Showroom Seminar – The How-To’s of Hardware: Selling Decorative Accents Can Enhance Your Bottom Line
 
November 2nd, 2007

by Kathleen Furore

November-December 2007

Customers who visit one of Klaff’s three retail showrooms in South Norwalk, Danbury, or Westport, Connecticut, find everything from custom cabinets and fireplace mantels to lighting fixtures, tile and stone. But the home design stores’ extensive selection of upscale, decorative hardware often helps staff seal the deal with clients.

“Hooks, switch plates, cabinet knobs, and hinges are all visible things that will add to the beauty of a room. And being able to offer finish-match accessories is a fairly important aspect of the business,” Jay Gonzalez, Klaff’s Hardware, reports. “These small items will sometimes make or break a sale.”

As Gonzalez notes, hardware has taken on a life of its own, as today’s fashion-savvy shoppers show they’re more willing to invest in decorative hardware and accessories. Tile dealers who purvey unique knobs, towel bars, switch plates and other accent pieces for the kitchen, bath and beyond can reap the benefits these “add-on” items bring.

“Carrying decorative hardware has the potential to both raise profits and increase the customer base for tile dealers,” says John Pelka, vice president of marketing for Hickory Hardware, a Nashville, Tennessee-based company that designs and manufacturers hardware for kitchen cabinets, bathrooms, interior and exterior doors, storm doors, and furniture hardware. “Homeowners do seem more willing to invest in unique pieces when it comes to their cabinet and door hardware than in previous years, and much of that has to do with changes in the housing market. These days, people are staying in their homes longer, choosing to renovate rather than relocate,” he adds.

Wade Rompel, national sales manager at Innovis Corporation—makers of the Better-Bench® bench forming system and Recess-It® niche for bath and shower areas—echoes: “Ceramic tile and stone dealers have always understood the value in ‘add-on’ merchandising.’ In fact, due to the extremely competitive nature of their market, many rely on this very concept due to the higher profits they can provide.”

With profit margins for decorative hardware often exceeding 50 percent in showroom environments, according to Pelka, it is simple to see how selling hooks, knobs, switchplates and other add-ons can impact the bottom line.
While the sale of a switch plate might at first seem like a small add-on, it becomes apparent how much revenue dealers can generate when they learn the average consumer buys seven switch plates at a time,” says Gary Marmer, vice president of marketing for Questech, makers of cast stone switchplates, as well as cast stone corner shelves and soap dishes for shower installations. “They begin discovering they can make the sale almost every time they sell tile for a kitchen, bathroom or any other room in the home.”

Hardware Trends
Knowing what to offer can be a challenging first step in building a hardware and accessories lineup. While demographics ultimately will impact the product mix you carry, industry experts have identified some general trends.
According to Gonzalez, Klaff’s customers currently favor rustic bronze hardware as well as un-lacquered brass—“basically anything that looks like it has been around for a long time,” he says. Interest in contemporary items is on the rise, with polished nickel gaining popularity for powder room and bathroom installations.

Pelka reports that cool, sleek finishes such as satin nickel or Sausalito silver are consistently popular because they complement a range of styles from contemporary to traditional and allow customers to easily coordinate all of the hardware in their homes. Warmer finishes like copper and bronze, however, are breaking through.

“We’ve seen an increased interest in darker finishes, including oil-rubbed bronze with an underlying bronze or copper patina, as well as the even darker espresso finish,” Pelka says. “We’ve also seen an increasing tactile need: When people feel their hardware they often want something with rustic or hand-wrought textures.”

Brass and plated zinc continue to dominate kitchen, bath and door hardware, but Pelka says the demand for stainless steel hardware to match stainless steel appliances in modern kitchens is on the rise.

“We’re also expecting to see continued interest in rustic designs made from iron as well as an increasing trend in the use of leather, woods like bamboo, and other tactile materials that offer a warmer feel than metals,” he says.

