Ferguson Bath, Kitchen & Lighting Gallery has more than 270 showrooms and 110 state-of-the-art destination showrooms nationwide. Earlier this year, Ferguson and G&S partnered to increase awareness for the showrooms in the Northeast – then the pandemic struck and changed the course of business.
SVP and Home & Building industry expert Meredith Topalanchik sat down with Mary L. Cifuentes, Ferguson Showroom Director for the Northeast District, to talk about what’s changed, how Ferguson has adapted and the company's plan for the future.
How have consumers’ interests shifted due to COVID-19?
The importance of the kitchen has increased dramatically. People are not eating out as much as before and are cutting back on how much time they spend at the grocery store. In response, we are seeing a higher demand for cooking ranges, refrigerators and freezers. There is also a greater desire for touchless appliances, like faucets and toilets, especially in multi-family or shared spaces. If you're going to have somebody share your space, the less that they physically touch, the better, right? We even have products like bidet seats that self-clean and toilet seats that open on their own. When you invest a bit more into your kitchen or powder room, you don’t have to sanitize everything each time you have a guest in your home.
How is Ferguson catering to customers’ new interests and needs?
First and foremost, we are making sure we still provide that personal attention and excellent service our customers expect. We recently polled consumers and confirmed that people still do want to touch and feel appliances before they purchase. In response, we are placing a greater emphasis on scheduling appointments. When you are open to walk-ins, you lose a little bit of that confidence in safety and sanitation. Instead, we are taking the extra time to create clean and sanitized surfaces while making sure we are giving our clients undivided attention when they walk in the door. We are also offering virtual appointments via Microsoft Teams, so we can provide a seamless experience both in-person and online.
What notable challenges has the pandemic brought for Ferguson?
There are so many steps in the supply chain that we traditionally took for granted because they simply flowed. With COVID, nearly every phase of the supply chain has been impacted somewhere along the way. The factories are operating under CDC guidelines, meaning they must reprioritize what they make for high-demand essential items. Unfortunately for the customer, if you are ordering one of the items that isn’t considered a priority, you may not even be able to get an ETA on when they will begin manufacturing it again. Production rates are down because there are less people in the building. Because of backorders, we’re having to do more partial shipments, which isn’t ideal but is recommended.
What advice are you giving to your clients?
Be open to substitution. Come in with an idea of what you like, but be flexible to alternative products. We are starting to see customers become a lot more open to substituting items so they can stay on schedule and finish their job well.
How have you adapted your communications with showroom associates and vendors?
We are prioritizing a virtual training process. We’ve seen a lot of benefits with hyper-specific content. Training videos can be condensed, and you can focus on exactly what the trainee needs to know. One of our reps has been doing this fantastic five-minute YouTube learning series: She sends out an email with a link to click and watch, where she hits five quick points on the appliance she's featuring that week. She began shooting it from her house, and she recently moved it to a showroom.
The final and biggest question: What are you focused on in the next 3, 6 and 12 months?
In the short term, we’re starting to think about how we get back to where we left off. How do we get sales back? How do we ensure the supply chain is intact? How do we make sure we're taking care of our people?
This is the time to take market share. And what will help us take market share is the service that we provide today, because our customers will remember that in the future. Figure out where your weaknesses are and how to differentiate yourself from competitors. We have new technology-forward platforms that will help us here and get people to immediately engage.
You have to adjust for where your business is, but you also have to have a plan so that you have the people in place for when things begin moving forward. That way, you can hit the ground running.