KBDN

The Quest for Good Designer-Salespeople

"Businesses cannot flourish without well-prepared designer-salespeople who can manage the various project details while working well with homeowners.”

authors Sarah Reep 

Over the years, when writing about showroom design, I’ve focused on the showroom and business. However, in the past five years, I’ve become increasingly aware of how very important the designer-salesperson is to a kitchen and bath showroom’s success. They can make or break the experience for the customer and the sustainability of the showroom.

Cabinetry design in kitchen and bath sales can be challenging, and owners need and want their designer-salespeople to be able to do it all, including:

  • Assist in selecting products and materials with today’s and tomorrow’s fashions in mind;
  • Be able to see and deliver a conceptual design that wows;
  • Know and apply CAD technology to ensure accurate visualization to pricing;
  • Prepare everything from bids to legal documents with accuracy;
  • Guide the selling process throughout a protracted/extended time to a closed sale;
  • Gracefully manage enough jobs simultaneously to make the monthly numbers;
  • Be a professional problem solver and negotiator;
  • Act as a therapist and psychologist throughout the project journey.

TRAINING & MENTORS

In the ’90s, our industry’s mentors were more available and ensured the continuity of the business. Mentors drove education on many topics and closed sales.

These days, however, training the showroom staff seems to be less important because we have so many vehicles to self learn. However, in my view, it’s more important than ever as we have older experts retiring and leaving our industry, being replaced by new employees who are younger and much less experienced in all the aspects of the kitchen and bath industry.

More and more, self-service has replaced the personal attention customers used to get from store clerks. If you want to know how to do something today, people say, “Google It” or, “Look for a video on YouTube.” Still, we all need mentoring, and our industry needs mentors who will grow a crop of new designers who can sell from the first engagement to the final ‘thank you’ after closing the sale. The showroom is the space that connects it all.

People use all their senses when learning and they need to be able to ask questions and benefit from those with experience. In addition to the complexities of fitting all the components, colors and finishes into a room design, there’s the need for diplomacy when working with a client, and for accuracy when ordering and coordinating the timing of deliveries and installation, etc. Our complex industry is not for wimps! If you’re not going to make it in our industry, you usually know within a year or two. Those who learn our “hows” tend to stay a very long time. However, with so many new industry employees, it’s a challenge getting those new folks acclimated.

A showroom is an expansive physical space containing products, merchandising, lighting, etc. But these showrooms – and businesses – cannot flourish without qualified, well-prepared designer-salespeople who work well with homeowners and who can manage all the necessary project details – and there are a lot of details!

Home building and remodeling are rebounding, but during the recent economic downturn, we lost many educated, talented people. Some retired. Some moved to other industries and changed professions. There’s also a talent gap because young designers are not entering our industry in the numbers of years gone by. Seasoned professionals may not be there to share their wisdom.

So, instead of mentoring new employees, some companies are raiding competitors’ designers. It’s easier, at first. But will it work long-term? I believe we can only do this for so long. Once a designer is on the move, he or she may not stay put but instead search for new challenges and opportunities.

Frequently, I’m asked by business owners if I can recommend a designer-salesperson to hire for their showroom. I guess they contact me because they’ve already discovered how hard it is to find good people in their local area – especially those with kitchen and bath experience. It appears that we just don’t have enough people to select from, and the ones entering the profession are right out of college. Hopefully, in spite of their lack of experience, they may come with agility, technical skills, design sensitivity and traits that will aid in project management – all important to the total role of a budding designer-salesperson for your showroom.

Maybe we need to invent a project design simulator to practice working through a project and its details?

A business needs to have the full complement of core talents: project management, design and desktop tools. However, many new employees lack formal sales training or don’t have a history of proven sales closing results. The business leader may be overwhelmed looking for talent that will immediately be productive.

Our industry typically employs those returning to work or coming from another industry. We need people who desire a balanced mix of creativity, project ownership and technical skills. These candidates are not easily found in the open job market. How do we find them and get them ready for our industry’s business success in the showroom?

When baby boomers entered the kitchen and bath workforce during the ’90s boom, hours and hours were spent training, mentoring, participating in NKBA memberships and getting certified in industry knowledge. With the advent of technology and the self-serve way of doing things today, educating our employees seems not to be our highest priority anymore.

But when employees try to learn on their own or “wing it,” they often do not have a unified direction for guiding customers through the design process toward sales. If they’re strong in sales, then their lack of industry knowledge and agility within the industry is their hurdle.

It takes time to educate someone in kitchen and bath design. When sales increase and the showroom is busy, it’s difficult to think about taking time out for training. However, a pool of trained employees is needed to welcome the growing numbers of homeowners seeking our products and services. We have numerous millennials forming households and coming to us for kitchens and baths that are different from those of their parents.

There is a saying that salespeople are born, not made. Undoubtedly, some people have a natural talent for sales. I see it in my travels and interactions with designers across many markets. However, our industry requires many more skills than just sales, and without a closed sale, the showroom cannot exist. Because our sales process is complex and protracted, multiple skills are needed concurrently.

Additionally, designers need to be project managers, problem solvers, negotiators, lead generators, mathematicians and strategic thinkers who avoid creating problems in the course of designing to a sale. It’s also not enough to have the vital skills of color accuracy and making color combination recommendations. Occasionally designers need to be psychologists, too, especially when homeowners’ tastes outgrow their budgets.

It’s about planning, setting up for long-term success and coaching instead of coaxing! Hire designers who will be able to sell well. When you provide training, you will have employees who do business to your standards and will not have bad habits to overcome. When they see the big picture and how they’ve contributed to the showroom’s success, it will feed a loyalty born of contributing in positive ways – your ways. If you can also make it engaging and relevant, you’ll gain millennials’ support; otherwise, they’ll drift away.

The people you employ to guide your customers through the process of picking out finishes and designing beautiful rooms are the key to your success. Anyone can look online at room scenes, but that doesn’t help the average consumer figure out how that inspiration can be translated into their dream kitchen or bath. Having a mutual plan of action that all employees adhere to will help the business grow with a committed team of skilled consultants.

We need to play both the long and short game. Educated, quality designers will help our industry grow, and the showroom will be successful because of increased sales and happy, positive referrals from homeowners. Two of our biggest retailers have announced on major news stations that our industry needs more trained personnel and they have made a commitment to invest in training people – likely, contractors, installers, etc.

Kitchen and bath designers who are also expected to be excellent salespeople and project managers deserve this, too. Our industry deserves this.

I wish I could report that I have this all figured out with an easy answer. But our gap is far bigger than one person can solve.

Isn’t it time that we invest in our industry on the design and especially sales skills side of development? To do what I can to help, I’ve developed a new Selling Skills course to give designers approved time to learn best practices for selling from each other. Still, we need more formalized and everyday practice with selling skills techniques in our showroom environments, in addition to an event as an industry out of the showroom to grow the next crop of designers for our industry.

I hope you will join me in building and encouraging an education and training initiative for our next generation of designers so that nationwide, homeowners will enjoy beautiful, well-functioning spaces from our showrooms for many years to come. ▪

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