A new breed of consumer has emerged from the economic crisis. Led by the technology-enabled Gen Y shoppers, these new consumers are influencing all generations in how they think and shop.
Today’s consumers may be on a tighter budget, but they’re armed with unprecedented access to knowledge – and they aren’t shy about using it to fulfill their dreams. With their access to information “on the fly” and in the palm of their hands, they’re increasingly more active and involved in the design and purchasing process.
There are six fundamental shifts that have occurred among our consumer base in recent years.
Mobile devices and wi-fi let consumers to achieve education on the fly. This has opened the door for consumers to take a more active role in the sales and design process. That means your showroom is becoming less of a starting point for consumer shopping, and more like the finish line.
As designers, we need to understand this new technology, assuring customers that our professional training enables us to take their knowledge and apply it toward the creation of their dream bath or kitchen.
Work as their partner in collaboration. For example, they may be able to pick out a door style and color online, but it takes training and experience to understand how it all fits together dimensionally and visually in a real home. The showroom will be key in helping consumers connect the dots.
Convenience in communications is shrinking the distance between buyers and sellers. So, use the convenience of today’s technology to reach out to prospects through e-marketing and social media.
Today’s trend is to make your web site more visual and less wordy so that it’s easier to navigate – not only on a computer, but on a mobile device. This investment will keep your showroom relevant.
Once they’re connected, consumers will view your web site as an extension of your showroom. A cluttered, difficult to navigate site may deter online visitors from stopping by your showroom, so make their virtual visit pleasant and informative.
As you optimize your site, consider the following:
n Today’s consumer loves visual conveniences like previewing a designer online before meeting or using map-based directions to your showroom.
n Incorporate a way for referrals or third-party recommendations to be visible online.
n Allow consumers to “meet” your staff through online bios to reduce their apprehension of the unknown. This will speed up connectivity and engagement in the showroom.
n Show shoppers what you can do for them. Consider making your services more transparent so they can pre-consider what’s available. Share before-and-after shots of your best kitchen and bath jobs to build your reputation.
Armed with more knowledge than ever before, consumers are confident about what they want and what they are willing to pay. They’re coming to you to fulfill a need. You should present the confidence that your showroom offers the products and services to meet those needs.
Be prepared to let customers know why your business is best suited to bring their desires to fruition – particularly when competitors are ready to win them over with lower prices. Don’t be shy about touting your advantages with YouTube videos. Let your designers show off their talents with in-store events, using web-based “how-to” demonstrations as a teaser.
Let that confidence roll over into your use of technology. Technology is now a part of doing business. Get used to it, get comfortable with it and get confident with it. If you feel overwhelmed by new technology, reach out to people who are familiar with it. This new digital revolution is an evolutionary journey, not a deadline.
Today’s consumers like change. Therefore, leave room for flexibility in your showroom design for special events that draw in new customers. Consider mobile and changeable displays and moveable walls. Let your customers know visually why they should buy “this” kitchen – show them how the planning and product aspects will make their lives easier and better.
You also should understand the family demographics of your potential customers. Some will have young children. Others may include seniors or disabled members. Not only must your designers be able to account for those factors in the home, but you should be able to accommodate them while they visit the showroom.
Some cultures shop in families. Plenty of room around displays for multiple visitors shopping at the same time and for wheelchairs in and around displays will prevent visitors from being left out of the process.
How often should you change your displays? I suggest that you make at least one noticeable change each year based on a three-year master plan. Be sure to involve your entire staff and encourage everybody to offer ideas.
As designers, we’re proud of our work. But remember – we aren’t the people who will be living in the kitchens we design. Listen to the wants of the customer, and present yourself as a trusted advisor consulting on their project. Strive to ensure that the final product delights them more than it delights you.
With customers coming into the showroom with more knowledge and a clearer vision of what they want, designers may feel less “in charge.” Don’t take it personally. Work with your customers to combine their visions with your expertise to create the perfect, collaborative project. Learn to inject your experience in explaining why something may not work, and why an alternative works. That’s the way to demonstrate your value as their expert.
A consistent image and message is important in marketing your business. Building a recognizable and trustworthy brand entails a consistent look from showroom and website to printed literature to even how you dress. The design of your showroom and marketing tools should make an emotional connection with customers.
Going forward, the brand elements needs to be colorful and clear. Gaining input from a graphic design professional is important; consider a younger, Gen Y designer who may be able to offer valuable insights into how this demographic thinks and what attracts them.
Over the past few years, many of us have been paralyzed by the economy. During this time, the arrival of a new generation of customers – and a new generation of communication devices – has changed the retail landscape. By recognizing and responding to those changes, you’ll be ready to sustain and grow your business.
A word of caution for those showroom leaders who are holding back on planning, pending a better handle on what the future holds: The future is now. Start planning. Our industry deserves the best we can be in meeting this emerging consumer wave of business.