Richard Hibbert, KBSA national chair and MD of independent kitchen specialist KSL Sudbury, discusses the challenges faced by retailers at this time, and offers his view on how to maximise opportunities presented by communicating via virtual appointment.
The showroom has always been – and remains – a cornerstone of the independent retailer's offering. A kitchen showroom is much more than just a shop – it’s an experience destination, a place where the owner starts to build a relationship with the customer. Independent retailers take time and trouble to provide an environment that is enjoyable and relaxing, as well as a place where customers can touch and feel products.
When independent retailers closed their showrooms in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, this opportunity to meet customers face-to-face was lost, as everyone turned to virtual meetings.
It was a steep learning curve for many, as before COVID virtual appointments were rarely undertaken. But while moving into the world of digital meetings has presented many challenges, it has brought some positives.
Meeting customers for the first time on an online platform rather than in the showroom has provided an opportunity for the retailer to share more of their own story and engage with the customer more fully, before moving into discussing kitchens. Using a platform such as Zoom still enables face-to-face contact so that a rapport can be established.
Once plans are being discussed, having the customer in their own home can actually prove to be helpful, as the customer can be in their kitchen while discussing the project. Sharing plans on a digital platform is possible and works well too.
However, there are instances when a customer will not have the technology to do this and will want a quote to be delivered by post. This can prove to be a challenge as the retailer loses the opportunity to present their offer face-to-face, and to respond to any issues raised together. As well as the personal connection, releasing quotes can also lead to customers shopping around more for best prices, or taking your best ideas to another showroom.
Independent retailers have adhered to Government guidelines and introduced policies to keep customers safe in the showroom, but the rules are always changing. The requirement to wear masks at all times and the introduction of more diligent track-and-trace requirements, could mean that customers become more reluctant to visit showrooms.
In this scenario we must take what we have learned about using digital media and use it to our advantage. Film is a great medium, and now more accessible for everyone. We have been taking videos in our showroom to show customers the benefits of particular appliances, and also made a film to help sell an ex-display kitchen. Feedback from KBSA retailers suggests that they are also utilising video to engage with their customers more than they did before.
KBSA retailers have also found that being independent has allowed them to react quickly and provide more flexible solutions. For example, if a customer wants to communicate via Facetime or WhatsApp, then that can be accommodated as they don’t have to follow a corporate policy and work with a particular platform.
It is difficult to predict right now what the future holds, but for independent KBB retailers the future can be bright – and it is almost certainly digital.