Using Specialty Appliances as a Lure

We all know and love our ovens, dishwashers, clothes washers and dryers and how could we live without that microwave? But do you know what a "specialty" appliance is, and what it could mean to your business?

In a recent conversation with Paul Zugschwert of All, Inc. in Minneapolis, I realized just how important these niche products can be for developing new ways to get customers into your showroom.

By definition, a specialty appliance is one that we love to show, display and present. They might not be among the highest-volume sellers in your showroom, however. But, according to Zugschwert, specialty appliance sales can still be high quality because of their higher profit margin and potential for add-on sales.

"Specialty appliances go beyond the average cappuccino machine," Zugschwert explains. "This group of products extends to include modern conveniences like the steam oven, and appliances with features never before seen or experienced by most consumers."

One such recent product, which has drawn considerable consumer interest at demonstration events, is the "Advantium" oven by General Electric. This specialty appliance features "speedcook technology," a cooking process that uses light to deliver fast, flavorful results a convenience that interests busy modern families.

Even if you don't offer such products for sale, it can be beneficial to work at least one into your showroom displays.

You may ask here: Why go through all the trouble if you don't benefit from selling the products? First of all, specialty appliances are great conversation pieces. They are terrific for marketing efforts, specifically in-house demonstration events. Consider hosting a Saturday gathering that centers around a specialty appliance. Plan to invite 200 or so prospective or existing customers by direct-mail special invitation. Can't you think of at least 30 people who would come to your showroom to see, smell and taste the rewards of such a great kitchen innovation?

Remember, consumers are curious creatures. Even if they do not plan to buy the item, they usually want to become familiar with new features and gadgets. The right "carrot" might interest them enough to come through your door to learn more. Want proof? Just go to a Best Buy on any given weekend and observe the volume of consumers "test driving" the latest options.

The kitchen and bath industry sometimes perceived as ho-hum by consumers desiring new, exciting, space-age products stands to benefit greatly from new products that get the consumer talking. Specialty appliances are one category that stirs their interest. Trend-savvy consumers love to share their firsthand experiences with cutting-edge products in conversations at social events. Such exposure can be good for your business if the specialty item was seen at your showroom.

Along with the value of visually merchandising specialty appliances in your showroom comes the value of procuring positive public relations for your business. Basically, what this means is low-cost marketing for your hard-cost investments. To seize public relations opportunities and boost business with specialty appliances, consider having a product rep or expert demonstrate the product for an event some Saturday.

I attended a showroom event recently where experts provided advice about, and samples from, an Advantium oven, a cappuccino machine and a steam oven! I must admit feeling a bit envious when food at the 6 p.m. event was a higher priority than my drawer glides or finishes. In addition, I found my product came in second to the more unusual specialty appliances. Thankfully, it all worked out in the end. Many of those people stayed and milled around the showroom for hours. I waited my turn and, with their hunger satisfied, consumers listened more intently and longer.

Among the many benefits of displaying specialty appliances are the following:

  • Increased exposure with consumers. You want to get homeowners out of the house and shopping. Specialty appliances provide a reason for consumers to come to you instead of simply waiting for inspiration or worse, going to your competitor. This kind of display can build referrals.
  • Sales add-ons. New customers may come to your business with one goal in mind: to see new, unusual products. Once they are there, they can see all the other great items they had not previously considered. How many of us have closed a large remodeling sale with a smile after the consumer came in saying, "We only need a new sink and countertop"?
  • A natural public relations vehicle. Newspapers are known to make headlines over things that people are talking about. Perhaps your (or another colleague's or customer's) suggestion to a media contact could land your business in the "Lifestyles" section of your local paper. Keep in mind, marketing is more than just advertising, and this type of marketing is needed even more within a tight economy.
  • Target marketing ability. Specialty product displays allow you to focus events and marketing for a select group. Home enthusiasts are energized through the education you provide.
  • Food as a draw. Kitchen products and food go hand-in-hand. Consider teaming up with a local catering team that would appreciate having an opportunity to show off their skills on your appliances.
  • Added pizazz for your business and staple products. Often the excitement of actually experiencing a new product "that makes such-and-such" is lost in a mundane, technical description. So, don't just tell show! If people have to be there to understand and appreciate, invite the public to stop in and see for themselves.
  • A fun purchasing experience. Flavored coffees and teas are a way to welcome the consumer. Offering a complimentary coffee with an irresistible aroma is a great icebreaker that also allows you to demonstrate an appliance.

Of course, to take full advantage of specialty product appeal, it's important to place them effectively, for maximum impact and exposure within your showroom.

One solution is to place the unit at the end of a run or in such a way that gathering can occur in a semi-circle. Think about other products that should be strategically displayed nearby. If possible, it makes good sense to situate top-selling favorites in the immediate area for observers who disperse after the demonstration.

Don't stop at simply installing a cooking unit in a cabinet, however. Make sure it is fully operational. When not in use, keep the light on with a prop turkey in a roasting pan inside. The "pretend" food can be replaced with the real deal to entice shoppers during peak "learning" times. The smell of savory cooking will call people to follow their noses, but also be sure ventilation issues are addressed and that your solution meets local code.

It's always best if specialty appliances are included in a working kitchen display that has a system in place for preparation and clean-up. In any case, keep the area clean. Clutter and unappealing, old food are turn offs. Remember to plan trash management for all those toothpicks, napkins and drink cups. While the waste area should be easily found and accessed, it's neither necessary nor tasteful to situate the receptacle center stage. Try to have it close by, but not in the middle of the walkway. If there's no good place for it, conceal the discarded contents beneath a swinging lid easy to access, but not easily seen.

Most importantly, when hosting a demonstration, become an expert on the product being touted. Make sure you and your staff receive ample training, not only about its specifications and features, but also about how to use the item. Then, when you're asked questions your interested customers' cue for you to show them more you're ready to spring into action. Consider keeping a few quick-cooking, good-smelling and great-tasting dishes on hand in the freezer.

And, remember, you may sell only a few specialty appliances, but don't be disappointed. The goal is to grow your image and sales in all categories. Put on your marketing cap and start planning.

What will your carrot be?.