Five years ago, if you were asked to invest in a company that was developing an online portal enabling travelers to rent rooms in people’s homes instead of a conventional hotel, what would you have said? Most likely, your answer would have been a resounding, “You’re kidding, right?” Last year, Airbnb was valued at more than $25 billion.
The hotel industry did not see Airbnb coming. The taxicab industry has been blindsided by Uber. Opticians never imagined a Warby Parker. Houzz has become the go-to resource for home decorating and improvement ideas. The list goes on and on.
What differentiates monumentally successful disruptive companies from the successful entrenched incumbents? According to Harvard University professor and recognized authority on innovative disruption Clayton Christenson, disrupters such as Apple, Zappos, Amazon, etc. offer customers performance advantages. Note though, that does not necessarily mean price advantages. Decorative brick and mortar retail showrooms can become disruptive forces in their markets if they leverage their superior performance advantages, many of which are staring them right in the face.
One opportunity knocking at decorative plumbing and hardware showrooms’ doors is to expand their merchandise mix to sell products that every bathroom needs, but are often ignored or shunned. Lighting is a perfect example. Good lighting makes a bathroom more enjoyable, and poor lighting does just the opposite. Knowing how light interacts with materials, users and tasks helps showroom sales professionals create a plan that puts customers in their best light while at the same time select the most appropriate plumbing fixtures and hardware for their projects.
Another reason every decorative plumbing and hardware showroom should sell bathroom lighting is that it helps showroom sales professionals become trusted advisors. Simply asking a customer, “How do you want your bathroom to feel when the project is completed?” builds trust. Many customers are likely to be puzzled by this question, because they’ve never been asked how they want a room to feel. Nonetheless, asking how customers want their bath to feel is essential to identifying the emotional connection that your customers want to have every time they enter and use their new bath. The responses that you receive from customers – whether they want a sense of calm, excitement, romance, relaxation, satisfaction or some other emotion – will help you specify the right lighting, plumbing fixtures and architectural hardware. It is a question that also helps you to better understand customer goals.
Chandeliers can change the look and feel of the bath. Sconces can help create the soothing feeling of a private day spa. Portable lamps and makeup mirrors on a vanity or countertop can create an unexpected feeling of intimacy. At the end of the day, showrooms sell products based on how they will make their customers feel when they’re used.
In addition to helping connect to customers emotionally, specifying lighting helps avoid the possibility that all of the other work that goes into selecting products is compromised. Without proper lighting, the tubs, vanities, mirrors and other products selected can look drab. As a result, the appearance of the room will not reflect the customers’ desired aesthetic. Your clients will be dissatisfied and most likely will blame you and your showroom for their disappointment.
On a more basic level, bathrooms without proper lighting are not functional. Customers can either buy lighting from you or go to another showroom that sells it. That venue may also sell plumbing. Why would you want to send your customers to a competitor that could possibly take the entire project away from you?
Proper and effective lighting can also make smaller spaces appear larger. When you show builder clients how to make spaces appear larger, you become more valuable. When you help individual homeowners create more space and better enjoy their baths, your efforts often result in multiple referrals from satisfied clients.
Similar to most plumbing products, brand-name recognition among homeowners virtually does not exist in lighting. Most customers select lighting based on appearance. They like a sconce, chandelier, flush-mount or other type of fixture, or they don’t. When they do find something they like, all they usually say is, “I’ll take that one,” instead of trying to find it online at a lower cost.
Many showroom owners don’t sell lighting because they’re unfamiliar with how it works and believe they lack the expertise needed to sell it with confidence. But lighting and decorative plumbing are remarkably similar. Both serve specific functions and both can make or break how the completed project appears, feels and functions. The Decorative & Plumbing Hardware Association developed a new edition to its education program that explains how to specify and sell bathroom lighting to enable its members to take advantage of the opportunities lighting presents. After reading the DPHA Lighting manual, showroom staffs will have the necessary knowledge and tools to confidently sell bathroom lighting.
Just as many showrooms do not sell the pipe that is necessary to bring water to the bath, they don’t need to sell junction boxes, wire or behind-the-wall components necessary to bring power to lighting. Plus, light fixtures are finished in similar ways to plumbing fixtures and door hardware, allowing showrooms to easily achieve a coordinated look for their customers’ baths.
Another advantage is that showrooms do not have to dedicate lots of additional space to display lighting. Pendants, flush-mounts, chandeliers, recessed lighting and semi-recessed lighting can hang from the ceiling. Every vignette can be outfitted with lighting without having to dedicate expensive space to placing lighting fixtures. Lighting enhances vignettes and helps to place beautiful displays in their best light.
Bath furniture is another often overlooked showroom opportunity. A recent industry survey found that showrooms only sell bathroom furniture in 10 percent or less of their projects. In many markets, showrooms claim that contractors and cabinet shops control bathroom furniture sales.
If a designer or contractor suggests that they prefer to rely on a cabinetmaker, there are several key points to address. Customers need to consider the cabinetmaker’s materials and design. Will the size of the piece or pieces account for the bowl, plumbing fixtures and customer storage requirements? Will the finish used coordinate with other fixtures and components in the bath and/or adjoining bedroom and closet? Will the finish be uniform? Who will install the pieces and who will be responsible for coordinating the installation with the other trades?
While it may appear advantageous on the surface to have built-ins made by cabinetmakers, explain to your customers the superior benefits of customizing a bath by purchasing vanities and bath furniture that are made with the bath in mind.
Another consideration is the distinction between cabinets and furniture. Cabinetmakers and carpenters make cabinets. By partnering with manufacturers that specialize in bath furniture, clients have a unique ability to develop one-of-a-kind furniture pieces that include customized cabinetry and so much more. Your clients can span the limits of their creativity and imagination to specify unique furniture pieces made specifically for their projects.
Bath furniture represents another prime opportunity for showrooms to demonstrate performance advantages. Many luxury customers will require custom configurations. Almost every bath furniture manufacturer can be tapped as a resource to train showroom sales professionals how to specify a custom bath configuration.
Accessories are a third product area offering endless opportunities for showrooms to demonstrate their superior performance capabilities and win customer trust. The value of accessories in a wardrobe is well known and appreciated. The same holds true for accessories for the bath. Ranging from towel bars to makeup mirrors, decorative accessories accentuate bath components and the room’s motif, offering showroom clients the ability to make a personal design statement.
Accessories are easy to sell, but unfortunately, they are often overlooked. Everyone needs a place for toilet tissue and a place to hang a towel. Whether it’s a remodel or new construction project, customers should expect that everything they purchase from the showroom will be coordinated to help ensure that the look is complete. The role of the decorative plumbing and hardware professional in accessorizing the bath is to consider the whole look and the synergy that all the components, fixtures and amenities will have on the customer’s use and enjoyment of the space.
The opportunities knock. Expanding the merchandise mix to include lighting, accessories and furniture can make your showroom a disruptive force. Leveraging your showroom’s performance advantages will make your showroom the recognized destination of choice for decorative plumbing and hardware products in your market.
Jeff Robboy is a principal at Baci by Remcraft, a manufacturer of lighting and makeup mirrors sold through decorative plumbing and hardware showrooms throughout North America. Robboy also is a past president of the Decorative Plumbing & Hardware Association.