A bathroom can be an oasis, a private retreat in one’s home where one can relax; some may even feel as though they are going through a thorough process of rejuvenation. Richter+Frenzel, a German wholesaler for plumbers and builders founded as far back as 1895, now use an ultra-modern application that turns dream designs into reality well before they are built. CEO Wilhelm Schuster demonstrates the process through the lenses of some very powerful 3D goggles.
Mr Schuster, when have you begun offering customers virtual reality bathroom planning?
W. S.: Early last year, this new sales and consulting form was used in our bath centre in Hirschaid. Our digitisation began with the installation of in total sixty so-called iBeacons. We truly have trodden new territory with this technology as in Germany the trade had not yet adopted it. The beacons send out signals so customers in front of our bathrooms are by means of a tablet screen immediately informed on pricing, replacement and installation. In our experience there is hard- ly anything more difficult than placing a bath or modernis- ing one. Everything has to be practical: aesthetics need to be right, whereas room size, corners and niches also need to be observed. To facilitate the selection we even dared to offer something after the first step of the digitisation as we pro- vided our customers with 3D glasses from RealityPro. These immediately offer a view of what a recently commissioned bathroom looks like.
So in detail how does the bath advice go about?
W. S.: At our exhibitions, we showcase baths in different price ranges. For the end customer it is a no-brainer: he knows what he will spend for a certain bathroom. The expert ad- visor however can also improve his sales pitch as the budget is clear and can be discussed without difficulty. This may not be the end though. Bathrooms are rarely ordered as shown. Customers have their own ideas and specific requests. With our specialists they may enter into a detailed planning taking into account all important points from costs to floor plans. When these are complete the 3D program can be a guide for the bath planning using actual measurements. On screen one can already see very well how the new bathroom works and what it looks like. With the virtual reality goggles from Re- alityPro the planning leads directly to the new bath. Data from the consultation are transferred with WLAN. Through the lenses the end customer can see his dream bathroom in 360 degrees, a realistic and overwhelming impression.
What information is needed to present customers a reliable picture of their dream baths?
W. S.: Clear dimensions and specific product information. If these two conditions are met, serious planning can begin. Basically nothing changes. Previously one could come to a purposeful advice, provided all basic data was available. With digitalisation no additional informa- tion needs to be queried. The technique only requires accuracy. If one operates accordingly, pictorial transmission will also be impressively exact.
What software engineering takes place in the background of such a 3D programme?
W. S.: Nothing of the revolutionary kind. Calculated and transmitted images have been around for longer. The de- cisive factor of this technology is in new sales divisions and business units. Virtual reality has become a selling technique which has now also been discovered in other sectors such as the automotive industry. Showrooms that never existed are developed and can, even in a confined space, offer a mer- chandise assortment unimagined be- fore. In the past, room may have been lacking, but in virtual reality this has become irrelevant. We indeed claim to have pioneered the technique in bathrooms and sanitary and we do not show fantasies, but reality as defined and experienced by our customers. We are closing the gap between online and offline with a completely new shopping experience.
What are the advantages of this approach, compared to conventional presentations?
W. S.: Customers understand from the beginning what they will get. That is the difference. No one has such a pre- cise imagination that the purchase of a bath, some sanitary products or let alone an entire bathroom would be completely risk-free. No matter how good the advice, at a later stage some- thing may always be different from what one expected. We all know that. With the goggles, this risk is elimi- nated. The customer sees on the spot whether his choice was apt, whether his bathroom looks alright, whether the shower is in place or if the tub looks as great as in the catalogue. Disturbing elements can be detected instantly, so there is time to correct them. This helps us as well. Before, there were occasional tensions when a customer chose the wrong thing. No longer an option with 3D.
How does it all resonate with your customers?
W. S.: Very well. They have become ac- quainted with the new technology and are very satisfied. Their reaction is positive throughout, and because we have gathered so many great reviews since its introduction last year April, the technology is now seen in all our R+F Home locations and bath centres. We are currently preparing the fourth RIFA in Nuremberg, a trade fair for the craft launched by our company. There we will focus on the digital transforma- tion of our specialist trade. We expect celebrities, high-profile exhibitors and excellent speakers to explain our present and our future.
What will planning spaces in five to ten years be like con- sidering even greater digital leaps?
Prophecies are always a bit risky, but I will try: Based on what we have as technologies, online and offline will certain- ly continue to merge. In many areas there will be no bound- aries. Ever smaller, experience-oriented sales areas will be- come the new business model. Even today, companies that have previously moved to suburban areas are moving back to the city as large amounts of space are now redundant. This process continues as digital sales techniques become more important. Improved computer resources will probably ena- ble visual renderings far superior to our goggles today; how- ever exotic these may seem, they will be used in many fields as everyday objects, I am sure.
RICHTER+FRENZEL AND OSUDIO
During the last years the customer demands regarding availability of digital product data has been increasing. To meet the current and future expectation of their customers, Richter+Frenzel decided to focus on the quality of their product data to become the market leader in this field. The usage of an efficient and powerful Product Information Management System is the heart of this strategy. Jointly with Osudio, the company is preparing the rollout of its fully new product infor- mation management and publishing platform.
This interview was featured in the Q3 2016 edition of the The Product Kultur Magazine.
Written by Sandy Strasser of PROKOM.