Branding Your Showroom for Best Impact

The Nike "Swoosh" is one of the most recognizable brand symbols in the world. The instant recognition that the company's logo receives is the result of more than a billion-dollar effort to create brand awareness.

It's safe to say that even the largest of plumbing/decorative hardware showrooms does not have the resources or inclination to mirror Nike's branding efforts. However, to view branding as simply name or logo recognition is to misunderstand the meaning of branding and its applicability to decorative plumbing and hardware showrooms.

When you think of the Nike Swoosh, what comes to mind? It's not only about sneakers and sporting goods.

Too often, showrooms believe that branding involves having the most products, the newest products or a particular product line. But, as the Nike example illustrates, showroom branding is not only about faucets and fixtures. Showroom branding requires creating an emotional attachment with customers. It encompasses all facets of a showroom's operation including products, services, staff knowledge and attitude, technologies, appearances and processes.
Recognize that you can't expect to wake up tomorrow and say, "Today, I'm going to brand my showroom."

Branding is a long-term, cumulative process. Marketing, advertising and public relations activities will help attract customers to showrooms. The interaction that customers experience once they arrive determines whether they'll return. That's one reason why national companies with financial and human resources many times greater than those of independent showroom operators have not captured a lion's share of our market. For the same reason, Internet retailing has not as yet lived up to expectations.

Exceeding needs
Customers are not na've. Despite what advertisements or marketing campaigns may proclaim, today's fickle customers recognize when their needs are not met and when the problems they face are not addressed. Create showroom brand awareness by understanding, meeting and then exceeding customer needs.

At Bath and Beyond, we promise an experience that's different or better than the competition's. We brand by delivering on that promise consistently and promoting that message effectively to the right target markets. We capitalize on co-op marketing and advertising dollars, and ask our manufacturers for co-op support. We aggressively cater to the media responding to radio, newspaper and industry trade publication requests and look for media opportunities. Our visibility in the media is not a happenstance. It's the result of a strategic effort to effectively brand our name.

Similarly, you can't brand a showroom without a well-trained staff. The salespeople on the front lines are the driving force of an overall, effective branding effort.

Showroom operators need to teach sales staff to ask the right questions to determine the nature of a customer's project (remodeling, replacement, new construction, etc.); if they're using an architect, designer or contractor; the budget available; the customer's lifestyle; what's most important and why they're undertaking the project, and who will perform the installation.

Train your sales professionals to greet and question all customers in a manner that enables them to build relationships and set the stage for trust-building. Sales staffs need to understand why a customer likes a particular product (as opposed to another) in order to confirm a selection or provide alternatives that may be better suited to meet goals, budget and individual preferences. Asking the right questions enables sales professionals to understand those preferences. With this knowledge, they're in a prime position to up-sell and make recommendations that enable them to move beyond being a simple order taker and become a trusted advisor.

Sales staff training is essential to the showroom branding process, and should include a mix of technical knowledge and sales skills. The challenge faced by many entrepreneurial showroom owners is that time for training is limited and tools that combine technical data with salesmanship are virtually nonexistent. Training provided by DPHA and other professional trade organizations must be complemented by a committed effort to offer training and professional development opportunities to every member of the staff.

Capitalize on you
Showroom branding also requires an understanding of your position in the market, your unique value and your ability to communicate a consistent message and constantly deliver on the promises you make.

To understand your position in the marketplace, first determine what's valuable about your company. Conduct customer surveys. Hold focus groups to determine your unique assets. Take the time to visit with long-term customers to determine what they expect from you? How well do you deliver on the promises made?

How do you differentiate yourself from the competition?

The answers you receive to these questions form the basis for identifying and communicating a consistent and targeted message.
My showroom, for example, operates under the premise that we'll promise a lot and deliver even more. Our marketing and advertising pieces proclaim, "It's worth the trip." We've modified the nomenclature throughout the years, but this message has remained consistent. We want customers to come to our showroom with an expectation that they'll receive a positive experience they won't forget. We then deliver on that promise by offering a showroom that looks and feels different from any other they're likely to visit.

Our showroom offers an array of colors, textures and images that are not seen elsewhere. We're in the plumbing businessso water flows freely in our showroom. We offer a m'lange of textures, colors and images to differentiate ourselves from others and to make good on our advertising promises that we're a "one-stop shop."

Other successful showrooms take a similar approach. Snyder Diamond in southern California and Union Hardware in Washington, DC, as just two examples, have capitalized on their longevity in their respective markets to effectively brand themselves as a neighborhood resource.

Snyder Diamond carries selected inventory that caters to its customer's needs, and has made the decision to offer a complete service, including installation. Price becomes less of an issue when customers know that the products they purchase will be installed correctly; similarly, an architect, designer or builder only has to be burned once to understand the value of proper installation.

Another effective branding tool used by successful showrooms is to offer their own private line of fixtures and products. When your showroom's name is on a product, customers can't help but believe that you'll stand behind it.

Creating a private label for different products is not difficult. Many manufacturers are ready, willing and able to work with showrooms to develop private label products that meet certification and code requirements.

A flexible mindset
It's important to remember, when it comes to showroom branding, that no one individual approach is universally applicable.

An important key, of course, is to recognize that many kitchen and bath showrooms miss opportunities to capitalize on brand value because they're too involved in other daily operations. But, once you make the commitment to brand your showroom, your approach can vary.

If you cater to the design trades, leverage your brand equity by sponsoring seminars, showcasing new products and developing case histories of successful project collaborations with design professionals. Publish a quarterly newsletter or news advisory. Issue news releases monthly, not only to the trade press, but to clients and prospects as well.

News releases are one of the most cost-effective mediums you can use to create brand awareness in a niche market such as decorative plumbing and hardware. The trades will listen because they want and need the information you can provide. They'll be receptive to the invitations you extend because you're helping them to improve the service they provide to their customers.

Consistently invest in the appearance of your showroom. Upgrade displays and don't necessarily use displays that are provided by manufacturers at no charge simply because of their price. Determine, instead, if they're consistent with the image that you want your showroom to project. Provide the proper training that staff members need to succeed. Reinforce daily with everyone in your organization the brand your firm is striving to project and promote. Sales staffs need to understand, accept and appreciate the brand that the showroom is developing and has earned.

Quite often, branding efforts fall short because the right market is not targeted, the wrong mediums are used or the showroom makes promises that it cannot follow through on. Ads - like those in The Yellow Pages, for example are placed year after year without checking to see if there's a return on the investment.

Effective branding is dependent upon executing consistently, exceeding expectations and marketing the value-added services that differentiate your showroom from the competition's. Ultimately, every showroom is in a position to create an indelible brand. It's up to you to decide how to successfully brand your showroom.

All of us can learn lessons from Nike. The most important one: "Just Do It."