it also means less face-to-face time. Make customer service a core value at all levels of your business and become known as a brand that delivers a terrific experience. Your customers will reward you. How do your customers respond/react when they:
- · See your ad, mailing, Facebook page, newsletter or website for the first time?
- · Walk into your showroom?
- · Call or email you?
- · Place an order over the phone or online?
- · Return to make another purchase?
While it may seem like extra work, you must believe these extra touches do matter. Go through the above processes yourself. Is this as good as it could be? Would this impress me? What can be improved? Every one of your customers should feel you’ve gone the extra mile for them.
At the outset of establishing and building your brand you might have to do a little homework. But once you get going it gets easier, becomes more routine and more instinctive.
Know your market, trust your instincts, maintain consistency and be yourself! Be innovative, bold and daring.
Good selling and good branding!