Strategies for Becoming the 'Destination of Choice'

The ability to positively differentiate your showroom from the competition is key to increasing sales and creating a positive and memorable brand. Randy Schwantz, author of the book How to Get Your Competition Fired (Without Saying Anything Bad About Them), claims a fundamental truth about selling is that every time one showroom gains a new customer, it's at the expense of a competitor who didn't make the sale. In other words, when you win, someone else has got to lose.

Schwantz believes that most business is lost, or not obtained at all, because sellers fail to account for the competition. The biggest problem in the selling process, according to Schwantz, is that "you don't differentiate yourself enough to be seen by your prospects as better than your competition."

So, what makes your showroom different? Showrooms can differentiate themselves based on price, merchandise and service.

Price is the lowest common denominator. Most, if not all, showrooms in the independent channel would be out of business if they had to compete principally on price.

Merchandising can be a positive differentiator. However, it's extremely difficult to sustain a competitive stronghold on merchandise alone. There are many showrooms that are equally adept at offering unique and limited-availability product lines.

The third competitive differentiator is service. Schwantz observes that there are two types of service. The first is reactive, which involves "the way you respond to client problems, concerns and issues that arise." In contrast, proactive service is defined as "the day-to-day things that you do to control the experiences of your clients and make their future predictable." According to Schwantz, most businesses do not "clearly articulate the specific things they do proactively that make them different and better." When you clearly articulate services that set your showroom apart, you begin to identify your competition's weaknesses and areas where the competition under-serves its clientele.

USING YOUR STRENGTHS

Schwantz's approach uses a company's strengths to point out ways in which customers are under-served. This enables customers and prospects to self-educate, and "to see in the clearest most possible way how they are being under-served by their provider or would be without you."

Schwantz claims that under-serving causes customer pain. By illustrating that your service is better and different from a current provider or prospective provider, it eases that pain and becomes the winning difference in the sales process.

The approach avoids speaking ill of competitors – or even mentioning a competitor's name. Maligning a competitor only serves to put customers on the defensive because they don't want to admit that they've made a mistake or plan to make a mistake.

One showroom that uses its competitive strengths to its advantage is Brassworks, in Providence, RI. Nearly 10 years ago, Brassworks offered installation services out of necessity, claims company president Anthony Palmer.

"We started our installation service for selfish reasons," he explains. "I was tired of receiving phone calls from contractors and customers alleging that the mortise lock that they attempted to install in a $5,000 mahogany door malfunctioned. We knew better, but were not in a position to do anything about it."

Palmer recognized that improper installation creates a lion's share of the pain his showroom and his customers experience. As a result, he and Brassworks have leveraged their installation service to create additional positive differentiators that have had a significant impact on the bottom line.

"Because we do our own installation, we're in a position to service all warranties and offer double manufacturer warranties," he notes. "Our installation service is responsible for approximately $250,000 a year in business that we otherwise would not obtain."

ALLAYING CUSTOMER FEARS

Using Schwantz's methodology, Fiddler's in Honolulu identified competitors' weaknesses and the pain that results when customers are under-served. We determined that homeowners are concerned about spending too much or too little. They want to receive value. They often express fear that they will select the wrong style, mechanical function or price point. They fret over adversarial relationships with installers and contractors. They want to be supported after the sale. They want their spouse to agree with their decisions. One or all of these concerns enters a customer's mind when they visit a showroom.

Fiddler's puts customers at ease by explaining that there are no "wrong choices," per se. However, there is a right choice that's unique to the customer's specific project. Acknowledging causes of anxiety and presenting options that eliminate or mitigate those concerns changes the dynamic. Customers become more relaxed. They begin to focus on style and finish, because they trust us to help identify products that meet mechanical and operational goals. We let our customers know that we understand that there are difficulties with contractors and installers. We advise that we are available 24/7 as a source of assistance if problems arise. We point out that we have a direct pipeline into the manufacturers whose products are featured in our showroom, and we stand behind the products long after they've been installed.

This type of conversation helps customers address fears of spending too much or not receiving value. It positively differentiates us from the competition.

We have used this approach as part of our standard operating procedure. It builds trust. It connotes genuine honesty and a commitment to quality and success. Customers recognize that it can be a mean world out there, and they know when they're dealing with a straight shooter. With the ease of access to an endless source of information provided by the Internet, customers can spot a phony instantly.

Similarly, they will test you early in a conversation. However, once you begin a dialogue and acknowledge and address customer concerns, you allay fears. You provide a sense of relief that results in an order, often without even a discussion of price.

CREATING A RAPPORT

Steve Weinberg of the Glassmith Shop in Summit, NJ has experienced similar success. A key to his approach is to ask probing questions that create a rapport with customers.

"Like a lot of my peers, I complain about the Internet," Weinberg notes. "One approach to an Internet shopper is to acknowledge that almost every item in any showroom can be reduced to a commodity. We ask potential clients certain pointed questions that let them know that we are professionals in this industry and that we can help them a great deal better than they realize. If price is their only consideration, then we encourage them to shop the Internet or big boxes.

"We certainly do not want to be the free public library. If there is even a small chance that they want something 'better,' then we educate them on the vast world of decorative plumbing and hardware," he continues. "We will guide them through the process of picking the right looks, finishes and products that fit their budget. The competitive advantage is gained as soon as they realize that there's much more to consider than just price."

Union Hardware has become a market leader in the Washington, DC region by providing value-added services that most competitors cannot match. As senior v.p. David Goldberg explains, "We have built an infrastructure that clearly demonstrates the value we bring to homeowners and the trades. Customers appreciate the fact that they are frequently updated on the status of their orders and that we keep them apprised of scheduled delivery dates. This service helps to avoid construction delays and unnecessary interruptions to daily activities. We've maintained 15 years of sales records that enable us to quickly and accurately find replacement parts that can resolve problems the first time. This is a huge competitive advantage for our showroom."

Identifying leading causes of customer angst and developing scripts and solutions to address consumer pain is a very productive exercise. It eliminates the need to spend time and money on things that don't matter, or that provide little return. The ability to allay customer anxieties creates a competitive advantage that few can match.

The process guarantees that you exceed customer expectations (after you've defined them). This results in loyalty for repeat business and generates word-of-mouth for new business. It makes customers feel even more gratified and willing to share their unique experiences with others.

Over-serving customers makes it difficult for competitors to dislodge you as the customer's destination of choice.

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