Learning & Sharing
The Bath & Kitchen Buying Group’s recent conference, held Sept. 22-26 at the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center in Nashville, TN, covered plenty of ground, with discussions that ran the gamut from the best way to maximize social media and how to utilize design retainers effectively to tips for evaluating showroom displays, the most useful business apps and more.
According to BKBG President Rob Stepp of the Huntington, WV-based Creative Kitchens, the conference was the most successful in the organization’s 21-year history, and one that was “a perfect storm.” He notes, “The energy throughout the conference was at an all-time high, and for good reasons. Every session – from keynote addresses, educational workshops, one-on-one meetings between showrooms and our Preferred Vendors, and our unique peer-to-peer business network meetings – played off one another. The momentum just kept on building.”
BKBG is the largest independently shareholder-owned kitchen and bath buying group in North America, according to Stepp, who notes that the annual conference is a signature event for the group, bringing together owners of more than 150 kitchen and bath showrooms who met with senior representatives of more than 50 Preferred Vendors. Preferred Vendor product offerings range from cabinets, appliances and floor and wall coverings to tile, countertops, website design services “and most everything you can think of that a showroom needs to specify for a new kitchen or bath to operate their business effectively.”
Peer-to-peer business network meetings are a hallmark of the BKBG Annual Conference, and Stepp notes, “Participants are BKBG Shareholders with similar business models but who do not compete in the same geographic territories. This allows for candid conversations and discussions of successful practices, challenges, trends and opportunities without revealing proprietary information or tactics to competitors.”
Among the topics discussed at this year’s peer-to-peer network meetings were:
- Techniques to evaluate showrooms displays
- New products and categories that showrooms have started to sell and why they were added
- Suppliers that surprised ownership in 2016
- Human resource practices ranging from sales volume and margin expectations from showroom sales professionals to successful strategies to attract retail designers and other showroom staff members
- Apps that members found most valuable for showroom operations, along with marketing programs that were successful and those that did not produce the return expected, as well as reasons why programs might or might not have been successful
- Product and design trends in different regions and how the organization can produce additional value for members’ businesses
Active participation in the sessions is critical to any networking group, as sharing knowledge, ideas and experiences is a key component of the group’s success.
To that end, attendee Ron Benkin of Alure Home Improvement in East Meadow, NY, commented, “We had a great group. Everyone contributed. Many good ideas were shared, including marketing programs that are driving traffic to showrooms and software recommendations that will help showrooms to operate more efficiently. Our group had a frank discussion on retainers and design fees. We delved into high-performing vendors and those that are under performing. We also identified vendors that we want to see come into our group and passed on those names and product categories to the BKBG staff.”
One group’s peer-to-peer conversation about retainers offered guidance to help designers overcome their fears. Too often, designers are afraid that if they ask for a retainer, their clients will walk, believing that they can get the design for free from someone else. The group concluded that designers often sell themselves short. They need to be reminded of the awesome responsibility that they have to positively change their customers’ lives. The group agreed that owners need to reinforce to their designers that if the designer has not convinced their client that they understand their dreams better than anyone else, then they probably won’t be successful in obtaining a design retainer. The bottom line focuses on trust and building relationships.
An effective program one firm related that helped increase the number of retainers was to hold contests to see who could get the biggest retainer or the most retainers in a month. Owners need to discuss with their designers what sandbox they want to play in. Do designers believe their ability is worthy of a deposit or do they want to become involved in a race to the bottom where winning is determined by who can be cheapest? Success is often the result of demonstrating to clients the value designers bring to the project by answering questions that clients may not even know to ask and calming fears about choices, budgets, timetables, unique space, quality, scope of service and other issues that customers considering a new kitchen or bath renovation have.
Educational programs were another primary focus of the BKBG conference. NKBA Past President and 2020 expert John Morgan of Morgan Pinnacle in Reisterstown, MD, led a fun and interactive session focusing on easy-to-implement suggestions that increase speed and reduce design errors. He identified 2020 successful practices for specifying tile backsplashes, quartz countertops and LED lighting, and described how to easily produce photo-realistic renderings that wow clients. Additionally, he related how designers can show clients 360-degree panoramic views and send virtual reality images to customers’ smartphones and tablets in just one click.
