Capitalize on Competitors' Weaknesses to Stay Competitive, Experts Say

Capitalize on Competitors' Weaknesses to Stay Competitive, Experts Say

When the "big box" chains first began to make inroads into the kitchen and bath market, many small kitchen and bath dealerships wondered how they would survive. Since many were unable to compete on price due to retail giants' ability to buy in larger quantities, kitchen and bath dealers were forced to re-evaluate their marketing strategies, target clientele, product offerings, and, particularly, their service.

And, in doing so, many discovered not only hidden business strengths, but other ideas for becoming more competitive in the face of a changing industry.

In fact, there are many proactive steps that business owners can take to ensure that their firm not only survives, but thrives, in the face of retail giants, according to Debbie Allen, business consultant at Allen & Associates Consulting, Inc., based in Tempe, AZ. Allen spoke about "How to Compete and Succeed Against Retail Giant" at the recent K/B IS in Chicago.

Foremost in Allen's philosophy is the concept of empowering employees to identify the changes, challenges and choices they face daily.

So, how can you do this?

According to Allen, regardless of your competition's size, be it a big box chain or small showroom, it's important to take advantage of the competition's weaknesses. Very often, this comes in the form of a confused big box customer who comes to your showroom looking for design advice.

To capitalize on this, Allen stresses that businesses should hire, train and retain the very best employees available, so that the staff's expertise will stand out and make a strong, positive impression with potential customers. This is particularly important because service has been a traditionally weak area for many of the big box stores.

So, how do you get and keep the best employees? Allen believes expressing appreciation to employees for good work, keeping them informed of plans and goals, understanding individual needs, ensuring job security and offering competitive wages and benefits (see related story, Page 60) are all good places to start.

Once you have top-quality employees in place, you need to focus on service. Service, however, can mean many things. For instance, Allen notes, if your firm is unable to supply a customer's specific need, good service might mean directing them to the local big box chain that can help them. While it may seem like an odd choice, the customer will appreciate the conscientiousness displayed by your staff, and remember your firm's helpfulness in the future.

While the influx of "big box" chains has obviously changed both the industry itself, and how kitchen and bath dealers must compete, there's another major factor that is shaping changes in how kitchen and bath dealers do business: kitchen and bath customers themselves.

Today's consumer is more educated and sophisticated than ever before, and because of this, is beginning to demand 21st century style service. Providing this type of service requires employees be well-educated about the products available, while also having the ability to make personal connections with customers.

To that end, personalized service is another area where smaller kitchen and bath dealerships can excel over their big box competitors particularly if they are observant and attentive to their customers' needs. For instance, understanding the tendencies of younger or older customers who walk into your showroom can provide a strong selling advantage.

Likewise, men or women may have different needs and perspectives, and being aware of this can help you to better service them. For instance, woman tend to be interested in fashion and lifestyle, and want to connect with family and friends through the purchases they make. Men, on the other hand, are more mission-oriented and loyal to particular brands. According to Allen, recognizing these characteristics can help you sell in a style that best appeals to the prospect.

However, even with great customer service, kitchen and bath firms that want to be successful should constantly "update, upscale and upsell," Allen says. For example, she recommends updating the company's showroom with elements of movement, reflection and color, especially colors which reflect an aquatic motif, which tends to attracts the customer's eye.

It's also important to upsell with quality products and upscale your company's database as frequently as possible, she suggests. Buying groups, too, can be a beneficial plan for kitchen and bath dealers looking to lower their prices and network with other dealers.

Finally, it is marketing, Allen believes, that truly differentiates the survivors from the strivers.
To lay the groundwork for marketing success, Allen suggests the following:

  • Offer more convenient service.
  • Offer the kind of quality service the customer expects.
  • Focus on "follow-ups" and "follow-thrus" with customers.
  • When a customer steps into your showroom, create a mood-altering experience.
  • Offer customer lifestyle improvements.
  • Be honest about your company's strengths and weaknesses.
  • Offer unique and emotional branding that customers can relate to in some fashion.

These will help to create a stronger overall customer focus for the entire business, Allen notes, and give the firm a marketable product and reputation..