I originally wanted to call this article, “How Cigars Can Make Your Salespeople Better,” but decided that may not be the right thing to do. Scanning posts on LinkedIn the other day, I saw a quote that hit me like a ton of bricks. I happen to like cigars, and the quote (from Alan Rubino of Alec Bradley Cigars) really relates well to the luxury bath and kitchen showroom business. It reads, “My biggest competitor isn’t someone who makes a better cigar, it’s someone who makes a terrible cigar and either shrinks the market or makes people less willing to try new cigars.”
When I read this I thought, awesome – I can finally write about cigars! And, yes,
that is also the issue bath and kitchen showrooms are living with today. For the record, I never mind when I see a competitor putting up a new, beautiful showroom. It gives me a reason to learn from them, to change direction if needed and to sharpen my tools to compete. What did get me is how all the “slat wall showrooms,” which I consider outdated showrooms with dusty displays and poor lighting and poorly trained showroom employees, can negatively impact the future of our industry – not just for one showroom, but for all showrooms.
But the issue isn’t just the slat wall showroom. It is also the sleek and modern showroom that offers a lousy customer experience. I once visited a cutting-edge showroom in Manhattan with two of my colleagues, and we spent 45 minutes strolling around taking photos and testing products before someone approached us. Not even a welcome when we entered (although they did have a great coffee bar in front). Four months after my visit, that showroom is no longer in business. Lucky for them, because from what I could tell, customers were an inconvenience.
I have also seen great showrooms fail to deliver because they did not pay attention to the details. Imagine the impact an entryway littered with weeds and trip hazards has on making a first impression. What does it say about a brand when on the front door, one panel is locked and only one of the two doors opens? What message does a showroom send with a greeting sign that says, “by appointment only?” How can a prospect feel confident in a showroom that does not recognize the need to replace burned out light bulbs? How can a prospective customer believe the experience and store standards will live up to his or her expectations?
Consider the impact when you have that great website, but the images look nothing like your showroom. How do you expect to make a sale if your showroom people don’t know the details of the products you are selling? If the public bathroom in the showroom looks like something from a bad gas station, do you think the customer will ever use that showroom again? No! They turn to online retailers because they may as well do the homework themselves.
You must have every touch point perfect or it is truly game over. When you compromise the shopping experience by not having the right people, training tools, technology or hours of operation, you drive business to box stores and online retailers.
There’s no reason why the bath and kitchen showrooms can’t offer hospitality like five-star hotels, from service to snacks. Start there. As a showroom manager, ask yourself, “When do I shop?” Chances are it’s Saturday and Sunday, when people like you are looking to shop. So your showroom should be open on weekends.
Make sure showroom training is formalized and measured. Please don’t require new hires to sit in the basement for eight hours watching videos – that demoralizes people fast. Training programs should combine hands on, multimedia and classroom instruction. Work the soft skills as much as product. Have your team understand hospitality.
Use the DPHA Education Program for the product knowledge. If you are a professional showroom, join DPHA. Work the training DPHA provides into a routine at the beginning or end of the day.
What if you have multiple showrooms? Ask yourself, is every showroom’s customer service different based on the showroom manager’s talents and priorities? Or is the showroom a reflection of what you expect the customer service level to be? Having showrooms go rogue in this scenario is dangerous for your bottom line. Try to keep displays similar, and customer service levels the same.
Consider reallocating your marketing funds for dedicated training. Investing in your people is the best way for a quick return on investment. Having the best people is the best marketing a company can have. Consider taking at least one year, and making it the year you dedicate to employee development. All good retailers need a formal marketing plan with a dedicated percentage of sales allocated to marketing. Think about your business. Obsess over the quality of your people. That’s first.
Many great manufacturers offer superb product training. Ask them to help. Then find the reps who know how to sell, and ask them to work on soft skills with your people. Every market has at least one special person you admire as a salesperson. Learn from them. Have your people learn from them. Additionally, many manufacturers and reps are starting to offer luxury sales training.
Use your marketing dollars on training events where customers and employees can learn together, and make sure all your employees attend. Wine and cheese evening events are great to bring in designers, and your employees can learn from both manufacturers and designers at these events. Showroom salespeople generally sell what they are comfortable with. That’s why it’s important for salespeople to spend quality time with manufacturers of products that are a focus for your business.
Before you install another new display, make sure your employees understand not only how current displays function, but also how they make the customer feel when using them. Occasionally, it is a challenge to get showroom salespeople to sell beyond their own pocketbook. Having a showroom person who can recognize and cater to affluent consumers involves selling on feeling, never price. Selling this way takes time and training, but it’s also fun once you master it.
I had trouble cracking some salespeople’s tendency to sell out of their own pocket until the day we had a group discussion about what stores they like to go to and why. They talked about friendly and competent people, cleanliness and organized layouts. At the end, I pointed out that no one had cited price as something great about the store. Asking people to draw on their luxury experience is important.
We are at the dawn of a new era for decorative showrooms. I have met many inspirational showroom managers who blow the doors off this business. They offer great training for their teams, use CRM technology and modern traffic counting systems. They understand the new retail world. They are excited to see what Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality will bring to showrooms. They see consumer trends changing faster than ever before, and they study, react and fix. I look forward to learning from them.
So back to cigars. In my new role as director at Luxury Products Group, I can help my 250+ showrooms create a great experience, and keep their customers coming back. I can let them know the mistakes I have made, and help them with the resources I know of, have them learn to run a better business, so we all succeed.
I now find myself having to consider all showrooms in our community, even my competitors, because if they offer a lousy “cigar,” more customers will get fed up, and buy from other channels. We can no longer afford to give Amazon and big-box stores the gift of our disenchanted customer.
As much as I may want my competition offering “terrible cigars,” I really want them to offer cigars that are just terrible enough, and that is where having the better people on your team is the measurable difference in a showroom’s success. ▪
Jeff MacDowell is the executive director of the Luxury Products Group. DPH Perspectives is published quarterly as part of a strategic alliance between Kitchen & Bath Design News and The Decorative Plumbing & Hardware Association.