You don’t need to be in the kitchen and bath business very long before this happens. Someone comes to your store, and the business relationship seems to be progressing nicely. You have invested a great deal of time, effort and expertise in the project, and then the sale goes somewhere else.
Obviously, the pie has shrunk in the post-2008 world. There has always been competition – that is nothing new. The problem is a growing number of people who visit our showrooms have no intention of purchasing from us. And if someone has no intention of purchasing from us, there is very little chance – for even the most experienced salesperson or designer – to make a sale.
This growing group of people is part of the phenomenon called “showrooming.” According to dictionary.com, the act of showrooming is to enter a store and view (merchandise) before purchasing it from a competitor, usually online. I know many designers will say, “Not me, I don’t see that as a problem,” but if dictionary writers can see this as a problem, we as an industry need to open our eyes to this situation.
Breaking it down
There are two things I don’t want to do in this article. The first is to trash the Internet and say it is ruining business and the entire world. There is a vast amount of information and design ideas available on the Internet you can use to help in the sales process. Design technology, communication and order accuracy can also be greatly improved by it.
While showrooming cannot be blamed totally on the Internet, none of us can argue that our customers can go online and purchase the same products we sell – fairly easily. Also, our customers can shop at big boxes, discount warehouses and overseas distribution centers. The variety of places in which your customers can shop increases the chances they will showroom a reputable kitchen dealer.
The other thing I don’t want to do is say the only way to not be taken advantage of is by charging a fee for your time or expertise. That is a topic for an entirely different article, but whether or not you choose to charge a design fee, we need to look at our business practices to ensure showrooming does not take away the time our paying customers deserve.
At some point in the sales process, we need to make a proposal that outlines the details of what we are doing and what amount the customer will need to invest with us. For some reason in this industry, customers (perhaps many dealers as well) feel we (designers) need to give away our time and expertise prior to receiving a commitment from the potential customer.
Since we all can agree that the world has changed, perhaps we also should agree there may be some way to improve our sales technique. It would seem logical to assume that since showrooming is increasing, we need to protect the investment of our time and expertise. In addition to showrooming, potential customers are shopping at an increasing number of dealerships before making a purchasing decision. In light of that, we as kitchen and bath remodelers need to find ways to spend our time with paying customers – not the showroomers or professional shoppers.
I have created a sales system to try to minimize the amount of time I spend with someone before money changes hands. Keep in mind, I do not make this statement to seem aloof or snooty. It is a simple fact: There is a finite amount of time available each day, and I would rather devote that time to my paying customers. With that said, here is a summary of my sales approach:
- Set an appointment (in the showroom) to meet with the customer to discuss the renovation.
- Set the appointment length for one hour.
- While we do suggest the customer bring a photo or drawing of the room, the focus of this meeting is not about the specific room. We talk about their vision of the renovated room, how my company can meet their needs best (perhaps discuss a job they know we did for their friends or neighbors), what sets us apart from the competition (not product) and then start to hone in on a budget comfortable for them.
- Generate a report showing the scope of the project and the approximate budget.
- Show designs of previous jobs and explain our design agreement.
At the conclusion of the hour-long meeting, the potential customer knows he/she will need to sign a design agreement and pay our design fee to go any further. This is simply a sound business practice.
Obviously there are many details that go between these bullet points that make each dealer special, and only each dealer knows what those are. Hints I suggest include:
- Have an accurate system for estimating the job quickly.
- Have all salespeople/designers do the same thing. It is important for each customer to receive the same service.
- Commit to a plan (write it down). Don’t waiver because you “need a sale” this week.
- Focus on what you do differently. Every dealer can show the customer a nice-looking cabinet. Every dealer can say they offer great service. You know your business; talk about what makes you special.
- Don’t go it alone. I have improved my sales techniques many times based on ideas I learned from others. Check out industry organizations, buying groups, local business organizations, etc. You will find many others with the same questions you have.
Regardless of economic conditions, showrooming is something all brick-and-mortar stores will continue to see more often. We are all in business today, not pre-2008. Change is always happening, and I feel the businesses that handle this change the best will be the ones that not only survive but thrive.
Steven Strauss, AKBD, is president of Direct Kitchen Distributors in Whitehall, Pa. He is also the creator of Spread Sheet Services, a company that designs and maintains spreadsheets for use by kitchen and bath dealers.