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Opening a showroom in New York City for an Italian design brand is a daunting task. I accomplished a project like this when I was at the beginning of my career in my 20s. I didn’t have 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 design luxury industry.
Although the brand I worked for was well-established overseas, it doesn’t automatically translate in the US or other geographic markets. It’s almost like starting a business from scratch. There were no clients in the area, very few sales, and no distribution network. I started from scratch, and luckily, I had a mentor that taught me everything about business development, sales, and prospecting high-net-worth clientele. He was located on the West Coast so I had to experiment a lot.
I keep getting requests to help other companies with similar projects, so I decided that I would share the four major challenges and solutions I faced while opening a new showroom for a luxury brand in the US.
Challenge #1: Investing in a showroom location
When choosing the location for a new showroom, you want to think about who your clients are and where they hang out — for both brick-and-mortar retail and online. It’s worthwhile to invest in a smaller space that clients can browse, and in a larger boutique in an area clients won’t travel.
I chose the D&D Building as a location for my luxury showroom in Manhattan. The D&D is an established design center that interior designers and decorators use to shop for furniture, decor, and other items for their wealthy clients. My goal was to make the showroom a place where customers can see the brand, not just purchase products. I did that in several ways:
- I held in-store workshops to educate clients about craftsmanship and offer behind-the-scene details.
- I teamed up with artists and showcased their works during events.
- I created a lounge where designers could hang out and present ideas to their clients.
- I made sure customers enjoy themselves while spending time in the showroom.
Challenge #2: Prospecting clients from scratch
The advantage of choosing the right location for your business guarantees you valuable traffic from the very beginning. Clients will find you even if you start with a blank slate, just like I did. Half the work is done.
But foot traffic is not enough. It is important to plan your prospecting strategy from the beginning. Since I didn’t have any existing portfolio of clients, I started from scratch and cold-called the list of the top 100 interior designers and invited them to the new showroom in the D&D. I remember it took me 16 tries before I got one “Yes.” It is a difficult skill to master cold calling.
Challenge #3: Designing a retail concept store that enables transformative experiences
The only space available in the Design Center was a long and narrow 750 square ft. space on the 5th floor with only one window at the very end. This was a difficult task considering I wanted to exhibit large Murano glass chandeliers in a lifestyle branding style and provide a lounge area.
The solution of a boutique-style gallery was the best, given the limitations of the space. Visual merchandising requires that you consider the following four elements: store exterior design, store layout, interior display, and store interior.
The most important thing to consider is the brand experience that the boutique will create, and how it can harness the potential of the space. Your brand should be a catalyst for transformation, providing customers with transformative and creative experiences.
Challenge #4: Building a team of brand custodians
Finding the right members for my sales team has been the most difficult challenge. Selling luxury isn’t for everyone. It requires a lot of communication and engagement with wealthy customers. Communication of high-ticket prices can be intimidating or uncomfortable for many people. Even the most skilled salespeople can have hesitation when it comes time to tell the luxury price. Some people are too focused on selling and neglect to build a relationship with clients. Instead of being a sales representative, train your staff to become a brand-custodian as well as an expert on products. You ensure that engagement comes first and transactions last.