Finding New Customers

Industry pros share top tips for expanding your client reach and increasing foot traffic.

[dropcap style=”letter” size=”52″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#d33030″]T[/dropcap]argeting your marketing to sell to customers of all ages and needs is no easy task. Consumers typically require a different level of service and expertise than trade professionals, plus each generation has its own shopping preferences. With so many potential touch points to consider, showrooms can get overwhelmed when developing marketing plans to appeal to each one.

We spoke with several industry executives to get their perspectives on how showrooms can most effectively navigate these challenges.

Digital marketing

Digital marketing expert Austin Pike and his company Earn More Do Less help showrooms successfully use their websites and other communication tools to target new customers. First, he says, showrooms need to understand what makes them stand out in their markets. One way to do this is by conducting regular customer surveys to gain a clear idea of why customers choose to do business with them and what their impressions are. Their answers help identify any adjustments needed to improve the customer experience.

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“Building relationships and trust takes time and persistence.”

—Martin Siwy


Pike also encourages showrooms to gather as many customer reviews as possible. He suggests sending out a post-sale e-mail to recent customers that includes a link to a simple one-minute video from the owners thanking them for their business and asking them to write a review as well as links to suggested review sites.

“Consumers want to see that you have a volume of reviews,” Pike explains. “Businesses should really have 20 to 50 reviews online, which gives much greater credibility to their overall rating than just a handful. I recommend Google as the top site for reviews because that’s where most people look. Another good site is Yelp since that was one of the first that was really embraced by consumers when looking for reviews of local businesses. Facebook reviews are also helpful in gaining the trust of shoppers.”

Even in a digital world, people like to buy from people — or at least a business that they feel they “know.” Here is a checklist for showrooms to use in designing a web and social media presence that consumers can identify with:

Your website and social media account should prominently feature a short welcome message from the owner as well as testimonials from customers in either video or written format. Although these messages only take approximately 30 seconds to 1 minute to view or read, they will make a big impression.

Most consumers won’t click and read all of the information on the “About Us” page; they’re looking for quick reads. Instead, include some high points from the company history on your website’s home page, or perhaps a timeline and visuals that show its evolution.

Giving consumers that perspective really makes a difference,” Pike remarks. “Many people don’t realize the backstory of showrooms serving their communities, or that they are family-owned businesses. Those are important selling tools because consumers want to know you will go above and beyond to ensure they have a positive experience.”

Company culture plays a big role in positive customer experiences, so showcase employees whenever possible. Start by adding their pictures, background, and a bit of personal information on your website and talk about their commitment to customers. Consider the video that American Airlines plays onboard prior to every flight. It features dozens of smiling employees talking about the plane’s safety features, what makes American Airlines special, and thanking customers for their business. Prominently posting a similar video with your showroom’s team on your site and social media pages can make a great impression on potential customers.

Provide a glimpse of your showroom online – either on your website or on social media – and describe how it is designed with customers in mind. “Show them how they might navigate your store as well as the various product categories and selections they’ll be able to see in person,” Pike explains. “Visuals of the interactive product displays your showroom offers are effective; stress the importance of seeing, touching and experiencing the products in person.”

Everything on your website should be with the goal of “humanizing” your showroom. “Avoid using stock photos. Instead, think about reaching site visitors in the same way you would engage them if they were in your showroom,” Pike advises. “Touch their senses and help them know, like, and trust you more quickly. Never treat customers like a transaction, whether in person or online.”

Even in a section as basic as the Contact Us information, add a personal touch. Instead of simply posting your phone numbers or email address, include phrases like “We’re happy to help,” “Let us know your needs,” or “We’re looking forward to helping you find what you want at a fair price.” This makes a big impression on potential customers.

The Contact form is another ideal place for a “Thank you for shopping with us” video or special message from the owner. “Again, it’s that personal touch that will set you apart,” Pike says. “It makes customers feel connected and appreciated before they even come into your store.”

