Capitalize on Competitors’ Weaknesses to Stay
Competitive, Experts Say
When the “big box” chains first began to make inroads into the
kitchen and bath market, many small kitchen and bath dealerships
wondered how they would survive. Since many were unable to compete
on price due to retail giants’ ability to buy in larger quantities,
kitchen and bath dealers were forced to re-evaluate their marketing
strategies, target clientele, product offerings, and, particularly,
And, in doing so, many discovered not only hidden business
strengths, but other ideas for becoming more competitive in the
face of a changing industry.
In fact, there are many proactive steps that business owners can
take to ensure that their firm not only survives, but thrives, in
the face of retail giants, according to Debbie Allen, business
consultant at Allen & Associates Consulting, Inc., based in
Tempe, AZ. Allen spoke about “How to Compete and Succeed Against
Retail Giant” at the recent K/B IS in Chicago.
Foremost in Allen’s philosophy is the concept of empowering
employees to identify the changes, challenges and choices they face
So, how can you do this?
According to Allen, regardless of your competition’s size, be it
a big box chain or small showroom, it’s important to take advantage
of the competition’s weaknesses. Very often, this comes in the form
of a confused big box customer who comes to your showroom looking
for design advice.
To capitalize on this, Allen stresses that businesses should
hire, train and retain the very best employees available, so that
the staff’s expertise will stand out and make a strong, positive
impression with potential customers. This is particularly important
because service has been a traditionally weak area for many of the
big box stores.
So, how do you get and keep the best employees? Allen believes
expressing appreciation to employees for good work, keeping them
informed of plans and goals, understanding individual needs,
ensuring job security and offering competitive wages and benefits
(see related story, Page 60) are all good places to start.
Once you have top-quality employees in place, you need to focus
on service. Service, however, can mean many things. For instance,
Allen notes, if your firm is unable to supply a customer’s specific
need, good service might mean directing them to the local big box
chain that can help them. While it may seem like an odd choice, the
customer will appreciate the conscientiousness displayed by your
staff, and remember your firm’s helpfulness in the future.
While the influx of “big box” chains has obviously changed both
the industry itself, and how kitchen and bath dealers must compete,
there’s another major factor that is shaping changes in how kitchen
and bath dealers do business: kitchen and bath customers
Today’s consumer is more educated and sophisticated than ever
before, and because of this, is beginning to demand 21st century
style service. Providing this type of service requires employees be
well-educated about the products available, while also having the
ability to make personal connections with customers.
To that end, personalized service is another area where smaller
kitchen and bath dealerships can excel over their big box
competitors particularly if they are observant and attentive to
their customers’ needs. For instance, understanding the tendencies
of younger or older customers who walk into your showroom can
provide a strong selling advantage.
Likewise, men or women may have different needs and
perspectives, and being aware of this can help you to better
service them. For instance, woman tend to be interested in fashion
and lifestyle, and want to connect with family and friends through
the purchases they make. Men, on the other hand, are more
mission-oriented and loyal to particular brands. According to
Allen, recognizing these characteristics can help you sell in a
style that best appeals to the prospect.
However, even with great customer service, kitchen and bath
firms that want to be successful should constantly “update, upscale
and upsell,” Allen says. For example, she recommends updating the
company’s showroom with elements of movement, reflection and color,
especially colors which reflect an aquatic motif, which tends to
attracts the customer’s eye.
It’s also important to upsell with quality products and upscale
your company’s database as frequently as possible, she suggests.
Buying groups, too, can be a beneficial plan for kitchen and bath
dealers looking to lower their prices and network with other
Finally, it is marketing, Allen believes, that truly
differentiates the survivors from the strivers.
To lay the groundwork for marketing success, Allen suggests the
- Offer more convenient service.
- Offer the kind of quality service the customer expects.
- Focus on “follow-ups” and “follow-thrus” with customers.
- When a customer steps into your showroom, create a
- Offer customer lifestyle improvements.
- Be honest about your company’s strengths and weaknesses.
- Offer unique and emotional branding that customers can relate
to in some fashion.
These will help to create a stronger overall customer focus for
the entire business, Allen notes, and give the firm a marketable
product and reputation..