Headline: “Solid Surface sales slipping slowly, steadily!” Sound familiar? Why is solid surface losing steam? Now, let me ask this: How often do you retail fabricators listen to customers tell you they don’t want it because it’s soft as butter, it looks phony or it stains? Are you at the point where you start to know who Miss Informed was talking to based on what she said? Does this sound familiar to you on other materials you sell like quartz or stone also?
Know this, it’s not the customer’s fault. Don’t blame her. She’s just repeating what she heard (or what her friend heard), and you now have to walk her back to bring her forward, and give her the true pros and cons, in order for her to make a fair decision.
How about you, distributors and manufacturers? Are you tired of having to work the revolving door of home center kitchen departments, teaching new employees the stuff you taught the old employees, only to have to teach the next, next week? How much does that cost you? I don’t mean in dollars; I mean in product reputation? How is supporting those who, however inadvertently, spread bad information helping the long-term stature of this premium product?
You guys did a fantastic job educating us knuckleheads in the way of working our businesses well with financial savvy seminars, but what I have never seen offered by manufacturers or distributors are classes designed to teach wholesale fabricators how to sell retail. I don’t mean generic sales theories about positive questions and “Learning to Listen 101.” I mean showroom design theory, “Getting the most out of your closet sized showroom,” and that really cool class called “Interdimensional space allotment — getting the absolute most out of your wall space.” I promise you I won’t nod off in “How to figure your new extra overhead in three easy minutes” like I did in that boring “Shakespeare for the Impaired” class in college. I’d be your best friend if you teach me the different types of advertising, and an easy way of checking the success or failure of my marketing strategy.
So what would you get for your troubles? I’m mighty glad you asked. You would get a reduced number of warranties to process, which must always cost you something. How about the cost in terms of product reputation? You’d get better informed consumers, who — armed with the right info to help them make expensive decisions — can truly judge the right kind of product for themselves. They won’t expect bulletproof, and they won’t expect heat-proof. They won’t be shocked when they see scratches in their solid surface tops, and they won’t be floored if their granite top cracks or discolors from heat. They won’t cuss you or us out because the e-stone top is fading a bit out back at the barbie, and they’ll consider their family situation in terms of predicting the care and maintenance. They won’t cuss your product if they had the good information, because the good information led them away from using a product not suited to their lifestyle. What you get, ultimately, is a market receptive to your product, now and in the future.
All markets have their ups and downs. Solid surface, stone and e-stone all get their day. It’s like they use a secret handshake to decide who wears the ring, or something. But great fabricators/craftsmen — the guys who make your product look as good and work as well as it can — those guys can use some help in staying with it ’til the next wave comes. The custom, one-off fabricator is having a tougher time in some areas keeping it together as he loses wholesale clients to the bigger companies, and in some cases by the manufacturers themselves. Helping him get the word out, or showing him how to get the word out himself, directly to the consumer, should be a fairly inexpensive way for you to help the guys, who repeatedly have to clean up after others, stay in the game.
About the author: Tom Mather has been involved with solid surface fabrication for more than 30 years and is the president of Mather Countertop Systems, now celebrating 50 years of business in Connecticut; www.mathertops.com; email@example.com.