It’s no secret that brick-and-mortar retailers are suffering at the hands of e-commerce giants like Amazon and…well, it’s pretty much just Amazon. Some brands are finding a way to fight back. 

By providing experiences no website can offer. 

It stands to reason, since luxury brands have the most to lose with the rise of e-commerce marketing for building materials. It doesn’t take long for consumers to figure out that e-tailers offer more options, lower prices and greater convenience than traditional stores. 

In order to command higher prices, luxury brands are starting to offer more than just products on the shelves. The latest example comes from fashion brand Gucci, who opened its Gucci Garden Galleria in Florence, Italy. 

More than just a retail space, Gucci Garden provides an unmatched opportunity to experience the finest things life has to offer. Haute cuisine and haute couture are brought together within a 14th-century palazzo. 

Forbes magazine called the galleria a “grand example of experiential retail” that brings shoppers back to stores and immerses them in the brand. 

Making Building Products Shopping Sexy 

As locations go, a Florentine palazzo is tough to beat. But the building products category has had an answer to the Gucci Garden for decades. 

It’s in Kohler, Wisconsin, and it’s a lot easier to get to. 

For decades, the plumbing products giant has operated its Design Center at its headquarters in a tiny hamlet about an hour north of Milwaukee. It’s where the idea of making shopping for toilets sexy was born. 

People would come from all over the country to pick out faucets and fixtures for their homes. But it was about more than just the showroom. Kohler also offered premier accommodations, fine dining, and world-class golf. 

Kohler Design Center building façade and sign

The only hitch was you couldn’t actually buy anything. As a visitor to the Design Center, you could meet with certified kitchen and bath designers, pick out all the products and colors you wanted, and leave with nothing more than your designs and product lists. 

Not wanting to do an end-run around their dealers and distributors, Kohler would send you home to buy your products from them. 

Could This Work? 

That’s changed in the last few years, as the company has unveiled its Kohler Signature Stores. 

With these stores, they’ve taken the basic concept of the Design Center and made it more widely available. Kohler Signature Stores are located across the country, and offer the same kind of design-oriented, dreaming experience that you’ll find at the company’s headquarters. 

You’ll see stunning vignettes, interactive displays, and artful showpieces that showcase the company’s heritage.  

But most important, you can buy stuff! Many of the locations are operated by Kohler dealers, so shoppers can make their purchases, either themselves or through their contractors, at that location. 

This approach works because it turns what might be a mundane process of picking out fixtures and turns it into an event. It also allows Kohler to control the way their brand is presented, something that shopping online doesn’t do. 

Will this approach work for other building products brands? Certainly, showrooms like Ferguson have been using this model for their own branded stores long before Kohler came up with the idea. 

But it’s hard to imagine many other product categories being able to take product selection to this same level. Is there a way to make choosing carpet, lighting, or even appliances into an enriching experience? 

Maybe. And for building products brands for whom getting people into stores is important, they better figure it out sooner rather than later. 

Because Amazon doesn’t seem to be slowing down.