Analyze your site’s activity to provide the best shopping experience. “You’ve got to know what’s working and what’s not,” Pike notes. “A lot of companies aren’t able to determine which areas of their websites are getting the most traction. Tools like mapping software can track visitors’ mouse movements and provide a 30-day snapshot of your website’s page activity. As with most things, the 80/20 rule applies: 20% of your website will be where 80% of customers focus their attention. Once you know what those areas are, you can fine-tune your site to draw them in even more.”

Pike is firmly committed to what he describes as “No lead left behind.” That means analyzing all of a site’s contact forms as well as inbound phone calls on a daily basis, determining which attempted contacts have been missed or not responded to, and prompting showroom staff to follow up with them.

In describing the success that Earn More Do Less clients have experienced, Pike points to a showroom in Boston that was doing approximately $4 million in sales when they became a client four years ago — and now is achieving $8 million in annual sales while continuing to operate out of the same space.

Create the ‘Wow’ factor

Richard Alan, principal of the award-winning lighting manufacturers’ rep agency Richard Alan & Associates, believes that the changing lighting market affords showrooms a great opportunity. Consumers rely on showrooms for their expertise on all things lighting, to help clear up their confusion with LED lighting, and help them determine the right fixture, whether and how it should be dimmed, and the Kelvin temperature.

“All of these concerns give showrooms the opportunity to capture an audience that is often bewildered,” he comments. “The customers who will be drawn to a local showroom are those with questions. They may want a home visit and need hands-on help in making their selections. These are customers who can’t get answers from an online store or anyone in an apron so make sure your staff is educated and has the right knowledge at their fingertips to advise clients.”

Despite his bullish belief in the value of showrooms, Alan emphasizes that they must evolve and embrace new ways of doing things or they won’t survive. This can include bringing in different product mixes and categories as well as targeting new groups of customers.

“Showrooms don’t need to have anyone standing outside with a spinning sign pointing drivers in their direction,” Alan remarks. “But they need to get better at marketing themselves as the go-to resource for lighting in their communities. If they position themselves as technology leaders and experts, they will win business.”

In addition to using new digital tools like social media and an interactive website to engage consumers, Alan points out that showrooms can also benefit from tried-and-true traditional marketing methods such as participating in local churches and PTAs, sponsoring youth sports groups, hosting open houses and special events, and partnering with organizations like ASID, NKBA, and local builders’ associations.

“I think that showrooms need to be creative in spreading their reach,” Alan shares, “like networking with related businesses. Approach local stores that cater to consumers looking for other homewares such as cabinets, flooring, and countertops, and ask them if they’d consider teaming up to refer business to each other. Taking that a step further, set up small product displays in each other’s stores,” Alan states.

“The more you put yourself out there, the better chance you have at drawing in new customers. Marry yourself with the best of the best and consider sharing advice with each other on ways you’ve improved your businesses,” Alan comments. “You’ve got nothing to lose in helping each other succeed because you’re not competing for business.”

While there is a need for showrooms to offer online shopping catalogs, lighting is still a category Alan believes most people want to touch and see in person before buying. “When it comes to statement lighting pieces, most people don’t want to buy them sight unseen,” he says. “It’s important to capitalize on the opportunity when potential customers visit your showroom. Start by creating an environment that is inviting, makes people feel comfortable interacting with your sales team, and draws them even further inside.”

Appeal to all five senses. “Your showroom should be appealing to all five senses,” Alan explains, “so consider aromas such as incense or baking cookies, playing nice soothing music, and illuminating it in an inviting – not overpowering – way. Make it a fun experience and a place where customers will want to do business.”

Sometimes business owners need to look in the mirror before they can improve. “We’re all consumers, so we know what we like in a shopping experience and what makes us buy from a particular store,” Alan explains. “Identify those things and implement them in your showroom. You’ve got to create that ‘Wow’ factor, both in atmosphere and service.”

Ultimately, Alan says, a showroom’s success in gaining new customers comes down to the way you make them feel.

