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Many experienced plumbing showroom owners have already adapted to this reality: The rise of online retailers mean that their customers can go and buy the same products they see on your floor — with free shipping, no tax and overall lower prices than you can offer.

In response to this reality, many showrooms have pivoted to the one place that the home centers or online guys can’t beat them — unique selection, building relationships based on a warm touch, face-to-face consultation and knowledge about whether or not these products will work as envisioned by their customers. Strictly price-driven customers, generally speaking, aren’t your customers.

But you can even lose your best customers if you do a consultation, then your customer goes and finds the exact same thing at a manufacturer or competitor website. Good marketing work is lost when you have this giant EXIT sign in the middle of the buying process.

Keeping your customer engaged throughout the buying cycle is huge. Even if they are browsing your site and haven’t come to the store, if they can shop and collect ideas without leaving your site, you’re saving lots of sales you would otherwise lose. (And if you’re differentiating your selection with models that Joe or Jane Home Improver can’t easily find at cheapo outlets, that’s even better. You develop manufacturer relationships and train your people on the new lines for a reason.)

We have techniques for making sure you keep tabs on all of your customer’s decision points, but the major hitch is this: Your online catalog has to be attractive, easy to navigate and constantly up to date. The “hole in the funnel” is usually created by the plumbing showroom team that doesn’t want to undertake the expense and headache of doing it all themselves or hiring web designers and back-end developers. (And I don’t blame them one bit. It’s a nightmare.) You either link to the manufacturer site or resign yourself to having the customer go explore and search on their own, at which point you’ve lost control of the process.

I’m curious to know if this is something you have experienced in your business, and if so, what you’ve tried to do about it. If this and other problems — such as online visibility in your local market — have you wondering how to effectively capture more revenue in this rapidly changing marketplace, give a shout and we’ll explore some effective new ideas.