Is your showroom a dinosaur?

Millions of years ago a major catastrophe of some sort rendered all the dinosaurs on Planet Earth extinct. Except maybe Barney; somehow the purple guy survived. There are theories as to why they became extinct. Some think that a meteor or comet struck the earth. Others have said it was some type of virus or sickness. Whatever cause is to blame, the outcome was the same. The mightiest creatures that ever walked the face of the earth could not escape extinction because they were not equipped to adapt to whatever radical changes occurred.

You are wondering what does any of the have to do with your showroom business, right? Over the last few years, our industry has seen many changes, especially recently. These changes could serve as a metaphoric meteor strike to your showroom if you do not properly adapt your business to these changes. So I think you periodically need to ask: Is my showroom a dinosaur?

So what would classify your showroom as a dinosaur in today’s consumer-driven market? Well, though I could go into what I think makes many showrooms a dinosaur, let’s focus more on what makes a showroom not a dinosaur. This way you can review and compare to your showrooms practices. If you are not meeting a large number of these markers, you may want to take cover in a cave and wait for the end. You know, draw some pictures on the wall, sing kumbaya, and etcetera. Again, that is just my opinion.

Embracing innovation

Economist Joseph Schumpeter theorized that innovation was at the heart of competitive advantage. It would be possible for nimble new entrants to overtake slow and established companies, as new companies can innovate and respond more quickly as they don’t have the "baggage" that larger companies have. This brings to mind the idea of large, immovable, “dinosaur” companies who can’t innovate or respond to their customers or their environment. These companies have systems and processes that are inflexible, rigid, and take forever to amend. I’m sure we’ve all had experience with large and even mid-sized organizations that seem to move at a glacial pace.

Does your showroom have state of the art computers? Does your showroom staff have and use iPads or some sort of other tablets? Do you have a beautiful, user friendly website? Do you have flat screen televisions showing your own videos or those from your manufacturers? Do you have the newest technologies offered in our industry working for your customers to experience? All the answer should be yes. If you answered some of these as no, I would suggest some changes, my woolly mammoth friends.

Is your showroom retail/consumer friendly?

This is one that really baffles me. There are still a large number of showrooms out there that only serve the contractor base directly. They only sell wholesale and are not retail friendly to the general public. I hate to be the one to break it to many of you but this is not the future of our industry. You can close your eyes and cover your ears while going “lah lah lah lah lah” all you want, it still does not change the truth or the future.

If you don’t believe me, look at the majority of every major plumbing fixture manufacturer. Most are focused more on the consumer than they are the trades. Oh, they may deny it but the truth is the truth. They have realized where the buck stops, and it is with the consumer.

To be retail and consumer friendly you have to look at the changing needs of the retail public. You have to be empathetic to their needs and ask what challenges your customer faces. When is the last time you thought about your perfect client and what challenges he or she faces on a daily, monthly, quarterly and annual basis? If you are like most small business owners, it could be when you got the idea for your business in the first place.

After that, you didn’t bother reflecting on whether those challenges were still valid or whether there were other challenges facing them because you were too busy focusing on the challenges you thought they had. And that could be a costly mistake, as many businesses who shut their doors find out.

For example, let’s look outside our industry for an example. Look at the video rentals business. Let’s say you started a video rental business in the 1990s when people were seeking to avoid paying a lot of money to take their families to the movie theaters. You made it somewhat convenient for a family to find movies they wanted to watch and relatively easy for them to get them back to you by offering drop boxes and such. Though I am not sure how easy, as I always had late fees. Anyways, this model seemed to work well and you were happy.

Then, slowly but surely other businesses like Netflix entered the picture. They were focusing on a challenge your customers were facing and you may have been ignoring: having to get in the car and drive to the rental store to get the movies and then get them back to the store so you didn’t get charged late fees. So, as time went on, you would have found out that people were coming in less to rent movies. No matter what you did, you couldn’t erase the declines. Your business was doomed.

The same thing could have happened to Netflix if it didn’t ask “What challenges do people who get movies in the mail face?” They have to wait for them so there isn’t any instant gratification. So, over the years, they have gotten better at getting movies to you instantly. They realized that either we are going to put ourselves out of business and profit from it or someone else is going to do it.

So, take a look at your current clients and ask whether they are facing new challenges and how you can best meet them. If you don’t do it, someone else will and it may not be good for you.

Know your market

It is one thing to know what you are doing. But it is just as important, if not more, to know what your market and competitors are doing as well. Imagine every person who works within the showroom in your market reads my articles and heeds my advice. Wait — that is my imagination at work isn’t it? Nevertheless, you have to examine what your competition is doing and do it better.

Knowing what your competitors are doing is an important part of running a successful business. But it is an area that many companies ignore. That is not a good idea in today's difficult market conditions when your rivals could well be keeping their eyes on you and planning how to steal a share of your business. Do you know what hours they offer compared to your showroom? Are they open late nights or on the weekends? Does the next guy offer better service than your showroom? Is their showroom more customer friendly? Many questions you have to think of and ask.

Customer enquiries

The best source of information about your competitors is likely to be your customers. Talk to them about their perceptions of your business and others in the same market. You could even do some mystery shopping and send a friend along to your competitor's showroom or give them a call to see what they offer and how they handle customers. With caller ID you may not want to call from your showroom. You may also need to make several visits to form an accurate picture.

As consumers are increasingly shopping around for a bargain, price is becoming a big issue and it's vital to know what your competitors are offering in terms of discounts. Price is more of a justification for purchase than ever before, so you have to keep an eye on your competitors at all times to see what offers and deals are doing.

If you examine these points I have mentioned and address any possible weakness your showroom business may have, I think it just may be possible to prevent your extinction. Because I would hate any of you to end up as a fossilized remain in a plumbing fixture showroom museum. Well, maybe one showroom in my own market. What, don’t judge me. Till next time, have fun!

Dion Wilson, Manager of Waterhouse Bath & Kitchen Studio and interior designer, has worked in the K&B industry for the last two decades. Under his direction, Waterhouse has garnered national attention. He is considered one of the industry’s leading social media experts. Wilson can be reached at 419-874-3519, manager@waterhousebks.com; or www.waterhousebks.com. Find him on Facebook www.facebook.com/Waterhousebks or on Twitter @dion1701.

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