On April 27th, DLN Partners gathered to discuss plans and tactics for safely reopening showrooms. The dialogue brought to light key points to consider on this topic, including how to keep employees and customers safe, approaches to ensuring access to necessary supplies as well as carrying forward many of the digital adjustments that have been made during this time into our post-Coronavirus world. Read more insights and key takeaways below.
Tactics and Tools:
There was much discussion around the topic of the tactics and tools that will be used to reopen showrooms. For employees, many expressed plans to require temperature screenings at the beginning of shifts, as well as the use of gloves and masks while working. One of the anticipated challenges the group expressed was ensuring a supply of expected supplies, as many of those supply chains are dried up. One participant even noted that they have shipped supplies from Europe to a location here in the US. The group presented a mix of approaches to customer interaction. While some plan to allow customers into the store and limit the number inside at one time, others plan to implement a doorbell system where customers can notify associates when they are outside. Still others expressed plans to have associates bring product and samples to showroom thresholds or even out to customers in their cars, entirely avoiding having foot traffic inside their spaces.
Scheduling employees was also discussed extensively. Many plan (or have already implemented a system) to have employees on a rotating schedule, coming in every other day. A large obstacle in the way of employees’ ability to come in for shifts remains to be public transportation. One participant explained how they have offered employees PPE kits for their rides on public transit, whereas other participants stated that they don’t yet plan to schedule employees who rely on this mode of transportation. A thought on this subject brought forward for consideration was those employees who have unmet childcare responsibilities, though a resolution on this subject is unclear.
While also mentioned in the context of employee tactics, there were a few other points discussed on this subject. Some participants plan to operate on an appointment-only basis with customers, while others intend to allow customers into their spaces and most intend to require a facemask to do so. A question was posed as to whether or not those distributing samples plan to accept them back, and the consensus answer was yes with the intention to let samples sit for at least 72 hours before being handled. Another question posed around this topic was whether or not customers would be allowed to bring their children into showrooms, though there was no resolution on that topic.
Virtual and Digital:
The group also discussed what virtual and digital solutions have been implemented, and will continue to play a role in everyone’s approach moving forward. One participant spoke highly of their implementation of HERO, a software that helps connect customers and associated virtually via online chat. They found that when associates used HERO while in the showroom for virtual consultations, there was a 10x increase in conversion online versus when HERO was not used. Another participant explained how they use a robot carrying an iPad that customers can use to navigate around their showroom and look at product without physically being there.
Experiences and Concerns, to Date:
One of the participants on the call was there to represent a major design center, and help provide insight into some of the measures they are taking to help tenants reopen in a safe way. A consideration posed by one of the call participants was for design centers to provide masks and other sanitary supplies (or even temperature screenings) before customers even get to showrooms to help lessen the burden and onus of individual showrooms, as well as to streamline and help ensure an efficient use of these resources (ex. One customer goes to 3 showrooms and gets 3 masks). While this and many other factors are being considered, the design center representative clarified that many owners and landlords are still finalizing their plans around this subject. For those participants who have locations in other parts of the world that have reopened already, there was an optimistic tone around how those openings have played out. A centerpiece of that discuss was the implementation of the “by appointment only” approach, as well as a reassuring note that many customers are taking their own health and safety, as well as that of sales associates, seriously on their own. In fact, one participant noted that in some cases, customers came in simply to check in on associates with whom they have a relationship and to “socialize.” A commonly shared sentiment was concern around opening in the major markets of the US, chiefly New York and Los Angeles. As participants have begun opening showrooms across the country, some stated they do not plan to do so in these major centers for the time being, especially New York. On a positive note, a helpful takeaway around this subject was the consideration that as brands reopen showrooms in the South and Southwest, they will have the opportunity to learn what strategies do and do not work well, lessons that can be implemented as the rest of the country opens up.
Looking Forward from Here:
What are the necessities of showrooms at all? This is a real question as we transition back out of the many digital adjustments that have been made during this time. Participants on the call discussed that they have invested a lot of energy and resources behind digital engagement with customers, and that many of the lessons learned and success they’ve seen will be carried forward into our post-COVID world. How do we make virtual design services more relevant, storytelling more impactful, and digital interactions more exciting? On a final and positive note, one participant expressed how excited their associates are to get back to work, and start to find “business as usual” again.