Strength in Numbers: LPG
Up Close With Luxury Products Group
Luxury Products Group (LPG) was launched in 2010 as a spinoff of Omni (now IMARK). Many of the traditional plumbing wholesale members of Omni had also successfully added decorative showrooms that targeted consumers and designers rather than the contractor trade. Since the needs and vendors for showrooms are so much different than wholesaling businesses, LPG was formed to support member showrooms and grow their sales.
Now in its ninth year, LPG has grown to 270 members and 80 vendors. They have expanded beyond decorative plumbing to include lighting and hardware — and will likely be adding tile within the next few years. In just the 18 months under the direction of its new Executive Director Jeff MacDowell, the group has implemented a significant number of programs and services that extend far beyond the scope of a buying group.
Of course, volume purchasing and rebates are still significant to the continued viability of LPG’s independent showrooms. “Members recognize how important it is to combine purchasing power and support LPG vendors,” MacDowell shares. “If we can show above-industry-average growth, it gives us better leverage in negotiating deals with our vendors. We encourage each of our showrooms to work with as many of our vendors as possible — and they do. Our vendors do a great job with conversions so it’s a smooth transition for a showroom.”
Many members have been open to adding the new categories that LPG supports. “They know that time is the new currency. Modern consumers want to be able to go into a showroom, see their options and place one order for most everything they’ll need for their bath or kitchen project. If they can’t get it all at the same showroom, they’ll likely wind up going somewhere they can,” MacDowell cautions.
Getting into a new category like lighting often requires a learning curve – and investment – for plumbing showrooms. “The pricing structure in lighting is different from plumbing, and there is more obsolescence because new styles and finishes are much more prevalent,” MacDowell explains. “How the product is displayed is also very different. We’ve run some webinars on the best way for plumbing showrooms to get into the lighting business. We also held a workshop during our Spring Expo about what members could expect when making such change to their businesses.”
According to MacDowell, one of the newest programs that is generating a lot of buzz is a digital marketing portal that consists of regularly updated social media posts provided by service provider Bravo Business Media that showrooms can use on their own pages to attract target customers. The posts include topics such as decorating trends, advice on selecting the right products for a project, as well as vendor product launches. Also included in the portal are marketing calendars and other related marketing tools. LPG is also beginning to experiment with virtual and augmented reality.
In addition, there is a training portal for members that offers low-cost links in a Netflix-style menu. One of the most popular topics is human resources, including hiring and retention practices. “Finding and retaining the right employees is one of the greatest challenges for today’s showrooms,” MacDowell remarks. “Rockstar Workforce is one of our service providers, and they offer recruitment coaching tools that can help showrooms test prospects as well as train veteran employees.”
Other topics covered are:
- Raising a showroom’s profile in a local market
- How to sell “above your pay grade” (i.e. luxury sales training)
As Baby Boomers move into retirement, next-generation showroom leaders are preparing for the future. LPG is supporting that transition through a Young Executives Group that encourages networking among members to discuss opportunities, challenges, and ideas for the showrooms of tomorrow.
“We have to make sure there is a dialogue among the young execs,” MacDowell says. “There is a lot of conversation regarding the role the internet and e-commerce will play in their businesses, the changing buying habits of consumers, using social media and other digital marketing tools to promote their businesses, and making sure they are ready to take on new responsibilities.”
One of the most recent roll-outs from LPG is a series of regional training sessions that began last month. “We decided to experiment with this concept by holding training courses in a number of major cities across the country,” MacDowell explains. “We wanted to make resources and education available to showroom staff who may not have made it to our Spring Expo, and also for others who want to gain greater advantages by using the latest in best practices for their businesses. It was very well-received and so we will most likely continue to expand it going forward.”
MacDowell brings personal experience to his position as Executive Director. “I’ve walked in the shoes of our members throughout much of my career,” he comments. “Having showroom experience is a tremendous help in bringing ideas to the table for LPG. I’ve got a background in wholesaler and vendor relations, and I’ve worked in about every capacity for plumbing wholesalers and showrooms.”
MacDowell works closely with the LPG Advisory Council to determine the group’s direction. The Council is made up of active, dedicated showroom leaders who have a vested interest in the success of the group, its members, and its vendors. As such, the Council votes on recommendations for initiatives and programs, new approved vendors and showroom members, and the overall strategic direction.
“We have to ensure that all of our decisions make sense both financially and strategically and for the long and short term,” MacDowell notes. “Our members, vendors, and variety of programming is what differentiates us and is solidifying our position as the leading group for decorative showrooms. We believe LPG is the best fit for boutique showrooms across the lighting, hardware, and plumbing categories, and in just about every market — from small cities to the typical suburbs and major metropolitan areas.”