Your Dealer is the One Person Who Can Undo All Your Marketing
If you aren’t giving your dealers the support they need to sell your brand, then all the brand marketing in the world won’t save you.
With very few exceptions, getting a consumer to specify your brand in the custom kitchen and bath category is next to impossible. Marketing managers and directors know this, yet they still try to focus on the holy grail of being one of the brands that a remodeling customer demands. Yes, there are success stories like Kohler and, well I can’t think of any others off the top of my head. That should make my point.
To use Kohler as an example, let’s play out a scenario. To be painfully clear, I think Kohler is a great brand that does an excellent job with their marketing. Research tells us that most customers do one major kitchen remodel in their life. They have seen the Kohler TV commercials, and print ads. They know that’s the plumbing fixture they must have. “Give me the bold look of Kohler!” they demand. Nothing makes a marketing director more excited than when the consumer knows the tag line. It is finished. We’ve created pull. It took millions of dollars over many years, and that’s just the marketing. The product has to live up to the claims, and it appears Kohler excels at this as well.
Then the customer finds a dealer to help them through the process.
This is where any brand is no longer in control. In the automotive space, once a customer drives on to a lot, there is really no other competition. You’re at the Lexus dealer. Of course you want a Lexus. The people there are Lexus salespeople. However, in our example of a kitchen remodel, they’re at a custom kitchen shop. The plumbing fixtures are rarely the item that drives the purchase. If someone is spending $40K to remodel a kitchen they are going to seek an expert to guide them through the process. We know that the vast majority of business comes to custom kitchen shops through referrals. A friend or coworker has been through the process and they had a Sherpa that they trust. Our fictitious customer has selected the cabinets, countertops, backsplash, tile, appliances and now we’re at the sink. They say they must have your brand. At this point they are committed to the dealer. They’ve been through a lot together and are invested. Trust is established. One of several things can happen. In the best possible world, you’ve made a sale. But, there are two other options:
“We don’t carry that, but here’s something even better.”
If you aren’t distributed through this particular dealer, you’re screwed. After trust is established and a bond with the customer is set, they aren’t going to upset the apple cart just to get your component brand in their kitchen. There are other damaging things in this scenario. First, your brand’s position has been unseated with one phrase. If their new, trusted friend doesn’t carry your brand, there must be some reason. It must not be as good as they thought. They feel embarrassed that they were duped by advertising and now they are going to mention that at every opportunity.
But there is a far worse turn of events that could occur.
“We carry that brand, but we’ve found our customers are happier with this alternative”. What they really just said was “we can install that tasteless crap if you want to be that bourgeois.” Sure, this is a bit hyperbolic, and sometimes all of that communication can happen with just a pause and a smirk when your brand is mentioned. Why would a dealer do this to you? There could be many answers from better margins on your competition to a bad experience with your customer service or technical support.
All the marketing in the world will not pull this hypothetical sale out of the crapper. And if you think this doesn’t happen, you are fooling yourself. I’ve had conversations with dealers about events just like this. When your product is a component in a much larger and more complex sale you have to acknowledge where you are in the food chain.
Brand awareness is a noble goal, but don’t forget where the money changes hands. When we say that your dealer should be the hero of your brand, it is really less aspirational and more of a necessity. Because if you don’t make them a hero, they can make for a formidable villain.