Glass, too, is a popular material in hardware design today. Rick Barron of Adagio Art Glass in Boulder, Colorado, says orders for the company’s handmade fused glass knobs and pulls that coordinate with its glass tiles have been up about 75 percent a year for the past three years.

The size of hardware also has evolved, with sales of larger handles gaining steam. “As kitchens get larger, cabinet doors and drawers are also getting larger. Cabinet handles have increased in size, now ranging from 3-inch to 96mm, 128mm and even 8-inch in length,” Pelka says. “We’ve seen very strong demand for appliance pulls, for both cabinets and wood-paneled appliances, which can range in size from 8 inches to up to 24 inches in length.”

Baths are getting bigger, too—a trend that is making shower benches popular add-on items. “With the advent of larger showering spaces, shower bench installation has become a popular project request. Shower spaces used to be tucked away in a corner, but are now becoming the focal point of many master bathrooms,” Innovis’ Rompel reports. “Ask any woman if she would like a comfortable way to shave a leg. Sold!”

Anoher trend—one Questech’s Marmer calls “a mega-trend impacting the home hardware and accessories market”—is the heightened consumer demand for products with anti-microbial protection. All Questech products are protected by Q-Seal, a permanent sealer with the anti-microbial ingredient Ultrafresh®, he notes.

Merchandising Magic
The way you showcase your hardware and add-on accessories is almost as important as the products you carry. Most customers want to see and feel the items that will grace their homes. And the better job you do of getting your tile customers to look at knobs, towel bars, and switch plates, the less likely they are to head to the nearest hardware store or Big Box home center!
“Historically a hardware or home center product category, cast stone switch plates that coordinate with stone and ceramic tile can now be captured as an add-on to tile sales,” Marmer says. “Homeowners who have invested thousands of dollars in their kitchens and bathrooms don’t want cheap plastic covers.”

Specially designed display units, merchandisers and boards are effective merchandising tools.

“By purchasing a display unit or merchandiser to display the hardware, the dealer is not required to carry inventory in the store, but is able to give customers many different product options,” Pelka explains, adding that display boards usually best catalogs as a sales tool. “Display boards let customers see and feel the hardware before they order it. “When a customer settles on a product or product line, the dealer simply places an order that will generally ship within two weeks.”

That approach has worked successfully at Klalff’s, where customers find hardware mounted on “beautifully made walnut boards.”

“We have taken the focus off of company name and grouped like items together for shopability,” Gonzalez notes. “We have a spec program that allows us to print out pictures and specs for our more popular items and are working toward getting all of our product in there.”

“There are many ways to merchandise hardware, but it’s about finding the one that makes the most sense for the store in terms of investment, but also in regards to styles and appearance,” Pelka stresses.

Know Your Customers!

If you want to establish your dealership as the place to shop for tile, hardware and other accessories, getting to know your customers is key.
“The best way to drive sales is to know your target customer and develop an integrated marketing program to reach those customers,” advises John Pelka, vice president of marketing for Hickory Hardware. “The success of the campaign is dependent upon an integrated marketing program that targets customers who may be remodeling, who have just bought a new home, who are in the process of selling their home, or even customers who are just looking for something special for the holidays or the new season.”
It’s worth the time and effort to research your customer base because the information you gather “can help determine the key buying factors,” Pelka says. He suggests asking customers the following questions when embarking on this kind of marketing mission:

  • What styles are you looking for?
  • What do you consider today’s hottest finishes?
  • What level of service do you expect?
  • Will you wait two weeks to get a special order, or do you want the product in stock?
  • What price points do you expect to pay?
  • Do you want experts who can explain the benefits of certain products to be available?

“Once these factors are defined you need to develop a promotional plan to reach customers, then have an attractive showroom and a trained staff to complete the sale,” Pelka adds.

As Rick Barron of Adagio Art Glass concludes: “The salesperson is the most important interface between customer and product. A pleasant environment and beautiful displays are important, but they can’t substitute for a dedicated, creative, empathetic salesperson showing ideas and working with customers.”

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