Your Showroom As Sales Territory

What words do customers use to describe your company? Would they use those same words when describing your facility?

In the world of welding supply distribution, as in any business, the way to get ahead is to differentiate yourself from the competition. Many people think that the only way to differentiate is to cut prices, but price wars often lead to underselling yourself and reducing profit so low that the sales process isn’t worth your time. The most effective way to set yourself apart is to challenge the conventional way that people look at welding and welding supply stores—by enhancing the buying experience for customers.

Location, Location, Location
The traditional way to sell welding equipment has been to find a building in the back of an industrial park, fill it with boxes and bins, and then do field sales. Rarely has there been any care or strategy to setting up a location that is professional and attractive enough to encourage walk-in business.

A new store combining showroom displays, modern metal art and a training lab saw a 400% higher ticket sale than an older facility.

This is where the culture of welding distribution has somehow separated itself from other types of businesses. Let’s use a car dealership as an example. Imagine you are shopping for a new car and you visit two dealers: the first one has a clean, professional showroom with cars you can try out; the second dealer’s facility is just a person behind a disorganized service desk who expects you to make your selection from a sales brochure. At which dealer are you more likely to spend time talking to the salesperson and more likely to purchase a car? Which location are you more likely to recommend to friends who are also looking to buy a car?

While designing a professional showroom may take some time, the benefits in increased sales can be well worth it. Ways to improve a showroom can include using displays, such as those available from product manufacturers, keeping displays well stocked and logically organized, and providing an area where customers can try out the equipment for themselves.

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Note the retail-style organization of products in the Mahany showroom, the easy-to-understand displays and the metal art found throughout the room.

 

Mahany Welding Supply Co., a welding distributor in the Rochester, New York area, recently opened a new location in Gates, New York that epitomizes the successful showroom. Using car dealerships and retail stores as a examples, Mahany President Michael Krupnicki designed the new facility to combine showroom displays, modern metal art and a training lab with functionality and flexibility. As a result, in its first year of operation, the new store has enjoyed an average ticket sale that’s nearly 400 percent higher than Mahany’s other facility, which has been open since 1972.

“I wanted to make a trip to Mahany more of an event that customers remember when they leave, rather than a quick stop to pick up something,” said Krupnicki. “They can come in, try out the latest equipment in the lab area, walk through a fully stocked showroom and look at some beautiful metal art. It becomes a destination where people come to see and try things and to have a sensory experience.”

Why You Should Care About Showrooms
Some distributors service nearly all of their business in the field and have few customers who come into their buildings, so they may not worry about the appearance of their facilities. However, if the facility was more inviting, would customers come in and buy, and could this grow the customer base?

Remember that any aspect of your company reflects on your company’s brand. So if your facility is disorganized or poorly maintained, it reflects how customers perceive your ability to provide quality products and service. What words do you want your customers to use to describe your company? Would they use those same words when describing your facility?

Displays Heighten Product Awareness
Clean, well-stocked displays are eye-catching and can create add-on sale opportunities. Slat wall displays with colorful, easy-to-read headers give distributors the chance to show their depth of product line for parts, accessories, small tools and training materials like books and CD-ROMs. Slat wall displays are flexible and simplify changing hooks, baskets and holders for literature and products. Many product manufacturers make these display materials available to distributors.

“I wanted to make a trip to Mahany Welding Supply Co. more of an event that customers remember when they leave, rather than a quick stop to pick up something.”

Gondolas (stand-alone displays) take up minimal space but offer a lot of impact. Krupnicki had the foresight to put all his gondolas on wheels so he can easily adjust the layout of his floor plan. He also keeps his gondolas shorter and puts walking aisles between them to avoid long rows that create a tunnel effect. By giving customers a meandering path, they are likely to stroll around all sides of the gondolas instead of just one side.

Countermats, signs and banners are another way to educate customers in a decorative way. They are a colorful and interesting way to promote a product line or special offer that the customer may not already know about.

For customers who want to know more about a product, product line or application, have buyers’ guides and easy-to-use catalogs accessible. Putting literature out for the customer to pick up and take back for review makes more sense than leaving them behind the counter where no one will see them. Customers can’t request literature they don’t know about.

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This all-metal coffee stand was made by a local artist and stands in Mahany's showroom.

 

Display carts are also a sensible way to show power sources, particularly larger ones like engine drives, because they give customers the opportunity to see and touch the machines but still keeps them mobile for moving around the showroom as needed. Carts in assorted sizes are available by some power source manufacturers.

Hands-On Time Closes the Sale
Letting a customer try a product can mean the difference between an inquiry and a sale. An explanation of benefits and features can sound like fast talking sales-speak to a skeptical customer, so let the customer try the product to experience the benefits first hand.

“Having customers try something new, such as plasma cutting, always makes a believer out of them,” says Mahany’s Krupnicki. “I’ve even had a customer try welding with an auto-darkening helmet to see how much better they are than regular helmets. Once the customers have them in their hands, the products practically sell themselves.”

To allow customers to try equipment, it’s best to have an area set up specifically for welding. This prevents a situation in which a customer waits 30 minutes or more while the system is being assembled for use. Also, it’s more professional and makes you look more organized than taking a customer back into the warehouse for an impromptu demo.

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Mahany's conference room contains a metal conference table and phone stand. Wall decorations were made by local metal artists.

 

Mahany has a 1,400 sq. ft. training lab with five welding stations, ample electrical power, a fume removal system and a large variety of equipment set up and ready to weld at all times.

“I wanted to create an environment where somebody could walk in right off the street, and we would have 80 percent of the equipment we sell on display in the lab with all the accessories like gas, safety equipment and sample metal, and they could be welding with most of the equipment in five minutes,” says Krupnicki.

A demonstration area stocked with all the accessories—helmets, gloves, hammers, brushes, filler metals and protective clothing—can make sale of these items easier, too. Customers may be more likely to buy them from you once they’ve tried them in the store because they have experienced their performance.

Still Comes Back to the Handshake
Once you have the clean look, stocked displays and product demonstration area, you still can’t overlook another essential part of your showroom: your staff. Salespeople and any other employee in contact with customers can ruin a sale by being rude, unhelpful and ignorant about the products.

 

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Mahany's training lab has enough cells and equipment for multiple people to weld at simultaneously.


“As my father always said since he began in this business, ‘We don’t have customers, we have friends who buy from us,’ ” says Krupnicki. “That’s more than just a clichÇ. That’s the philosophy upon which our business has always been based.”

Having employees trained on the equipment and taught the basics of professionalism in working with customers can differentiate your company from the competition.

Growing Your Market
By enhancing the buying experience for welding customers, distributors can increase sales and improve the image of the welding industry. Distributors can increase traffic in their showrooms by having a facility that is interesting and educational, and staff members who are helpful and courteous. Bringing existing customers into your facility allows for more opportunities to demonstrate new products and accessories without leaving the building. In creating an inviting environment for new customers, you can increase your customer base by introducing welding to people who may have never considered welding before.

Anyone who has been in the business for a while has made the statement, “It’s not as much fun as it used to be.” Michael Krupnicki and the team at Mahany Welding Supply Co. are putting the spark and enthusiasm back in the welding industry.

Gases and Welding Distributors Association
115e_chandlergary Meet the Author
Gary Chandler is northeast regional manager for Miller Electric Mfg. Co. in Appleton, Wisconsin.