The success of a business is often determined during the hardest times. When the economy is robust and consumers are spending money, it can sometimes seem almost easy to draw visitors into your showroom.
But it’s during times when consumer spending is down and customers are scared away by the daily reports of doom and gloom that business owners have the opportunity to really show their moxie. While declining sales and pessimistic economists send some business owners into paralysis, others proactively seek innovative ways to make the best of an imperfect situation.
When your showroom is drawing a steady stream of customers, it’s easy to fall into the autopilot mode of, “if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.” Unfortunately, this stifles creativity, both in your showroom design and in your marketing efforts.
It’s also easy, when business is slow, to justify stagnation by reasoning that the money isn’t available to try new things.
But it’s important to remember that your showroom is a significant business investment. The atmosphere – from the way customers are greeted and treated to the way it is laid out and decorated – tells visitors about you. The way you utilize your showroom is what sets you apart from your competitors.
Taking a creative approach to operating your showroom not only helps to “ride out the storm” during a challenging economy, but also puts you in a stronger position once the market turns upward.
Here are a few ideas for improving how you use your showroom and how you draw in potential customers during a challenging market.
Remove the Clutter
Are unnecessary items in your showroom distracting visitors’ attention from the important things? Too much clutter can overwhelm a customer. Removing distractions not only will refocus your customers’ attention, but also will open up more showroom space.
Real estate agents often utilize professional stagers who specialize in making homes more attractive to potential buyers. You might consider consulting with a professional stager to evaluate what is productive and what isn’t in your showroom.
While you’re removing the physical clutter from your showroom, think about cleaning up your graphical image as well. Today’s marketing and advertising trends stress simplicity.
Look at Apple, for example. While their computers and communications products are highly complex, their image is clean, fresh and understated – a simple silver apple. Apple showrooms emphasize large, uncluttered, open spaces where visitors have room to browse without bumping into other people, offering an environment that is conducive to decision making.
While simplifying your presentation, you might think about the products you’re featuring. A showroom should be dynamic and ever-changing. A customer shouldn’t see the same showroom visit after visit. Regardless of the economy, you need to showcase your business in a bold, engaging way. Don’t wait for business to improve. Stay current – ahead of your competitors.
Something as simple as a fresh coat of paint can change the environment of your showroom. And don’t trivialize cleanliness and maintenance. A ceiling tile, stained by a leaking roof, is likely to be viewed as the sign of an apathetic business. Likewise, a dirty restroom can irreparably damage a visitor’s impression of your business.
Movin' on up
If your showroom is poorly located or cramped, it may be time to look for a newer, bigger or more accessible location.
You may feel that the last thing you want to do in a weak market is invest money in a new building. On the contrary, with real estate values down, you may find the opportunity of a lifetime.
Brian Erickson, owner of Furniture and Carpet Source, of Akron, OH, was able to relocate his 8,500-sq.-ft. showroom down the street to a 35,000-sq.-ft. facility.
“If it weren’t for an incredible deal on a building, I wouldn’t have been able to expand,” Erickson says. “The building was assessed at more than one million dollars a few years ago, but I was able to purchase it at a 50 percent savings. We had always been known for our pricing and service, but now we can complete the customer’s experience with a huge inventory of quality products.”
Bigger isn’t always better, however, so maybe you just want a more attractive facility, or a place in a high-traffic retail area that would have been out of your budget before real estate values plummeted.
Whether or not you expand your facility, you can always expand your services. Expand what you know, but take it further. Be creative. How about setting aside an area of your showroom as a “special showing area” that is “open by exclusive invitation?”
Kurtis Kitchen & Bath Centers, a KraftMaid dealer in Livonia, MI, recently took an open warehouse space and partnered with a local granite source to house slabs of granite. When customers planned their new kitchens and baths, the granite was right on site, allowing a smoother transition.
Wherever your showroom is located, think about new ways to let people know it’s there. Sponsoring a sports team or youth activity is a winning proposition. Your name on a baseball jersey offers valuable exposure and garners good will in the community. Participating in local business shows and events is an ideal way to go where potential customers are gathering.
But don’t limit yourself to the obvious home improvement shows. Be creative. How about presenting your “wet room” bath solutions for occupational therapy at a local health fair, for example?
When budgets get tight, advertising is often one of the first things to be reduced, as if it were a disposable luxury. It isn’t. In fact, advertising should be viewed as an investment that brings new visitors to your showroom, which is more important than ever in a weak market. Plus, newspapers, broadcasters and other businesses often offer highly attractive rates when their sales are suffering.
Don’t discount the impact of “free” publicity. By hosting a community event, or by providing a community service, your business may get positive press in the local media. For example, you may consider making your showroom the collection center for a local food or clothing drive. Distribute a press release well in advance of the event.
Use Your Web Site
While customers may not buy large ticket items like kitchen cabinets without seeing them in person, you can be sure that surfing the Web is a part of their shopping experience. So an informative and graphically attractive Web site is a must.
Does your site reflect the image of your showroom? Is it up to date? Does it provide useful information? That will raise their comfort level about dropping in.
As a business owner, you’re probably an optimist. To take the risk of entrepreneurship in the first place, you have to be. That’s why your creativity and ability to think outside the box will pull you through these challenging times.
Like always, caution is prudent, but paralysis can destroy your business. Always be thinking about new ways to use your showroom as a catalyst for attracting new customers.