Last year was full of surprises. While some high-end retail furniture stores insisted we were in a recession, most of the showrooms I spoke with swore the opposite — still busy and still a backlog of orders to push out. I was encouraged by what I heard, and I am hopeful that the challenges decorative showrooms face in staffing and product shortages will begin to ease in 2023. There is a definite fatigue noticed in ownership and those on the front lines.
There is also stress on many showrooms with lead-time issues, where tag-and-hold orders are piling up, causing both space and cash-flow issues. It is a good problem to have — it forces you to think about your business and what policies and procedures you need to have in place to make your business change for the better.
I recently took a vacation to a Caribbean spot I have not been to in almost 20 years. The last time I visited was one of the best times of my life, as I had never set foot before on such beautiful beaches and blue water. As a fan of the outdoors, I was impressed by the experience.
Returning to the same spot after knowing the islands had gone through some changes — a hurricane in 2017 wiping out many of the resorts and yet a strong rebuilding effort had taken place — was certainly the wrong thing to do, personally.
While I wanted to bring my tourist dollars back to the island, it was obvious I was looking through the eyes of someone now more seasoned in travel and expecting better things. There was no improvement as I thought there would be. It did not feel the same; there was no real change.
Why Do They Want to Work for You?
I visited several great showrooms last year and communicated directly with many owners on phone calls or Zoom. So many of them were still searching for staff, saying the new generation of talent is unwilling to work. Owners are at a loss for sourcing talent and typically don’t want to pay a recruiter or use proper tools to source help.
They are also usually the same showroom owners offering $15 an hour for a starting showroom employee and expecting those employees to care, take time to learn what is a highly technical skill, and be able to sell what is truly a luxury item. Owners will argue with me that spiffs will help them get to the right salary range once they learn how to sell.
We all know my stance on spiffs. I still think spiffs are a detriment to the business owner, but I will say they are a tremendous motivator if used properly. However, most aren’t used properly.
The truth is, many of the people in this talent pool are Gen Z, or young millennials, who can easily go work at a place such as the local Verizon store selling phones (which they are comfortable with). They assist owners — who are mostly boomers or Gen X — with technology that they aren’t comfortable with and make substantially more a year with better hours, a better training program, and a better onboarding/orientation program.
So, tell me why they want to work for you instead?
Showroom owners expect this talent pool to be excited about the opportunity in decorative sales but have little or no plan to train them. Even when training is available through many associations and buying groups, very few take advantage of what is available. Even fewer take the time to review the training themselves to make sure it fits what their company needs.
No Game Plan, No Way to Win
Plenty of showroom owners want change and love to talk about it. However, very few actually put a plan formally in place or talk about a strategy to make a change in the organization.
Look at the usual industry events. Owners flock to these events to find the secret sauce or the inspiration to make change happen. They are the best places to meet people, get ideas and bring that information back to your company.
There are keynote speakers such as military experts who have been through hell and back — giving inspirational speeches about what they did to move their team and defeat the enemy. Every time I see this, I watch a group of owners walk out of that keynote pumped up! Then after the lunch break, they lose the dopamine kick and forget everything they have heard.
I see keynotes on innovation, disruption and economics and have yet to witness a story of an owner returning with a game-changing plan. The score of PowerPoint slides becomes a useless blur.
Using football analogies, I will share with you some things I saw along the way last year.
I had showrooms reach out for help in growing sales. When doing some research and planning some suggestions, I noticed that the showroom website does not have the address in the contact information or anywhere else on the site. If you can’t do blocking and tackling, it is very hard to make other changes to grow your business. If you can’t be found online, you can’t sell in brick-and-mortar.
I had manufacturers ask me to help their customer service departments improve, but then have no written policies and offer no guidelines for the employees to do their jobs. If there is no game plan, then there is no way to win the game.
I have seen showrooms with tremendous growth yet have no real plan operationally and take no time to discuss how they will sustain growth — and what their leadership team will look like when they grow. They spend no time on organizational development. Huddling is needed to call plays.
I have seen showrooms insist and even advertise that they have a great culture, yet they have massive employee turnover. Visiting indeed.com will show them the list of teammates that are looking to leave.
Over Time, Change Must Happen
If showrooms really want to make change happen, owners need to get their act together and do the following:
Be relentless in having the best people on your team. Back to the football analogy: They draft and recruit constantly. While there are only so many spots on the roster, make sure you have every seat filled with someone on the bench to take over.
Pay those people well and demand results from them. Commission is not the answer. Pay them right and communicate with them the monthly expectations of sales results. Give them time to grow into their roles.
Train them. Onboarding and orientation are different. Sales technique is different than product expertise. Your staff needs to behave like a trusted advisor, reassuring clients of the decisions made before they even enter your showroom.
Communicate with your team. There should be no surprises when things are good or bad. When you have a tempo of communication, everyone knows where they stand.
Have a plan for growth and share that plan with your team. Commit to change in that plan.
Recognize your people. And be specific in why you recognize them. It improves morale, productivity, performance and retention.
My point with the Caribbean trip comparison is that over time, change must happen. You become more refined, and so do your customers and their expectations. Make sure you have your showroom prepared, as your customers’ expectations change over time as well.
I know that if some of the showrooms take a few days and take business planning seriously, we will continue to see the growth of independent brick-and-mortar showrooms across the country. People still want to experience great shopping; it is up to us to make that experience extraordinary.