The Customer is Queen, right?

by Nalina

RANGES

Like most home remodelers I’m spending more money on my remodel than I’ve ever spent on anything except the home itself. Kitchen appliances, bathroom fixtures, cabinetry, countertops, and wall and floor tiles are costly. Yet the stores selling them don’t always offer customers the information they need to make sound decisions. And they don’t always treat customers as if their dollars, which are substantial, are important.

If I walk into a store looking for a $500 digital camera or a $500 handbag I will most likely be treated like royalty. That’s a big sale and my business would be considered valuable. But if I walk into a store looking for a $500 refrigerator, chances are that I will be completely ignored.

Why is shopping for home remodel products so different from other kinds of shopping? Hardware and appliance stores are offering increasingly attractive product displays, with vignettes showing tile, cabinet, sink and light installations. And they are offering more sophisticated product lines by signature designers and manufacturers. Yet the level of service in these shops remains the same. It’s as if the entire industry remains geared towards contractors rather than homeowners. For most home remodels it’s the owners themselves who shop for fixtures and finishes, and who pay for them.

My kitchen cabinet order was thousands of dollars. But at the first big box retailer I visited the cabinet saleswoman remained seated behind her desk, flipping through a magazine, while I shopped. At another, rival, retailer, the cabinet saleswoman introduced herself as an artist with a deep understanding of color, texture and feng shui principles. Although I explained that all I needed was a price for cabinets she kept calling and emailing, trying to sell me design services.

When I found the cabinets I liked, at that same store, I called the manufacturer directly to recommend another supplier. They referred me to a family-owned shop in New Jersey, where a salesman showed me the product displays, explained finish and hardware options, described the ordering and delivery process, and gave me samples of the finishes I was considering. I eventually placed my order with them and they executed it faultlessly.

It’s not always true that smaller shops offer superior service. I was virtually ignored when searching for tile and appliances at several smaller boutiques in Manhattan. And when shopping for bathroom accessories at a large chain store I received remarkable service. The saleswoman there, a teenager, guided me through the product displays expertly. Similarly, the saleswoman at the large supplier where I purchased wall and floor tile managed the multiple orders with precision and aplomb.

I purchased remodeling materials at retailers where the staff was informed about the merchandise and also recognized the significance of my purchases. There’s a tremendous opportunity for these stores right now. Home remodeling is a booming industry; those that step forward with consistently excellent service will have a clear advantage.

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