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Opening a flagship showroom for an Italian design brand in New York presents all kinds of challenges. I did a project like this when I was early in my career in my twenties. I had no experience in business development, I didn’t know how to secure high-end projects, and on top of that, it was my first time working in the luxury design industry.
The brand I worked for is very established overseas, but that doesn’t automatically translate into the US or some other geographic market. In my experience, it’s like building a startup from scratch. The company had virtually no sales in the region, few customers and no distribution network. I started from scratch, and luckily I had a mentor who taught me everything about business development, sales, and high-net-worth client development. But it was physically located on the west coast, and most of the time I had to figure it out by experimenting.
I keep getting requests to help other companies with a similar project, so I decided to share with you the top four challenges that I encountered and overcome when opening a brand new showroom for a luxury designer brand in the United States.
Challenge # 1: Invest in a showroom location
When choosing a location for a new showroom, you need to think about who your customers are and where they are, both retail and online.
It’s worth investing in a smaller space where valued customers navigate and a much larger boutique in a part of town that your customers will never travel to.
As the location for the luxury showroom I opened in Manhattan, I chose the D&D Building (Decoration & Design Building). D&D is a well-known design center where interior designers and decorators come to buy furniture, interior design, etc. for their affluent clientele.
My goal has always been to transform the showroom into a destination where customers can experience the brand and not just buy products. I did this in several ways:
- I have held in-store workshops to educate customers on the craft and offer behind-the-scenes details.
- I teamed up with artists and presented their works at events.
- I created a salon where designers could relax and present ideas to their clients.
- I made the customers have fun while spending time in the showroom.
Challenge 2: Prospecting customers from scratch
The benefit of choosing the right location for your business ensures you get valuable traffic from the start. Even if you start with a blank slate like I did, customers will find out about you and visit you. You’ve already done half the work.
But you can’t just rely on foot traffic. You want to have an organized approach to prospecting from the start. Since I didn’t have an existing client portfolio, I started from scratch and cold called the Top 100 Interior Designers list and invited them to the new D&D showroom. I remember it took me 16 tries to get a “Yes” one. Mastering the conduct of cold calls is an art in itself and worth learning.
Challenge # 3: Design a retail store concept that enables transformative experiences
The only space available in the Design Center was a long, narrow 750 square foot space on the 5th floor with a single window at the very end. It was rather difficult, given that I wanted to display large colored Murano glass chandeliers with a lifestyle brand approach and provide a lounge space.
The solution of a gallery-style boutique was the most appropriate given the space constraints. When it comes to visual merchandising, make sure you consider the four key elements: store exterior, store layout, store interior, and interior signage.
The most important thing is to think through what kind of brand experience the store will allow and to harness the full potential of the space. Ultimately, you want your brand to become a transformative agent for your customers, delivering transformative and creative experiences.
Challenge n Â° 4: Build a team of brand custodians
Finding the right members for my sales team has been the most difficult challenge. Selling luxury isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, as is connecting and engaging with affluent buyers. Many people are intimidated or uncomfortable giving high prices. I have seen hesitation even among the most talented salespeople when it comes to telling the price of luxury. Others are too sales-oriented and forget to develop a fiduciary relationship with customers. The solution is to train each member to become a brand owner and product expert, rather than just a business associate. This way, you make sure that the engagement comes first and the transaction comes second.