‘Pain Management’ Techniques for Your Business

Pain is part of running a business. We incur pain when our employees don’t follow procedures, representatives don’t support their lines and manufacturers fail to understand showroom operations.

Unfortunately, most of the pain in the decorative plumbing and hardware industry is self-inflicted. It results from not understanding and managing customer expectations, wants, needs and desires at all levels in the supply chain. It’s a byproduct of inadequate communication. It occurs when our working environment focuses only on the negative and not the positive, and it recurs because we don’t take the time to be proactive. Simply looking at what’s wrong and making fixes does not eliminate the pain.

Showroom owners know the leading causes of pain, yet few of us take or can create the time to do anything to alleviate or prevent pain from recurring. In many instances, we are the enemy. We continue to promote bad behavior by accepting practices that cause pain.

Installation and Delivery Issues

Our showroom personnel and my peers from around the country constantly complain about installation errors, yet few of us make the effort to establish relationships with competent trade personnel. We don’t go out of our way to provide training. It’s easy to say that installers are not interested, however, what are we doing to generate interest?

Dealers need to reach out to installers, establish a rapport with them and convince them that it is in their best interests to partner with independent showrooms. The Decorative Plumbing & Hardware Association (DPHA) has produced materials to assist in that area. DPHA’s new installer message brochure, published in both English and Spanish, provides the reasons that should attract installer interest.

Customers come to our showrooms expecting perfection. They want a flawless experience and are willing to pay a premium to have their expectations met.

Expectations fall short if products are not delivered on time or as specified. Showrooms reinforce unacceptable behavior by not mandating that manufacturers issue confirmation orders or require that the confirmation include information that is necessary to quality control a project. Dealers need to check acknowledgements against purchase orders to ensure that pricing is accurate, to verify that the correct product is ordered and to confirm that the delivery time is consistent with the information provided to the customer.

Company Assets

Pain is avoided when a line is easy to sell. The industry is constantly changing, and we need to change with it. Showrooms have to represent the latest and greatest because that is what our customers expect.

Pain is created when we take on a new line that does not perform or underperforms, but it is avoided when we take on a new line that complements our merchandise mix, that fills a void and contributes to our profitability.

We need to ask difficult questions when assessing a new line. We must involve our employees, and know what their concerns are. We want to know how the line will be distributed, represented in the field and supported in the home office.

Our decision is based on determining if it will enhance our business plan. We analyze if the line is comparable in quality and performance to other merchandise on display. Manufacturers that provide lines that enable us to stand apart ease pain.
A representative’s performance dictates if a showroom will take on or support a line. Our showroom looks to representatives to educate our sales and customer service teams and support the line after a sale is made. Pain is eased when representatives agree to troubleshoot problems in the field. Representatives who wash their hands of problems caused by installation errors create pain.

Pain is also avoided when employees know what their roles and responsibilities are. It is eliminated when employees realize how their job performance affects the ability of the showroom to deliver an exceptional customer experience.

Employees cause pain if they do not believe they have a say in operations. Pain is avoided by involving employees in the decision-making process, by asking their opinions about prospective lines. We recognize that if staff does not have a say in what is sold, the line will die. We ask our staff to review our marketing materials, our advertisements and our display program.

We can also eliminate employee pain by making our employees’ lives easier through innovative compensation plans, benefit packages and merit-based recognition programs. Providing staff with interesting work, increased responsibilities and new challenges also helps the cause. Assuring that our sales and customer service teams have the product knowledge and expertise to direct customers to products that are best suited for their projects is also part of the mix. We motivate staff by giving them the freedom to make decisions on their own. We allow our employees to take back products to satisfy a customer even if we are not at fault.

Meeting Expectations

Not understanding customer expectations is another leading contributor. Customers, homeowners in particular, are concerned about spending too much or too little.

Regardless of their income bracket or budget, they want to receive value. They want to know that they’ve selected the right style. They want to be reassured that the product will perform as advertised. They need to feel confident that the showroom will stand behind the product after the sale.

We advise our customers that we are available to them to provide assistance if problems occur. We help avoid pain by relating that we have a direct communications link to manufacturers whose products are featured in our showroom. We ease customer pain by standing behind the products after they have been installed.

When the economy heads south, we need to be more proactive to identify where new projects will emerge. We need to call on members of the design community to take their pulse and determine their needs. We need to implement an aggressive display program and partner with manufacturers that make it painless to update displays and replace tired inventory.

Identifying leading causes of internal and external pain helps to ensure customer expectations can be exceeded. It results in customer loyalty and referrals. It helps to ensure that employees are motivated and rewarded. It keeps our fingers on the pulse of the market, and positions us to effectively respond to change, painlessly.