Product Selection for the Retail Showroom

I recently returned from the Kitchen/Bath Industry Show (K/BIS) in Las Vegas. As I walked the halls during the show, it occurred to me how many products are available to the kitchen and bath dealer today. While there appeared to be many similar products, many product lines are actually very different from one another.

I began to wonder: If I were a new dealer today looking to open a showroom, how would I select the right products for my showroom? As we’re always looking for new and improved products, this can be a very difficult task.

A colleague recently asked me the best criteria for selecting products. This made me think about what we do in our business.
We do not recommend change for the sake of change. It’s simply far too expensive to change out cabinet lines just for the one new door style that a cabinet company is offering.

We recently made two changes to our cabinet companies and both were slow in coming. After many years of doing business together, we began to notice signs that it was time for a change. Such signs might be a lack of communication; mistakes that become more frequent; lack of keeping up with the new styles, colors, special effects, etc.; lack of service, or even a change in the management or ownership of a company.

Making Choices

There are many different areas to look at when considering the product needs of your showroom. For instance, what is the customer asking for? What does your competitor offer that you do not? Even more importantly, in what areas are you lacking concerning product mix?

One of the first things our firm looks at when adding products to our showroom is the buying group we belong to. This allows us to speak with other dealers carrying a product line and ask for their input. I might ask questions such as, how are they with taking care of problems? Do they fight with you over a problem or are they looking out for you as a dealer? What is the turnaround time for remakes and repairs? How is the service? Do they have regular training sessions, and do they come to you or do you have to go to them? Do they have sales representatives and are they easy to work with? Does the rep call on them on a regular basis or is it just a phone call and they never make appointments to meet? Finally, does it fit in with our current product mix and can we make money with the product?

I’ll also want to know if the product is currently available to any showroom or if there is some exclusive arrangement if we do the sales figures they are looking for. Then I’ll ask, what sort of display program do they offer? Can I earn the displays for free with my purchases? Do they have traveling displays for home shows?

After many years in business, I’ve come to realize that few customers come to see us because of a particular product brand. Rather, they rely on us to give them the best product for their money. To put it another way, they trust us implicitly to get the best overall value for them.

As a kitchen and bath dealer, it’s vitally important to note that rebates are a way of life for many manufacturers. It started with the appliance manufacturers and has quickly spread to many other product categories. From the hardware lines that we carry to the cabinets and everything in between, this is an ever-increasing factor in determining what lines we carry and why.
I believe that the location of a manufacturer or supplier is important to the selection process, as well. If I have a problem and I can get it resolved quickly because of the location being nearby, that may be a good reason to select product A over product B.

It’s also important to work with a quality company. The product offerings today are getting so close to one another that it is hard to determine the actual difference, but the company behind the product can be what makes it the best choice for you.

Some years ago if we sold a kitchen faucet, it was one of two brands, and you had two choices of handles – lever or acrylic. With a spray or without a spray was the only big decision to be made.

Today, you have hundreds of choices, with even more available selections of styles, finishes and brands to offer. In many cases, we have to really rely on the recommendations of our peers in the industry for referrals of products.

Manufacturer Relationships

When it comes to manufacturers, we are picking partners with whom we want to work on an everyday basis. Having a partner company that can work through the good and bad times – and knowing that you have a company that you can count on in those tough situations – is really worth a lot.

When we sell products, our customers don’t care why we can’t get something done for them when they need it done. They do not care what our problems are. They only care about one thing: How are you going to help them when they need help?

Having the right partner can make all the difference in getting a great referral.

Basing your product selection on more than just price or appearance can go a long way toward having successful and profitable product that makes you and your company look great.

We recently opened a new showroom, and the products that we had available through our buying group made it a much simpler task than it would have been years before. Having the professional relationships that have been built and the input from other dealers made our decisions much easier when it came time for the final selection of products.

A faucet is a faucet, and a cabinet is a cabinet, but it is the partnership that makes the real difference in business. Doing business with professionals and friends is a lot more fun that working with just another company. I truly believe that we need to be able to rely on each other in order to succeed. To that end, great working relationships and ongoing communications make the difference between really making some money or just simply making a living.

Another thing I want to stress is to be true to yourself and your company. Do your homework and pick products carefully. This should be a long-term relationship and not just a trial-and-error experiment. Above all, I would suggest using the experience of others to lessen your learning curve. This really is a wonderful industry to be a part of, and when you have the right products to sell, it can even be more fun and profitable for everyone involved.

Jeff Palmer is v.p. of The Ar-Jay Center, based in Cedar Rapids, IA. Members of the Bath & Kitchen Buying Group (BKBG) address business strategies for kitchen and bath dealers in a regular bi-monthly column, appearing exclusively in KBDN.

Read past columns on Business Strategies by Jeff Palmer and send us your comments about this story and others by logging onto Kitchen & Bath Design News’ Web site at