Adding New Products Can Keep You Competitive

In today's kitchen and bath marketplace, there are numerous opportunities to show or display new products on the showroom floor. With such vast possibilities, now is a great time to start thinking about your plans for displaying new introductions.

Address the following questions: How does your business handle new products? Do you display them right away, or do you hold back and see how they fare after two years? Do you let your competition lead so there is less risk for your business; in other words, do you allow others to forge ahead and then make your move? Or, perhaps, you are too busy selling to bother with showroom display updates. If this is your situation, is this the beginning of a trend toward lost sales? More importantly, are you losing image and reputation potential, which could put your higher-margin sales at risk?

Every day I get valuable consumer feedback regarding the impact of new products on a business' reputation and related referrals. Consumers are savvy, and they will search to find what they want, starting with showrooms where these products are on display and available for purchase. A typical kitchen and bath consumer will shop and research for numerous hours online and visit up to three different locations before they buy. Displaying new products is important because it allows your business to be recognized, and be placed at the top of these consumers' mental referral lists.

A new product quest might begin as simply as someone joining a meeting or a lunch group and asking, "Do you know where I can buy such-and-such," or, perhaps, "I just saw this great new product on TV last night. Do you have any idea who would sell this in the area?" Or, a referral might even come in a passing conversation at the grocery store:

"I would stop by (your store name here). I was there last week and they have such a wide selection. They usually carry the latest items." Hopefully, the reaction would not be, "Oh, I wouldn't go there. When I visited that place two years ago, it didn't have anything I was looking for!"

Fortunately for us, shopping for kitchen and bath products isn't as simple as sitting at home in slippers and clicking a mouse. Buyers want to see, touch and experience such products, especially when investing in a design comprising many different items. The showroom is their haven, the place they can go to obtain answers and expert advice. Knowing this, the goal of showroom managers and designers should be creating an ambience of inspiration – to accommodate your customers' unique styles, and fulfill their aspirations – a desire for something better, something new. New products answer this need.

Defining 'New'

The trend toward shorter product life spans was set in motion years ago, thanks to the seasonal mindset of apparel introductions. Over the past five years, the introduction timing of new kitchen and bath products has shortened dramatically, from an average of 24 to 18 months to as little as 12 months. Therefore, I define "new" products as items introduced and made available for purchase within the past 12 to 18 months.

Several factors, including technology and innovations in materials, have contributed to the shortening of new products' life cycles. Mass customization also has occurred, prompting an influx of new products with custom appeal, but without the custom cost and burden. Additionally, because of expanded access to ideas and products, consumers are searching regionally for special finds to fit their project solutions. This demand is also helping to spur the introduction cycle of new product offerings.

In keeping with this trend, it should never be difficult to find and display new products for your customers' consideration. And, more than ever, today's consumer is interested in the latest thing, even if they just want to see it.

While many buyers will always stick with what's comfortable to them – the tried and true – we must remember that if all customers only wanted to buy the same old things, we wouldn't have so many options to consider. In other words, manufacturers wouldn't be going through all of the trouble and expense to add options and new products if they weren't selling.

Risk Versus Need

You want your customers to get what they want from you, so it's essential that your offerings are current. But do you really have to display all of those new introductions? What if they don't sell at all?

Think of your showroom as a vital, living example of your sales. While it is true that new products carry risks, it's important to remember that without some calculated risks, the rewards you stand to gain are limited.

When considering the need for display changes, a good guideline is that new products should make up a minimum 25% to 35% of your last three years' total sales. If you are not attaining at least this level of success, you may not have enough new products or the right new products in your merchandising.

Additionally, if your total product offering does not mirror this benchmark – with at least 25% to 35% new products introduced within the past 12 to 18 months – your showroom is out of date, and you are not encouraging the consumer to shop your category.

Another way to tell if your showroom is out of date is to ask yourself the following questions. And, if you can answer "yes" to any of them, your business could probably benefit from adding more new products to your display merchandising:

  1. Do your designers seem bored, is their enthusiasm waning, are they requesting that you change this or that, update, spruce up and modify what you have? Or worse, have you lost valuable sales professionals to your competition? Remember, new products on the sales floor will automatically energize your staff.
  2. Do you often see consumers (who are pressed for time) come in for short visits, without staying long or returning? Are these shoppers slipping through your fingers? If you have what they are seeking, they will come back later, perhaps with their spouses. Adding new products will catch the shopper's eye, making him/her stop and take notice.
  3. Are your sales slumping? Is your assortment of products seen as commodity, common or lower value? Is price becoming more of a discussion or issue? Having a rotation plan to continually add new products to your showroom can give your business a competitive edge.
  4. Does your competition have more new products on display than you do? If so, then new products are certainly not hurting their business!

Up To The Challenge

The challenge, of course, is to determine the best way to work with new products, while balancing your business plan with your consumers' dreams of the new.

Gather research on new products that interest you. Figure your current percentages for new products on your showroom floor and how much you're selling. Walk through your showroom to determine which displays are productive in terms of selling and which are not. Finally, prepare to implement a new product display plan that's sure to win increased sales and valuable referrals!