Showroom distancing – Bravo Business Media helps showrooms navigate the ‘new normal’

The COVID-19 global pandemic has created a daily live/work/play environment that most of us could never have imagined. It’s changing nearly everything about the way companies must do business — changes that will likely continue as we move forward.

Bravo Business Media and its MyPlumbingShowroom.com online catalog service have been a valuable resource for decorative showrooms and buying groups that are expanding their digital marketing efforts with interactive websites.

To further deepen their value, Bravo recently hosted a series of webinars on this new era of “Showroom Distancing,” as they’re calling it. Sales and marketing strategist Mark Okun leads the webinars. He described some of the reactions he’s seeing from showrooms around the country and the potential outcomes of each. He began by asking webinar participants to share a word that describes how they’re feeling under the current conditions. Among the responses were “scared,” “unknown,” “anxious” and “frustrated.”

Climate change
Six months ago, showroom professionals wouldn’t think twice about shaking customers’ hands when greeting them or hosting special events. Of course, we never could have imagined there would be no worship services, yoga classes or graduations either.

Traditional plumbing wholesalers cater primarily to trade and professional customers who are already well-versed in products, brands, styles and what will best fit in their project. They typically already know what they need to order, including the right behind-the-wall and miscellaneous accessories. With a simple online or phone order their product can be packaged and ready to pick up curbside or delivered that day.

Meanwhile, showroom customers are typically not experienced with decorative bath and kitchen products. They have questions, want details, and rely on showroom experts to guide them and ensure that what they are ordering will fit their applications.

Showroom environments are particularly tricky compared to many other retail operations. Buying for the bath and kitchen is not like buying a stereo, bedding or glassware. Making showroom selections often revolves around customers’ personal comfort and preferences. Customers are drawn to working displays so they can feel water coming from the showerheads and operate the nozzle on kitchen faucets. They also like to see the true finishes and colors under different lighting because they can often vary.

So how can showrooms continue to attract and serve customers and profitably do business in this new era of — as Bravo Business Media describes it — “showroom distancing”?

“It’s a critical time for strategic changes,” says Bravo Business Media sales and marketing consultant Mark Okun. “The actions you take today will set the path for your businesses to begin getting back on track, but it won’t ever look or feel the same again.

“This situation pulled the bandage off the painfully slow process of making very necessary changes to become more competitive in a global digital marketplace. Now there is an even greater urgency to implement changes and capture additional sales. The actions showrooms take today will set the path for their future. We must shore up the business foundation needed to build upon for this ‘new normal’ we’re seeking.”

Mindset shift
Okun describes the primary reactions that he has seen in showrooms dealing with COVID-19, and traced them back to the mindset of their leadership. “In most situations, what you believe affects your certainty,” he said. “Having the goal of re-energizing your showroom — and achieving that goal — requires a change of perspective.”

The three types of leaders Okun identified are:

  • Those who are guided by fear. They are paralyzed and not doing anything but waiting. They’re struggling to pay their staff and keeping inventory in check. Fear can wear down courage, tenacity and will, and many may even close their doors.
  • While uncertain and stalled showrooms remain open, they are scrambling to get by. The leaders know they need to do something and can’t just stick with the status quo, but they don’t know where to start. And they aren’t taking steps with e-commerce that will help set them up for future success.
  • “On the other hand, strategy-focused showroom leaders are taking action,” Okun described. “They’re making it easier for customers to buy online and pick up at their stores or have contact-free delivery. They’re remodeling their existing showrooms, developing new processes and team roles, and using technology to maximize their success now and in the future.”

Okun went on to say that now is the time to reflect on your goals for the business and put in place the plans to achieve those goals.

“Showroom leaders must make these tough decisions before someone makes them for you,” he said. “Forget who you were before the COVID-19 crisis. Focus on being the best you can be right now. Your customers need you more than ever because there are still projects moving forward. They’re looking for resources and you can be their hero.

“This is a prime opportunity to capitalize. Your competitors are scared and doing nothing. Take advantage of this forced pause we’re all in to define your showroom’s future direction.”

