Some Valuable Lessons From the Profit Prophet
By Stephen Vlachos, CKD, CBD
Not so long ago, I woke up with a start in the middle of the night. Standing at the foot of my bed was a shadowy figure. He was wearing long robes and had a certain Father Time look about him. Since I'm old enough to remember Ward Cleaver, I made an immediate assumption: "You're the Grim Reaper, aren't you?"
He shook his head and laughed a rueful laugh. "That's the problem with you kitchen and bath dealers, you don't recognize me. You have no clue who I am. You look at me as if I was from another planet or something. But I'm not a bad dream. I'm not the devil. I've been sent here to help you. I am the Profit Prophet."
He was right, I didn't recognize him. In fact, I'd never even heard of him before. Mostly, though, I just wanted him out of my bedroom.
Whatever skills he had, mind reading clearly wasn't among them, as he ignored my discomfort totally and began speaking. "Are you ashamed to make money?" he asked.
"No, of course not," I replied.
He smiled. "If that's true, how come you've never discussed profit with any of your industry colleagues? How come you only talk about how big the job was or how intricate the design needed to be? How come everybody wants to talk about how clever they are as designers, but no one ever wants to discuss the money they make? Please explain this aversion to profit," he demanded.
I didn't know what to say.
He went on, "I've sat in on hundreds of staff meetings at kitchen and bath dealerships everywhere. You discuss new products. You talk about design issues. You plan showroom renovations. But you never, ever discuss increasing profit! What is it with you people?"
I had no answer to this.
He took my silence as an invitation to continue. "Don't you realize that profit is good for you? It won't give you a rash. It lowers high blood pressure. It contains no fat. It retards graying hair. You'll have fewer frown lines in your face. You'll smile more. Have more fun. Take more vacations. You can run 10 miles a day and do all the Tai Bo and Yoga you want, but you'll never achieve the inner peace that a good dose of profit will bring.
"Just the other day, in fact, I listened in as a kitchen designer told her cohorts in horror that she had mis-priced her last five countertop sales. It seems that she had mistaken list price for cost and had added her markup to the list price. She told her associates that she was embarrassed by how much money she'd made. They all nodded their heads in agreement. They felt her pain.
"Well," he continued, "I wanted to scream! If us prophets didn't have a 'No apparition during daylight hours policy,' I would have made a scene. What are these people thinking?
"Five straight customers paid the requested price without argument. Isn't there a message there? Isn't there?
Why didn't anyone clue in to the fact that maybe, just maybe, they were underpricing their products? Maybe there was more money to be made. There was a valuable lesson there and they missed it! What is it with you designers?"
I shrugged my shoulders helplessly.
"You guys have needed a Prophet Profit for a long time," he announced. "I only hope that I'm not too late. Just look at what's happening around the country. Home Depot continues to expand. Lowes keeps getting bigger. Sears wants a piece of the action. Along with the other 'big boxes,' they're grabbing ever larger market shares. Home Expos are opening at an accelerated rate.
"What's the end result? Fewer and fewer retailers are selling
more and more kitchens. You
guys can't compete on selection. You can't compete on price. You have to offer more services, and when you do, you need to maximize one thing, one critical thing profit."
I nodded my head slowly. I was beginning to understand this ghostly figure.
"Do kitchen dealers somehow feel unworthy of making a profit?" he continued.
"Why do they turn their eyes away when the subject of profit is brought up? How come your industry doesn't celebrate successful, profitable businesses the way other industries do?
"Are you afraid that your customers would think that you're
gouging them if they knew you were profitable? Every day, we read
in the paper about how
profitable certain companies are. Yet they still have customers,
don't they? I repeat, what's with you guys?"
I had no answer. I turned my eyes toward the floor.
"Are you worried about the politics of profit? You shouldn't be. If you're a Conservative, you've already got it partially figured out. Conservatives know that profit is good. They just need to spend more time worrying about producing profit and less time trying to hide it.
"Liberals are just the opposite. They don't feel worthy of profit. It's a dirty word. Yet Liberals like to pay taxes. They feel that taxes are for the common good. The problem is that Liberals forget where taxes come from. What gets taxed at your business? Profits, only profits! So, you see, profits are good for everyone! Is this hard to understand? Do you finally get it?"
I nodded my head with increasing conviction.
"My message to you kitchen and bath dealers is very simple. There are three things that I want you to do. Let me rephrase that. There are three things that you have to do or you won't be around much longer. And if you're not around, I'm out of a job. It took me a long time to get this gig and I don't want to lose it now.
"So, first of all, you need to buy better. The days of having a ton of suppliers are gone. Focus your purchasing on as few vendors as you possibly can. To survive in this new economy, you need to be a big fish in your suppliers' pond. You'll be able to negotiate better display deals, better discount terms, better freight rates and better service if you become a true partner to your supplier. This is critical stuff here. Profits are not going to be there in the future if you don't take heed.
"Second, you need to charge more. What, you say? Charge more? That's right.
"No one can tell me that they can't get an additional point or
two on most of the items that they sell. Were you paying attention
when I just told you that countertop story? There's profit left on
the table every day. You should always round up, never round down.
The fact is, kitchen and bath dealers are going to prosper only if
they offer additional services and, get this, get paid
"Third, you need to focus on salesmanship. That's right, salesmanship. This is the most overlooked facet of kitchen and bath dealerships today. Nobody knows how to sell anymore. Most of you guys are satisfied to just be order takers. That won't cut it in this new day and age. You've got to improve your selling skills. You've got to teach selling skills. Practice them. Salespeople aren't born, they're developed. Your ability to convince a client that your firm is the best place to do business is what's going to separate you from the big boxes. Are you listening to me? Do you get it?"
"I get it, I get it!" I yelled out with excitement.
I jumped out of bed to shake the Profit Prophet's hand. When I did, I must have startled him because he backed up. When he did, he fell over my treadmill. He probably didn't recognize it because it had so much clothing hanging on it. I ran over to help him up, but it was too late he'd vanished as mysteriously as he'd appeared.
I've thought a lot about the Profit Prophet ever since that fateful night's visit. I'm now on a mission. I have little signs stuck up everywhere that say, 'Profit is Good,' 'Profit is our Friend,' 'Profit is Life.'
I now know that my business is going to survive. I know what it
takes to succeed.
My only hope is that the Profit Prophet will visit you, too, and very soon.