Redefining the Modern Showroom

Today’s kitchen and bath showrooms are clearly changing – and very quickly – evolving along with so many other aspects of our industry. And they’re likely to change even more dramatically over the next few years.

That can be ascertained from an exclusive study conducted for Kitchen & Bath Design News by the Charlotte, NC-based Research Institute for Cooking & Kitchen Intelligence (see story, Page 50).

The online study, which involved nearly 400 dealers and designers, yielded compelling insights into current and future showroom trends. Key among them are that rising costs, a challenging economy and a new, more tech-savvy consumer will almost undoubtedly transform the traditional showroom into something far more reflective of the times.

Predictions, for example, point to a concerted move by design firms toward smaller, more boutique-like showrooms, with large working displays being replaced by multiple high-impact vignettes that are more cost-effective, flexible and capable of showcasing a plethora of door/finish options, styles and related products. Displays, it is predicted, will have to work harder and smarter, as showrooms become increasingly compelled to carry a broader selection that appeals to a wider, more diverse clientele. Product emphasis is also seen changing in concert with the times, with a pronounced focus in the future on eco-friendly products, accessibility, Universal Design, energy efficiency, automation, safety, convenience and organization.

Yet all that only hints at what’s seemingly on tap for kitchen/bath showrooms in the not-too-distant future.

Dealers and designers point, perhaps more than anything, toward an increased use of cutting-edge technology aimed at making the showroom experience more interactive and entertaining.

High-tech digital displays are seen lowering costs, while allowing design firms to change directions quickly and be more responsive to client needs. Video conferencing, smart-phone use and wireless access to the Internet is seen becoming commonplace during showroom visits. The use of tablets, multi-media and interactive design tools will likely allow prospects to experience presentations as never before. Informational kiosks, similarly, will allow clients to participate in a virtual reality shopping experience, complete with ordering opportunities that allow business to be transacted via on-site computers that tap into just-in-time inventory.

Much of this, of course, is already in play throughout the industry. The vast majority of surveyed showroom owners, for instance, report that they currently maintain an online presence, and use their Web site as a marketing tool. Half say they’ve incorporated social networking sites into their marketing efforts. Most utilize desktop computers and laptops. Smart phones are used by almost half.

All that, however, is just a sign of more to come.

Naturally, in the course of all this change, some things are likely to remain the same. Kitchen and bath clients, regardless of budget and sophistication, will still want to do business with people they like. Prospects will still want to touch and feel products when they visit a showroom. Showroom staff will still have to be trained on how to effectively sell the upscale client. Personal relationships will still be the difference between winners and losers.

But there’s little doubt that in today’s economy, the emergence of a new consumer, and the exponential growth of technology, will ultimately redefine the showroom as we know it. It’s not far-fetched, in light of this, to wonder whether the overhead tied to a large traditional showroom will eventually be worth the cost – or, to take it a step further, to what extent the one-stop virtual showroom will eventually replace the traditional showroom altogether.