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Don’t Make Your
Customers Miserable

Being relentless in pursuing great people will always be your No. 1 priority; having a great store is priority No. 2.

THE RETAIL SHOPPING EXPERIENCE has grown consistently worse in 2023. Staffing challenges, self-checkouts and theft have changed the shopping landscape, making it inconsistent and often a miserable experience.

I am sure you have seen the recent news of a Nordstrom store being rushed by a gang armed with bear spray to subdue security and make off with more than $200,000 in merchandise. Other news of grocery stores in the Washington, D.C., area noting 20% shrinkage and closing their doors leaves communities without necessary resources. This year has been an absolute mess in retail.

The bad guys know that retail employees are instructed not to confront or pursue shoplifters, so they boldly rip off retailers, which drives up costs and keeps shoppers on edge.

While many of our showrooms don’t offer products that are easily stolen, this type of news affects your showroom. It strikes fear into the consumer, who is already post-pandemic weary and more Internet savvy than ever. This news is helping destroy the success of local brick-and-mortar shopping. Who wants to experience retail with increasing crime risk and rude, apathetic employees?

Jinjoo Lee of The Wall Street Journal wrote a great article about how retail shopping has become more miserable. She states: “With slowing sales and rising theft eating into profits, the risk is that retailers’ countermeasures will make in-person shopping even more miserable than it already is. In the best-case scenario, that will shift sales to their own e-commerce sites, worsening margins. But it could also… shift shoppers to better-staffed competitors or pure online retailers such as Amazon.”

Retailers have also started to lock up more of their products, making the sensory experience of shopping a much more challenging act. Who wants to wait for a tube of toothpaste locked up in the aisle at Walgreens when you can have Amazon deliver it the next day?

While I think showrooms are insulated from major theft incidents, I think there needs to be an awareness and emergency plan for your showroom. It is a good business practice.

Pay Them Like Professionals

I visited several showrooms over the year, some in our industry and some not. I am flat-out floored at even the large national chains not being laser-focused on the customer. Seeing this stems from the hiring, training and pay practices in the business. I experienced some of the worst customer service in the past six months than I have in my entire life.

Lately, I have struggled with relevant topics to write about that would move the needle for showroom managers and, at the same time, be thought-provoking.

The reality is that the industry still needs the same things: great people with deep product knowledge and motivation, and a pleasant, friction-free shopping experience. This isn’t easy or cheap.

Showroom people are still not being paid enough. If you want this to be a professional industry, you must pay them like professionals. And yes, include all the spiffs.

“If you want this to be a professional industry, you must pay them like professionals.”

Far too often, I visit a showroom where the employees are merely an afterthought of a wholesale-focused business. These employees could easily go to the Verizon store, make $60,000 to $75,000 a year and sell something they’re already very familiar with—a phone. As professionals in this business, we must find a way to overcome this.

The learning curve and technical knowledge required for a seamless and error-free kitchen or bath remodel take years. You must be ready and pay for the long learning curve.

While some showrooms are absolutely nailing it, I also see a trend of showroom managers leaving to go to other industries, with no solution to get the next round of young talent energized and ready to take on all the open positions out there. I find this deeply concerning, but understand the burnout many showroom managers are facing.

Looks Matter

The other challenge an owner has besides having great, well-paid people is the need for a showroom at least as good, if not better, than the competition. And for the record, don’t expect to get all your displays for free or your showroom to look great when you use nothing but manufacturers’ displays. It makes for a choppy, eyesore of a showroom.

Creating an elegant-looking showroom takes an investment in space and fixtures, and must be well-thought-out.

I’ve written at length about sensory selling and the design of showrooms, and yet I still see showrooms being designed with 80 feet of slat wall in them. I also see showrooms with remodel budgets that won’t even cover the light fixtures in the showroom.

It is disappointing and disheartening to see wholesalers who want to invest in showrooms but don’t even spend 10 minutes thinking about what it costs to design and operate one. If you want people to be excited to visit your showroom, you need to build an exciting showroom. It’s that simple. Otherwise, the migration to e-commerce continues.

Every showroom I visited could display products higher in price to where it is a stretch, even for the owner’s pocketbook. In many areas of this country, those with new wealth are looking to create their own personal oasis, and we are lucky enough to have access to the products they want. Whether to feel special, healthier or show-off, it is your job to show and source products for all demographics.

Not every homeowner wants a home-center-grade faucet or fixture. Do car dealerships show all base model cars in their showrooms? Are a few “dreamer” cars on the floor? You must show people what is possible and create demand, such as outdoor showers, saunas, heated robe rails—things the other guys are not displaying.

I expect to see more showrooms break away from the wholesale/showroom model soon. The more successful ones already stand alone, not worried about water heater rebates and issues in the counter room with parts. The truly successful showrooms live and die by their investments and decisions as a showroom alone.

If the retail trends of having a poor experience continue, we will see more showrooms in our industry leaning on e-commerce to help back up their failing brick-and-mortar. Once you begin the e-commerce journey, you are operating at a lower margin and are in a race to the bottom with the rest. Except for a few companies that offer solid minimum advertised price policies, low price wins.

I am not sure an easy solution exists here, but being relentless in the pursuit of great people will always be your No. 1 priority. Having a great store, No. 2. Supporting brands that don’t go direct to consumers, No. 3.