Okun shared specific advice on how showroom can achieve success and be profitable while “showroom distancing” for the safety and peace of mind of staff and customers. Here are his top five recommendations:

Tip #1 — Offer free virtual design advice.
Clients have grown accustomed to video chat with friends and family. Reach potential clients by offering free design advice. Make it possible for customers to experience the design expertise of your showroom consultants from the comfort and safety of their own homes. Use video calling to provide product selection and design services that make it convenient for customers no matter where you’re located.

Include an easy-to-locate form on your website that customers can fill out to request a free virtual design consultation. Let customers know they can receive a free design plan without even leaving their homes.

“Connecting with people digitally is no different that when they walk into your showroom,” Okun noted. “You should treat all potential clients with the proper time and respect to make a good impression. Consider these virtual conversations as future leads; any of them could be a buyer later. It’s a great way to market your business without a big investment.”

He also encouraged showrooms to think outside the box for new ways to sell, like doing a “live product selection.”

“This puts you directly in touch with clients in a human way — you’re face to face. When they let you in their home through this virtual connection it means you’re establishing trust with these contacts. Now you can build rapport and confidence.”

Using video conferencing is also beneficial within your own team for meetings and training.

Tip #2 — Make ecommerce options available and easy to use.
“You can’t run away from ecommerce,” said Okun. “So why limit buyers the opportunity to make purchases when they’re ready. Don’t think about it as the traditional e-commerce — think about it as e-convenience.

“Omnichannel marketing ramps up showrooms’ execution process. The most immediate entry you can make into this category is offering customers the ability to buy online and pick up in store. Add in curbside pickup or contact-free delivery and you’re in the business of staying in business. It’s all about learning to thrive in the future business environment and giving clients a variety of options.”

Customers want easy access to showrooms, which means meeting your team, getting their questions answered, and then shopping for and buying the products for their projects. At a minimum, they expect any retailer’s website to have a shopping cart. Customers view going to a showroom repetitively as an inconvenience. Let them shop online without interrupting their day This is the time to become a true omnichannel resource.

Tip #3 — Visual search.
It’s become second nature to do Google searches on virtually any subject and have results almost immediately. So giving showrooms the tools to provide a thorough search for products their customers are interested in amplifies that experience. We’re living in a very image-heavy world, where people are used to taking pictures of things they are interested in or downloading them from other sources.

“Clients can share images of items they’re interested in with your team, who can then respond in minutes by using a photo search tool that scans all the products in your catalogs and pulls up anything similar,” explained Okun. “Customers aren’t necessarily looking for a brand — they’re looking more for things like shape, finish, size.”

Tip #4 — Accessing a digital catalog library.
Bravo Business Media customers have unlimited digital access to their vendors’ printed catalogs, supplements and price lists. All of the information on every bookshelf in their showrooms is available on their computer screens.

“This is a powerful tool for sales teams who are working from home,” noted Okun. “Customers can create a wish list on your website, giving showroom salespeople valuable insight into their needs and providing an ideal reason to contact the customer directly.”

Tip #5 — Call tracking.
Tracking calls generated from your website enables showrooms to learn about potential customers, where they came from and what ignited them. You can even see the webpages they were on when the calls were generated. This is valuable information that can help sales consultants generate cash from calls.

Okun shared several final pieces of advice for showrooms entering this new showroom distancing and digital communications realm.

“Use very clear messaging on your website and communications that contain Calls to Action that guide customers to the various opportunities for assistance you’re providing,” he said. “Encourage the online collaboration between customers and sales associates, and make sure your team is readily accessible. Even when safety concerns are no longer top of mind, offering people virtual interaction will still be valuable. We all have too little time. Providing this opportunity gives your customers the ability to connect when and how they’d prefer when it is convenient for them.”

Bonus opportunities from Bravo Business Media!

Offers valid through June 30, 2020:

  • For a limited time, a $500 credit for 3D virtual tours is being extended. Even for those who are not currently clients of the company, can get free hosting of the 3D virtual tours. This allows a showroom’s potential customers to browse, shop and dream without having to worry about distancing issues.
  • A Showroom Grant Program will cover the free integration of Zoom video conferencing into their current platform.
  • Bravo is waiving all ecommerce set up charges and administrative fees for 90 days to help showrooms service their clients.
  • Free call tracking service for 90 days is also available.

To take advantage of these opportunities, please contact Bravo Business Media 610-260-1567 or via the contact us page.