Social media is a challenge for most kitchen and bath showrooms. Owners understand the importance and the value that social media can deliver, however, few are adept at identifying the channels and media that provide the necessary return on investment. That’s why BKBG invited Dave Nelson of the Pittsburgh, PA-based Dialog Consulting to lead a social media workshop. Nelson related that there are three primary rules for effective and successful social media returns.
Rule 1: Think of social media as a cocktail party. Your social media content needs to be conversational as opposed to a monologue. You know how painful it is at a cocktail party when someone only talks about himself or herself and monopolizes the floor, Nelson stated. The same pain (and, in the case of social media, lack of returns) occurs when you only talk about yourself, your showroom, your products, your customer service, etc., online.
Social media will not be effective if your content is self-centered, he warned.
He also suggested that successful content focuses on what your audience needs and wants. You need to understand what motivates that client, and Nelson stated that part of the process includes determining clients’ dreams and taking the time to address their fears. “It’s not about you; it’s all about your target market wants,” Nelson noted.
Rule 2: PIE. PIE stands for personality, interesting and entertaining. Social media content must be full of personality, and it must be interesting and entertaining. Authenticity is key, because consumers and clients can spot phony information and content from miles away, he warned.
Rule 3: Create value for your target market through customer testimonials, offering helpful tips and tricks of the trade, new product developments, common problems and solutions, how-to information and other content that answers the questions that your clients ask most often.
It’s not difficult for a showroom to find compelling content. Showroom professionals often overlook the valuable services and jobs that they provide and perform for their clients. At your next staff meeting, have everyone on your team write the answer to the most common question that they were asked during the past week. If you have 10 team members, chances are you will leave that meeting with at least eight weeks of blog posts. Nelson believes that showrooms do not have to dedicate more than five hours a week to be effective on social media channels.
Nelson encouraged showrooms to post on YouTube because it is the second most used search engine on the Internet behind Google. He also related the merit of blogging, noting that those who blog receive on average 55% more search traffic than those who don’t. Nelson reminded shareholders that BKBG provides an easy button for blogging by producing one for showroom owners to use every week. All shareholders have to do is personalize information in the content that appears in the organization’s weekly enewsletter. He added that shareholders using the BKBG blog report almost always appear on the first page of Google search results, and that the blog is helping to drive consumer traffic to both their websites and showrooms.
Nelson also offered guidance for using Google’s free tools to increase search engine optimization, as well as how to use keywords to drive more traffic to shareholder websites and determine what the competition is doing successfully online.
Just how good was Nelson’s advice? Jim Vivrette of Altera Design Kitchen & Bath, in Walnut Creek, CA, stated: “It was worth the entire cost of coming to the conference.”
The other BKBG Educational Programs included workshops on customer service, closing more sales, training sales staff and ideas to increase gross profit margins.
Rob Stepp capitalized on the content received immediately upon his return. He ran Kerry Singh’s customer service workshop for his staff and had his sales team take advantage of the self assessment tools that Singh provided to conference attendees. “My staff reported that the information provided was among the best lessons that they had learned in some time,” Stepp said. He continued that he also plans to use Gerry Layo’s materials to help improve the sales skill set of his team.
BKBG also welcomed nine new shareholders in Nashville. They were the Kitchen Center of RI, in North Providence, RI; Designer Cabinets, Granite & Tile, in Bedford Heights, OH; Wish Kitchens and Baths in Hagerstown, MD; Olde World Cabinetry, Plumbing & Hardware, in Pinellas Park, FL; Prestige Kitchen & Bath, in Needham, MA; DCI Home Resources, in Charlotte, NC; Aesop’s Gables, in Albuquerque, NM; Kitchen Cabinet Worx, in Greensboro, NC; and Cavalier Kitchens & Baths, in Winchester, VA.
BKBG also introduced seven new cabinet lines at the Nashville conference: UltraCraft, Fieldstone, Mid Continent, Europa, StarMark, Norcraft and Urban Effects. Other new BKBG Preferred Vendors and Affinity Partners at their first BKBG conference included Emser Tile and Locallogy.
Stu Dettelbach is a principal of SD Kitchens, a past president of NKBA and BKBG, and a member of the BKBG Board of Directors.