by Erica Greenwold, Sales Associate at Splash Galleries
The Internet is great. We have a vast array of human knowledge available with a keyword and a click. The Internet has made it possible for us to be savvy, informed, and thrifty consumers. We can research our options, compare prices, and see what others have to say about products and service providers. It is important to be well-informed and price conscious, but also understand that the lowest price isn’t always the best deal. Sure, buying online can save money and time, but it does not guarantee quality, and customer support is often lacking. This brings me to the “Elephant in the Room.” As a sales rep in a brick-and-mortar Decorative Hardware Showroom, Splash Galleries, I see both sides of the issue. Everyone wants to save some money, but they also want VIP Customer Service. Where we can provide the quality of service and product knowledge expected, Internet Retailers leverage their ability to negotiate the lowest prices on large stock orders, worldwide shipping deals, and operate at a relatively low overhead cost. Ultimately, the dollar is King and lowest price often wins, which makes it hard for Small Businesses to compete.
According to Forbes.com, in America, over 50% of workers are employed by Small Businesses, and Small Businesses account for 65% of new jobs created since 1995. Supporting Small Business is something everyone seems to want to do, and yet in practice, something very different is happening. Pressure is put on retailers and service professionals to provide a high-quality, tailored, customer experience, but at the rock-bottom prices that only the large Internet Retailers can afford. It is egregious to say you will support local shops and businesses but expect them to “Price-Match” with the Internet Retailers.
Best Price or Best Value?
It all comes down to the intrinsic value of goods and services. Value is not synonymous with price in this case, it is the sum of all the benefits you receive from that item taking into consideration the less tangible aspects of the sale such as customer service, product knowledge, after-sales support, etc… For example, at our Showroom, customers benefit from our wide range of displays, extensive product knowledge, design advice, and installation experience. The service we are able to provide far exceeds that which an on-line or “Big Box” retailer is able to offer.
Sometimes our prices are higher and sometimes they are actually lower than the Internet Retailers but the perception is that Small Businesses are automatically more expensive. It all depends on the Vendors and their policies. What we as a Small Business can do though is provide more value through our service, follow-up, warranties, and flexibility. The perception is that buying from a small local business is always going to cost more and therefore is not the thrifty choice, but then we lament the fact that Amazon, Wal-Mart, and Home Depot are forcing local mom-and-pop shops to close. Additionally, supporting a Small Business is supporting your community. For every $100 spent at a Small Business, $45 of it goes back into the local economy. When you buy online or at a Big Box store, the benefit to the local Community is slim-to-none.
Building a Home?
Now, I would like to address a few issues specific to our business as a Showroom /Supplier for the construction trades. We regularly run into these two issues, first, “window shopping” or consulting (for free) with a Designer or Showroom to get ideas when you intend to buy online. Second, homeowners trying to source their own supplies, fixtures, and materials to a tradesman or designer hired to do a job. Both of these issues hurt local trade businesses who are already struggling to compete with discount retailers!
Our Showroom is off the beaten path. It isn’t just something you stumble upon and think, “Let’s check out plumbing fixtures today!” You have to know we are here and make a point to come out and see us. That said, the number of drop-in customers is increasing, in part due to our recent efforts to cultivate more of a presence online and on social media. Yay! Right? Unfortunately what is actually happening is a bit disheartening. We work with someone for hours, days, weeks even, demonstrating products, working up quotes, options, specs, etc…, only to find out that they have bought the fixtures online already or would like us to price-match to places like Build.com or Home Depot. We don’t charge for our time working with and advising customers on their selections. When you ask us to price-match to an online company, you are saying our time and advice isn’t worth anything. Additionally, large retailers pay less for products than we do from the manufacturers and vendors, so when you buy from Build.com, they are actually making more money while providing less service. It all comes back to value, consider the added benefits of working with a small local shop vs. the perceived lower price of online retailers who cannot provide the same expertise as the little guys. In short, if you appreciate having our Showroom here to browse and see items before you buy, please also consider the cost to us in providing you that service.
When building a home, you hire a builder, who hires subcontractors. Most contractors have specific policies regarding fixtures, supplies, and materials, including where they are sourced. It is the Plumbers, Tile Installers, Cabinet Makers, Designers, etc… who know from experience what works best in what situations. Many homeowners come to us insisting that they supply the fixtures themselves, because they read online that they could save thousands of dollars by doing so. First of all, the savings if any, is not likely to be thousands of dollars unless you are buying bottom-of-the-barrel products. Be clear with your builder and subcontractors about what price-point you would like to be quoted. Second, many items sold online are not Code-Approved or are poor-quality knock-offs of better products. Each Trade is responsible for the warranty on the fixture installation, so installing an item they know to be sub-par is something they shouldn’t be expected to do. Trust the experts to do the job you hired them for, which includes sourcing and providing fixtures and materials. When you ask to supply fixtures, the implication is that you know as well or better than someone who has dedicated their career to this trade. This applies in so many fields, be it Home Building, Interior Design, Graphic Design, Fashion, Landscaping, etc… Ultimately it is in everyone’s best interest and likely more cost-effective in the long run to leave sourcing to the experts.
With Your Help…
We obviously love it when our customers are informed and excited to contribute to a project, and we understand that everyone has concerns about saving money and getting the best product and service for that money. We do what we can to help keep our customer’s costs down while still providing stellar customer service and aftersales support. Remember that value is not synonymous with price and that when you buy online the price may be lower (not always) but the service will pale in comparison to working with a local business! In the end, the choice is yours, but Small Businesses do so much for the greater good of community and we can only do it with your help!