One of the things I enjoy about this industry is having the opportunity to visit kitchen and bath showrooms across North America, and being able to talk with business owners and their designers. I get to witness new trends – what is common from coast to coast – as well as what differs among showrooms regionally.
Physically, showrooms are not tremendously different from what they were years ago. The arrangements may be more open, more versatile and more welcoming, but generally showrooms still have the same components: reception and greeting areas, a place for designers to sit, a large surface to lay out drawings and samples and, of course, the displays.
What really brings a showroom to life is the people who work there – particularly the designers who engage and assist customers.
Because today’s consumers are far more educated and prepared than ever before, designers must also be knowledgeable and prepared to engage and offer an important service. The availability of the Internet has diminished the importance of the showroom as a research venue. Due to easy access to technology, most consumers already are at least somewhat familiar with products they want to buy before they ever visit a showroom. In fact, a designer I recently met told me about a customer who wanted to Skype her so he didn’t have to come into the showroom at all. This speaks to the demand for convenience and the desire to be served.
Notice here that the customer didn’t feel that he needed to visit the showroom – but he did need to interact with the designer. The showroom, however, is a perfect and important honey pot into which to draw consumers who are shopping for kitchens and baths.
More than ever, your designers are the physical assets that differentiate your showroom from your competitors’ showrooms. Therefore, investing in them should generate a meaningful return. Your displays and products may bring life to your showroom, but your designers should bring your showroom to life.
The personal touch
In the past, the showroom was the place where people initiated their purchase. It was where homeowners went to view what was available and to learn from the salespeople.
Today, the key objective is still to get buyers into the showroom – but for a different purpose. Consumers now conduct their research online before going into a showroom. By the time they pay their visit, they probably have a pretty good idea what they want – or at least what they think they want.
The designer must serve as a trusted advisor to pull the package together. It’s critical to connect with and successfully engage customers as they visit the showroom. Customers are increasingly ready to get to the point and make decisions. Quickly bonding with them is critical to moving the process along.
After getting acquainted with homeowners and learning more about their lifestyles, the designer may be able to introduce some practical suggestions that the homeowner would likely not have learned through online research. Personal preferences and intimate details generally need to be drawn out through human interaction – not through a faceless Internet connection.
In fact, I’ve often been amazed how shopping online can be a black hole of poor communication. This is part of why well-trained and creative designers inevitably bring value to your showroom. You can have all of the process and operational execution down pat, but your real talent is a live resource who can make or break a customer’s showroom experience.
Your designers must possess a combination of technical skills, imagination and a magnetic personality. A designer today must be more versatile in working with a diverse customer base. In the “old days,” high-end and mass showrooms were likely to be separate localities. Typically they did not cross over in location and people. But our industry is becoming more egalitarian. Designers need to be ready to work with customers with a range of budgets and varying cultural backgrounds.
More than ever, designers must be aware of the latest and core knowledge points to be a step ahead of increasingly knowledgeable consumers. This foundational expertise opens up possibilities for add-on sales and a higher-margin product.
The learning revolution
Technological innovations represent a challenge to our physical showrooms. That doesn’t mean that showrooms will go away because of technology. However, designers and other showroom personnel will need to keep up on technological innovations and remain in step with – or ideally ahead of – their customers.
New communication technology has resulted in the practice of self-serve learning – or “learning on the fly.” When people have a task that they want or need to do, they can instantly learn how to do it using resources like YouTube. My Gen Y daughter, for example, recently surprised me by learning how to knit by watching a YouTube video. Virtually any question that pops up at any time can be instantly researched on a smartphone.
Designers, like their customers, have easy access to limitless resources. They will also need to be able to take advantage of new world self-service learning opportunities. It’s the best way for learning on the fly while doing their jobs. Designers can learn how to polish their selling skills, how to market themselves or how to improve public relations efforts.
If a customer asks a question to which the designer doesn’t know the answer, he or she can quickly look it up.
“I don’t know” is no longer acceptable; “I will find out” is much better.
The information is all out there. The consumer already is going out there to learn, so we as designers need to acknowledge this – and also take advantage of the self-serve learning opportunities in a wide variety of areas to augment our own skills.
Use of technology
Technology is important, but designers need to use imagination, creativity and professional skills to bend technology to their will. I believe that within seven years, many consumers will come to the designer armed with an understanding of their project space in visuals, dimensions and notes.
We as designers cannot possibly know everything about everything as we try to keep ahead of our increasingly knowledgeable customer. However, we can be the person who will find answers, confirm, determine, guide and advise as their design partner for buying.
Technology has advanced tremendously. But one thing that hasn’t changed is that despite advances, people still buy from people. As a showroom owner or manager, it behooves you to arm your showroom with well-trained, informed designers whom you respect to take the consumer through a completed, fulfilling journey that results in a purchase.
That is the key to earning satisfied, repeat customers who are likely to refer friends and family members to your showroom location.