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Understanding the Strength of Industry Specialists

You can click to buy, you can visit a big box retailer, or you can visit a specialist. Obviously, as specialists, we would prefer that people go that route. Recently I had the opportunity to use all three options and thought I’d share my experience here.

When it comes to shopping, there are pretty much three options available. You can go to the internet and click to buy, you can visit a big box retailer, or you can visit a specialist. Obviously, as specialists, we would prefer that people go that route. Recently I had the opportunity to use all three options and thought I’d share my experience here.

Image: Thinkstock

A pipe broke under our master bathroom shower. We noticed it because the shower was really slow to drain, and then dirt started appearing in the bottom of it. FYI: that’s a real red flag when it comes to showers. With having a newborn (Audrey will be one next month!) we kind of put off dealing with it and have just used the guest bath shower for the past year.

I finally got around to doing something, and not knowing anything about a major bathroom repair, I did what a lot of our customers do: I reached out to someone I trusted and asked what company he used. In this case, I asked one of the builders that we have a good working relationship with for a referral. He gave me a name, and I contacted James and had him come over to give me a proposal.

James explained what needed to be done—cutting out the tile at the bottom of the shower, jackhammering out the slab, digging down to repair the broken pipe, and then putting it back together in a usable fashion—and then gave me the information that I needed to start a claim with our homeowner’s insurance. (And I must give a shout out to Allstate, which has been absolutely fantastic to work with throughout this process.)

As is often the way, when James started the demolition process, he discovered that there was water damage to some of the studs and to the framing around our bathtub. More tile and wall would need to be removed, studs cut out and replaced, and the tub wall reframed.

The problem was trying to find new tile that would match the existing tile that was installed in our bathroom 20 years ago. We purchased the home from someone, so I had no idea where the original tile was purchased, who the manufacturer was, or the name of the color. So I took some photos of the tile and started making inquiries about it. This is where I really appreciated the service difference between the three modern shopping experiences.

The Internet
There is such a huge glut of information available when researching on the internet that it was overwhelming. Researching something that you aren’t really very knowledgeable about quickly leads you down a one-click-after-another rabbit hole where you soon find yourself looking for things six degrees removed from your initial topic.

I found one promising site that specialized in locating discontinued tile, but there was no way to actually talk to someone. To initiate the process of seeing if they could find your tile, you had to pay $14.95 and then fill out a lengthy form where you needed to know the make, model, color, and year the tile was made.

Another large tile purveyor had a contact form, so I wrote an email explaining what I was trying to do and attached the two photos of my tile. About an hour later I got a response saying “Your request has been solved!” Sweet! Unfortunately, the “solution” was a form email saying they carried hundreds of styles of tiles and that they were sure I could find something I loved on their site.

Big Box
I next reached out to the two big box home supply solutions, Lowes and Home Depot, both of which have two stores within 15 miles of my home. The first call to Home Depot had me on hold for 10 minutes with repeated cycles back to the operator where I had to repeat that I was trying to reach the flooring department. I finally did get transferred…to the paint department.

When I finally got someone on the phone at both stores, I explained what I had going on and asked if I could email a picture of my tile to see if they thought it looked familiar or if they had something similar. Both stores said this was impossible and the only way they could help was if I had the make and model of the tile, and preferably the original bar code that it came with. When I explained that this information just wasn’t available, they said there wasn’t much they could do, but I was welcome to come in and look at the samples they had.

Specialty Retailer
I next Googled “bathroom tile near me” and picked out a few specialists in my area. The phone was answered promptly by a salesperson, not an operator. I again explained what I was trying to do and asked if I could email some pictures. Both salespeople said sure, happily gave me their information, and I sent off emails.

Within five minutes one of the companies acknowledged she received the email and that she was looking into it. Twenty minutes later, another email from the same woman said they didn’t have that tile but that she was searching her inventory to find something that would be similar or complementary.

The second company said they didn’t have an exact match due to the age of the tile, but sent me a photo of some samples they had that were close in color.

The final company called me back within the hour. The gentleman said he knew exactly what tile that was, including the name and model. He knew the tile had been discontinued for quite some time, and that he even (unsuccessfully) researched trying to locate the same tile for another customer about six years ago. He said they didn’t have anything exactly like it, but they had similar designs and he invited me to come down and take a look at what they had.

These were all “faceless” interactions, yet the specialty retailers separated themselves with personalized service far beyond the others.

Whether it is through website design, telephone encounters, email exchanges, or face-to-face meetings, we need to always remember that standout service and reducing pain-points will always be the differentiator separating us from other buying solutions.