“Talk with them and get to know their individual personalities,” he advises. “Showroom salespeople have to ask questions, listen, and ensure that customers feel important and special. You’ve got to be laser-focused on your customers or they will go somewhere else.”

Target trade professionals

Hosting CEU events presents one of the best opportunities for showrooms to draw in trade professionals such as architects and designers. According to the latest calculations, there are more than 113,000 registered architects in the U.S., and more than 20,000 registered interior designers — and those numbers are growing every year. The combined members of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) need a total of 2,143,972 hours of continuing education annually. “That’s an average of 8,214 CEUs issued per working day,” observes Martin Siwy, president of CEU Events.

Many trade professionals are required to earn a specific number of CEUs (Continuing Education Units) per year to ensure that they are up to date with current practices in their field. Proof of credits earned is necessary for these professionals to renew their licenses or certifications. Many of these courses are hosted by local decorative showrooms, which is a tremendous way to attract and develop relationships with designers and architects.

“If you’re a showroom owner, ask yourself how many CEU events you hosted in 2018,” Siwy remarks. “It’s likely that the answer is ‘not enough.’ The good news is that there’s a great opportunity for showrooms to build relationships and grow their relationships with trade professionals, especially in the kitchen and bath industry. They need you for about 1.4 million hours of education a year, so take advantage of that!”

Furthermore, he notes, “Trade professionals rely primarily on existing relationships and showrooms they are comfortable with when selecting the products they want to use. As the old saying goes, ‘People do business with people they know.’ They also do business with people they like and trust.”

Here are some points Siwy suggests showrooms consider when hosting CEU courses for local trade professionals:

Building successful business relationships requires consistency. Showrooms can’t expect that a designer will walk in the door and automatically choose to do business with them. It requires follow up and making an effort to build those relationships. “Hosting CEU courses gives showrooms a tremendous opportunity to regularly engage with trade professionals,” notes Siwy. “Educate them about products your showroom offers and growth their trust.”

Remember that your audience is made up of educated professionals who make their living by billing hourly for their services. “They don’t like to waste their time,” Siwy emphasizes. “Make sure you have a visually appealing presentation with a strong educational script. Have clear learning objectives that leave them excited about your showroom and products. Remember, you must stay brand-neutral during the accredited portion of your presentation to meet association rules.”

Send follow-up materials to the professionals who took part in courses you hosted to keep top of mind with them.

Look professional, be efficient, and make sure your logistics are well-planned. “A great way to start is by having access to software that enables you to swiftly create professional-looking electronic invitations with an option for an RSVP,” Siwy states. “You can also use that invitation to promote your event on social media.”

Offer a lunch-and-learn or after-hours event and provide a meal for attendees. Showrooms don’t need to be extravagant, but you should go beyond the hot dogs or tacos that large retailers might serve when hosting events. Use a catering service that provides plenty of food options as well as dinnerware and utensils. This is your opportunity to make a positive, lasting impression on attendees.

Ensure presenters are fully prepared for a conversational type of program — not just reading bullet points slide by slide. “They should be polished, know the material, and engage with your audience while presenting,” Siwy says.

Test your A/V and technical equipment prior to the presentation to ensure it works correctly. You want to minimize any possibility of technical glitches so your audience doesn’t get distracted and lose interest.

Be accurate in taking attendance and timely in issuing Certificates of Completion to attendees and recording the information with various associations. Providers like CEU Events have digital tools to automate this process so showrooms don’t have to spend a lot of time tracking this information and completing these reports and certificates by hand.

“There are resources and technology available to help you with the logistics for your CEU events and guide you through the process to become a rock star CEU presenter,” Siwy affirms. “Building relationships and trust takes time and persistence. Keep expectations at a minimum and be passionate about the topics you want to educate trade professionals about. If you regularly conduct CEU events, your showroom will become a trusted advisor and expert on lighting products,” he adds. “You can only expect to receive what you’re willing to put in when establishing a business relationship. We should all be focused on turning education into specifications.” 

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