After Covid and being forced to open showrooms by appointment only, some retailers have gone back to being open all hours. Others, however, are embracing hybrid methods of opening or other alternative ways to generate worthwhile leads and customers.
For those retailers keeping to appointment-only, they are finding benefits like being better prepared for customers who, by and large, are more serious. In contrast, others see the value of clients being able to walk in, especially if they have a high-street showroom.
Speaking at the KBSA conference in the Big Debate, Rob Mascari of Mascari Designs in Nottingham, has a hybrid system as the company does not advertise its opening times, meaning that customers have to get in contact first to ask about opening and, ideally, book an appointment.
Mascari explained: “Working by appointment only is beneficial because we can be focused and prepared for somebody. With somebody just strolling in off the street. You might be ill-prepared. You might be with somebody else. So, we fall into the hybrid category, and we are open. We’ve just had a brand-new website built but we have purposely not put on things like opening times. And everything is geared on every page for the client to contact us direct, so we can arrange a time to speak to them that suits them.”
He concluded: “Moving forward, I’m sure probably all of us would like to be working on an appointment-only basis. But there may be a bit of social pressure that possibly triggered that. We could be a bit shrewder about this and be fully appointment-only and it could be three days a week that we’re not just heating spaces, for no purpose.”
Keeping a showroom open involves a cost in terms of heating, electricity and also staffing. Saturdays at the Myers Touch are by appointment only and have been for 10 years. Director Keith Myers said: “I think we haven’t opened on Saturday for over 10 years. We only do Saturdays by appointment. And then there are a couple of other things about appointments that we have to consider. One is that it’s a form of qualification of a lead, which I think is quite essential. Somebody who makes an appointment qualifies themselves to you to some degree as opposed to just wandering off the streets.
“The other thing is that people that have high value, you book appointments to see them. I don’t want to get in on a Saturday and sit there and waiting for somebody to turn up. I’m more important than that. The gift is the skill that I have and the ability that I have. I want you to get the best out of me. And therefore, booking an appointment is also in a sense affirming the value that we have as designers and the skill that we bring. And because we’re important, we book an appointment to see us, as you should pay for our time as well.”
However, some retailers want to keep their doors open for any new opportunity to walk in. For example, Kitchens International director Paul O’Brien has four traditional showrooms and two concessions in a furniture store, so the company has an open-door policy.
O’Brien said: “We have six studios in Scotland, and two are concessions inside larger furniture stores. So, for appointments and presentations, it’s always by appointment. But we have an open-door policy so clients can walk into our studio. Moving forward, we will probably look to keep working the way we work. Appointments can be a little bit stale. We find there’s a bit more energy when people are walk and experience it.”
Day True has two showrooms on high streets in affluent London suburbs. Founder Tony Robinson is for walk-ins because of the showrooms’ location and general footfall is vital for the company.
Robinson said: “We have a high-street location which we pay a premium for. And footfall is a big part of our business as there are high-net-worth individuals walking in by the nature of where the showroom is. When they do walk in it, we then concentrate on giving them a great experience and making them feel special, making them feel at home”
Diane Berry of Diane Berry Kitchens in Manchester is aware that being open all the time can lead to time wasters. Her solution is to lock the door and make customers ring a bell to be let in, meaning someone at the showroom has to welcome them in.
Berry explained: “Ours isn’t appointment-only but just a locked-door policy. What actually happens is when a person rings the doorbell – if you go to Cartier or Gucci, you are going to ring a bell and be greeted at the door. It means that a customer is going to be greeted at the door and be invited in. Then we take them around the studio. What we found when the door was open is that people would come in and just start looking and then you are trying to catch up with them.”