Are You 'Smarter' Than Your Clients?

When I look at today's kitchen and bath consumers, I see shoppers who are more knowledgeable than ever. I also see consumers who are fully aware that they have myriad options in researching and planning their kitchens, baths and other residential spaces.

The vast majority of consumers take full advantage of this. They pick up design magazines, and purchase books and videos for their upcoming projects. They visit a plethora of dealers, distributors, lumber yards and home centers and obtain literature. Most convenient of all, they sit at home and visit the Web sites of kitchen and bath manufacturers and collect design ideas and product options.

When you consider just how well-educated the average consumer is as he or she walks through your showroom door, it's imperative that you not only know your products well, but that you know more than your customers know.

I started thinking about this last year when a kitchen salesperson related a story to me. A prospect came to his showroom to have his kitchen remodeled. This prospect had visited other dealers, as well as various Web sites, to obtain information on a cabinet line that the kitchen salesperson carried.

The sale should have been easy, because the customer already had a good idea of what he wanted concerning design, door styles and finish options.

When the kitchen salesperson went over the customer's information, he found what he thought was a problem: The customer had chosen a door style that was not available from the manufacturer. The customer insisted that it was on the cabinet manufacturer's Web site and the salesperson insisted that the door was not available. The customer eventually left.

That evening, the salesperson visited the Web site and, sure enough, the door style was there. He had received a product bulletin announcing the new offering,'

but had yet to review it. In effect, he lost the sale because his customer was more knowledgeable than he was.

I had a similar experience once when I tried to purchase a new minivan. I collected literature, looked at different makes and

models and thoroughly researched the vehicle online. Before I talked to the first salesperson, I knew everything there was to know about the vehicle that I wanted. I knew my desired options and what it should cost. Armed with all this knowledge, I still found buying my new vehicle to be frustrating.

I was just like any consumer looking for a new kitchen in that I could open up the phone book and find company after company that I could bring my business to. They all had the vehicle that I was looking for, but the salesperson would determine who got my business.

The salesperson and company that ended up making money on my sale were the ones that made me feel confident in them.

Getting smarter

Knowing more than your customers do about your products and services is not a difficult task. It simply requires you to be diligent in continuing your education in both your products and your industry. There are many ways to accomplish this, and they should be an essential part of your business routine. Here are just a few:

  • Get out into the field. See other jobs in process or visit show homes and builder models. Why not stop into other showrooms? This is a fantastic opportunity to see new products and ideas in use. In addition, it's important to know what your competition is offering. Learn from the creativity of others in your business.
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  • Be sure to attend association meetings and trade shows. These events bring speakers and companies from your industry to you to specifically increase your knowledge base. Attend regional and national shows. This is an opportunity for you to learn about the products and services from the whole industry.'
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  • Read and research. Your customers, as I noted, have many options in both researching and planning their new projects. You, too, must take advantage of this. You have access to everything that they use, plus you have access to trade magazines that deliver monthly information about new products, design ideas and business techniques. Know your industry as well as you know'your products.
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  • Be product savvy. As a manufacturer's rep, I emphasize product-specific education every day. It's very easy to become complacent with your knowledge about products that you work with daily. These products are constantly changing, however, and it's necessary to stay current.

Make sure that you know the manufacturer's spec book inside and out. Be especially diligent in completely reading new and updated spec books. They present new products, as well as changes to existing items.

Manufacturers often supplement the spec books during the year with bulletins. Bulletins are very easily misplaced or put away without being read. One of the most successful ways to avoid this is to write the bulletin changes right in your master spec book. That way, whenever you turn to the item that has been changed, your bulletin note is right there.

I also receive a lot of updates via e-mail. I print them as soon as I see them, and immediately record them into my spec book. Manufacturer-sponsored training seminars are another important source of valuable product knowledge for kitchen/bath dealers.

Customers take the manufacturer's literature home and study it thoroughly. You, too, should study it and note door styles, finishes and any unusual uses of the products in the design. When customers question items in the literature, you need to be able to accurately answer their inquiry. You should be intimately familiar with manufacturers' Web sites, as well. I check my manufacturers' Web sites several times a week to make sure that I'm fully aware of any updates. Many manufacturers now have specific sections dedicated to updating their dealers with bulletins, administrative forms and new products.

In the end, you should be the unquestioned authority on your products and services.'

Research and planning have become exceedingly quick and easy for consumers. They, in turn, have become more educated and more knowledgeable than ever. If you're to earn their business, you must be well prepared and know more than your customers know.

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