'Smart' Showrooms

Kitchen and bath showrooms have long been all about the “show.” But in a world of smart phones, HD TVs, tech-savvy consumers and “virtual” realities, a good part of that “show” will increasingly be taking place on the screen of a computer, phone or TV.

Indeed, technology is likely to dramatically impact the size, design and use of kitchen and bath showrooms over the next five years (see related Editorial). At the same time, showrooms are expected to be smaller, with more environmentally friendly products and flexible, interactive displays.

That’s according to a new survey conducted by the Charlotte, NC-based Research Institute for Cooking & Kitchen Intelligence (RICKI) on behalf of Kitchen & Bath Design News, which polled 382 kitchen and bath dealers to determine how showrooms are used, what marketing tools and activities best generate business and what’s in store for the future of kitchen and bath showrooms.

Smaller Spaces

According to the survey, the median square footage for kitchen and bath showrooms is 2,400 square feet, with one in six saying their showroom is 5,000 square feet or larger. One in six said they will be expanding their showroom in the coming year.

However, among those planning to open a showroom in the next 12 months who don’t currently have one, that number drops to a median of only 1,400 square feet, supporting the idea that showrooms of the future will likely be smaller than they are today. Even many dealers who are currently expanding their showrooms expressed the belief that, in the future, showrooms will likely focus on greater efficiencies rather than increased square footage.

One survey respondent has taken the trend toward downsizing even further, noting, “We changed from a full-scale showroom to a mobile showroom, where we take samples to the customer. This keeps overhead costs down, and those savings can be passed on to our customers, who have become price conscious but still want top quality products.”

While the economy is certainly factoring into this evolution to smaller showrooms, many dealers agree that technology is also a key factor in the downsizing trend.

As one respondent says, “I believe demands for physical showroom space will decrease as ‘virtual’ showrooms increase. I now showcase samples as opposed to the full kitchen displays that were used in the past. Smaller vignettes are more flexible and easier to change to keep the space looking fresh.”

Another dealer agrees: “I think showrooms are going to be concentrating on fewer products and utilizing Web sites more to show other products available.”

“You’re going to see smaller showrooms with more technology and less emphasis on brands as consumers continue to increase their purchases on the Internet,” points out yet another dealer.

But, it’s not just about technology; it’s also about convenience. As one dealer states, “I see closing the large showrooms and moving toward opening small showrooms in several locations to make sure companies are at a convenient reach to the market.”

Technology at Work

While today’s kitchen and bath dealers are far from techno wizards, most are using the basic tools, with 90% having a business Web site, 85% using desktop computers, 70% using laptops, 50% using social networking and 49% using smart phones for their businesses (see Graph 1). However, far fewer are using more advanced showroom technology right now: Only 27% use email campaigns, 26% showcase projects or ads for their business via HD/Plasma TVs in their showroom, 22% use Web conferencing or online meetings, 21% use online advertising, 18% use paid search engine placement, 14% use large projection screens for presentations, 12% use tablets (such as an iPad) or blogs/forums, 10% use enewsletters, and a mere 2% use streaming video.

At the same time, nearly one-third of those polled say they will be adding more technology or interactive displays going forward. Notes one dealer, “With Generation Y coming into the market, the wireless access will be heavy (i.e. smart phones, iPads, electronic touch pads), and I think many clients will communicate with us through some sort of wireless gadget.”

“I see technology playing a larger role in the showroom than it has in the past, mainly with presentations and samples for clients,” adds another dealer, while a third believes that the showroom “will become far more automated…a ‘virtual’ showroom, to some extent.”

Already, many dealers are seeing more tablets, video conferencing and technology in both sales and design and, in the future, one believes, “Customers will do a video walk thru of their homes via computer.”

What's Inside

As far as the composition of today’s showroom, it’s no surprise that kitchen products are given the lion’s share of space, with 68% of product space showcasing kitchen products, 21% devoted to bath products and 11% used for all other products. Smaller showrooms devote even more space to kitchen products (71% for small showrooms compared to 63% for large showrooms).

Existing showrooms average 6.2 kitchen displays and 3.2 bath displays, according to the survey. Additionally, 42% are planning to add kitchen displays in the next 12 months (see Graph 2) and 31% are planning to add bath displays (see Graph 3). But again, more doesn’t have to mean bigger; as one dealer said, “I would like to see more complete showrooms, not necessarily having all full-sized, complete kitchen or bath displays, but multiple, smaller vignettes to show a wide range of options and accessories...Make the displays work harder and smarter.”

More than 90% of showrooms carry kitchen cabinets, countertop surfacing materials, cabinet hardware and bath vanities, while 82% sell other-room cabinetry, 81% offer kitchen sinks and faucets, 75% carry bath sinks, lavs and faucets, 70% sell interior cabinet fittings/storage aids and 57% carry bath hardware and accessories. Some 55% offer flooring, 50% carry specialty lighting, 47% sell kitchen accessories, 44% carry major kitchen appliances, 40% offer bath tubs/fixtures/fittings, 39% carry kitchen ventilation, 38% sell shower and tub enclosures, 30% carry soaking or jetted tubs, 29% offer bath heating/ventilation and 28% carry shower systems/spas/steambaths/saunas.

Showrooms carry an average of 11 kitchen and bath product lines combined, according to those polled, with 89% saying they currently carry some or a lot of eco-friendly products (see Graph 4), and 68% noting that they carry products for Universal Design or aging-in-place. Those opening new showrooms are more likely to plan in these types of products, according to the survey.

Business Outlook

While the slow economy has presented enormous challenges for kitchen and bath professionals, survey respondents were quite optimistic for the future. In fact, more than two thirds (68%) said they anticipate business improving over the next 12 months (see Graph 5), with that optimism consistent across respondents, regardless of the size of their showroom. By contrast, only 5% believe business will be worse, while 27% see it remaining about the same.

Additionally, those queried said they expect to see a 44% increase in the number of complete kitchen remodeling jobs, from a median of 17.3 kitchen jobs sold in 2010 up to an anticipated 24.9 kitchen jobs to be sold in 2011.

Likewise, survey respondents projected a 56% increase in the number of complete bath remodeling jobs to be completed in 2011 compared to 2010, with a median of 9.7 bath jobs done in 2010, compared to a projected 15.1 jobs to be completed in 2011.

Those polled also cited more special orders and less inventory, a growing interest in storage products, more detailed and realistic renderings, greater use of video, more imported and value-priced products and a greater emphasis on relationships in the sales process as trends to watch for going forward.

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