Getting Your Showroom Ready for Generation Y

In my previous column, I discussed the emerging wave of Generation Y consumers and why it’s essential to keep them in mind as you plan for the future of your business. I would next like to address how we should consider reinventing our showrooms – at least partially – to capture the business of this group of 80-plus million customers.

Generation Y consumers are now entering the age when they will be making their first major financial decisions beyond college. Will a well-designed kitchen and bath be a priority for this group?

Most likely, according to Masco Cabinetry’s GenShift 2011 Report, which surveyed 1,027 homeowners ( The report confirms that the kitchen will remain the heart the home – and that today, this generation spends more time in the kitchen every day than other generations.

That, combined with a wide availability of affordable homes, makes Generation Y a ripe market for the kitchen and bath market. If we don’t prepare to capture them now, it may be a lost opportunity. Those businesses that are able to engage and connect with Generation Y shoppers will position themselves for long-term viability.

So how do you do that?

Give your showroom a good, hard look – not through your eyes, but through the eyes of Gen Y. Do they like what they see and experience? If you don’t know the answer, now is the time to find out, so that your changes and investments match where the market is going.

Start Online

Traditionally, the showroom and design center has been the starting and ending point for a consumer’s purchasing decisions. Today, the showroom is often the second or third destination in the planning experience, coming after a considerable amount of research on the Internet, and/or viewing educational television like HGTV. That’s why your Web site – your “virtual showroom” – has become your “first impression.”

If you don’t have a Web site, you need to get one. Be sure that it’s engaging, well designed and informative. A bad first impression made by a sloppy, dated Web site is just as detrimental as the first impression made by a dirty, dated physical showroom.

Another fast way to disqualify you among the Gen Y crowd is to have a slow Web site that makes the shopper wait while information loads slowly onto the screen. Gen Y wants it now – and that includes digital communications. Your Web site should not only contain photos and descriptions of your products, but plenty of video as well. Short, two- to three-minute snippets should get to the point, be well done and invite the viewer to visit your showroom for more information.

Your Physical Showroom

I suggest that you keep your Web presence consistent with the feel and appearance of your showroom design. Let them know that they are in the same great place they visited on their laptop and smart phone. The transition from your virtual showroom to your physical showroom should be seamless.

While the Internet age has changed the shopping habits of the young consumer, physical showrooms are still important. However, it’s essential that they are used correctly to cater to the demands of Generation Y.

Serving this powerful crowd by making their decision-making easy may ensure the business of the generations that follow. Be sure that there’s a connection and a relevancy to new emerging audiences, and that you utilize the right display and merchandising formats.

As you rethink your showroom for the next generation, consider the following:

  • You don’t have to have a huge showroom for Gen Y. But you do need to have their selections.
  • Don’t complicate it. You need to keep your showroom and displays simple. Let them find what they want to make their decisions.

A key element in your showroom should be a large meeting desk or table where customers can relax, spread out and consider their options. Provide room so photos, samples and drawings can be compared and allow for discussion where ideas can emerge and grow.

Gen Y is about technology that makes communication easy. You might want to utilize flat screen televisions to provide product or store information, or run background entertainment that enhances a fun shopping experience.
There are many technology-driven tools that facilitate selection. Think about smaller TVs, or secured iPods in display areas. This is a simple way to use technology and create a studio effect in the retail environment.

The integration of the physical showroom and the limitless information potential of the Web can be obtained by displaying QR codes on your displays. With a simple scan of the code with a mobile device, a consumer can be delivered directly to your Web site, or maybe a manufacturer’s Web site, for additional details and ideas about the products in the display.

I’m not suggesting that your entire showroom be revamped for Generation Y shoppers. But some displays should be designed to attract them. These displays should be located in the open where prospects can easily be drawn in. They should feature the latest in lighting technology. The door shapes and styles should be Transitional. Generation Y consumers are partial to clean lines, uncluttered designs, with museum-quality details that depart from their parents’ fondness for complex moldings and carvings.

Generation Y shoppers are frequently focused straight ahead and downward – not coincidentally where they tend to hold their mobile devices. So exploit that angle by placing items of interest into their view – particularly at the level of a kitchen backsplash.

Generational Appeal

Seeking credible input about what display features are attractive to Gen Y consumers, I went straight to the source – showroom designers who are among the Gen Y crowd. I asked them for some quick thoughts, which are summarized here:

Cabinet layout and shapes:

For townhouse and condo applications, show partially open galleys with overhanging counters to accommodate a bar stool or two.
Islands are important; consider portable or floating islands, leaving plenty of open room for entertaining. Computing at the island would be a “cool feature.”

Cabinet door and drawer styles:

  • Show Flat Panel, Shaker, Contemporary, Transitional, Modern shapes. Stay away from arched raised panels for this group.
  • Simple shape and forms emphasize a horizontal feel.
  • Showcase drawer matching door design to keep it clean and architectural.
  • Choose warmer, wood-toned finishes.
  • Spotlight solid colors – white, mushroom and black.
  • Consider darker stain values. Coffee-inspired colors like dark espresso are hitting strong today.
  • Cherry, Maple and Quarter Sawn wood attract this crowd.

Countertop colors and materials:

  • Showcase stone, concrete, granite, wood and glass materials.
  • Consider HP Laminates in digitally accurate printed patterns of authentic materials.
  • Thicker countertops or the opposite – thin lined – are good choices.
  • Look for shades of gray and mushroom with accents of blues.

Backsplash details:

  • Showcase contrasting materials, sheen and texture to add interest.
  • Go for clean and uncluttered.

Appliances for display:

  • Think simple and sleek – nothing too extreme because of price.
  • Go for a budget appropriate commercial look and feel.
  • Cool, smaller appliances like individual serving coffee stations will appeal to this group.
  • Display stainless appliances.

“Cool” aspects to draw attention to the display and inspire:

  • A variety of versatile lighting styles can be adjustable to multiple applications and functions. Incorporate dimmers for change.
  • Realistic spaces, fun secondary materials, appropriate style propping all play well with this group.
  • Design in charging stations and computing areas.
  • Show organizational elements within sight to grab attention and engage with the product.
  • TV or touch screens convey a realistic home experience.
  • Play coffeehouse-type music or something of their style that’s relaxing and makes them feel comfortable.
  • Use sensors that turn lights and music on when customers step into the display.

Sink and faucet suggestions:

  • Go for larger single bowls, farmhouse and trough sinks – long skinny sinks that can be used as an ice bucket when entertaining.
  • Consider an automatic touchless faucet.
  • Choose products with clean lines – stainless or undermount style.

Propping direction suggestions:

  • Dwell magazine
  • West Elm
  • CB2, Target, Home Goods
  • Funky art pieces done by local artists, or museum-quality pieces.
  • Recycled, reused materials made into furniture.

Don't Ignore Them

It’s not my intention to tell you the exact things to do in your showroom, but rather to inspire a new way of thinking to serve a new type of customer. Be sure your designers are involved and on board with the changes that you apply.

You might start small by establishing one or two new displays as Gen Y begins to make its market presence felt.

Maybe because we have not fully acknowledged them as target customers, Gen Y consumers too often go into the marketplace looking for help and are being ignored. This is a huge mistake. I know a 32-year-old who has designed and purchased five kitchens already.

Show these consumers that we want their business and are eager to collaborate with them. In fact, interview them; include them in your market research and decision-making for your new displays. They know what they want and they’re eager to tell you. Listening to your Gen Y consumer with “new hearing” will open up the next boom for your business.