Showing off

The importance of product in a showroom is almost as important as the design of the space itself. So say Kitchen & Bath Design News' readers who recently participated in an online poll on the Web site. When asked what they would be most likely to do for their firms in the next 12 months, fully half of the 340 respondents answered that they would be adding new product lines.

But product will only get a client to circulate around the showroom. What actually gets someone to sign on your business for a project is a curious combination of sales savvy, wow factors and a bit of mystery. Here, and on the next three pages, KBDN looks at four showrooms and the myriad approaches to designing, displaying and selling within them.

Neighborhood Design

The old realtor's adage "location, location, location" holds true for the situation of a showroom, according to Rosemary Merrill, AKBD.

Merrill, along with Susan Brunn and Susan Jacobs, owns and operates Minneapolis-based Casa Verde Design.

"Our location was very thoughtfully chosen," she says. "By being located in a charming neighborhood shopping area, rather than a design center, we feel very much a part of the area, and benefit from local pedestrian activity."

Visitors to the showroom are exposed immediately to the core of the showroom's design aesthetic: open space.

"The open work space creates a very collaborative environment for the designers, which we feel creates the best end result for the client," Merrill continues, noting this allows visitors to move freely through the various vignettes.

Open for just under two years, Casa Verde is more than just a place to get ideas. Customers who like exactly what they see have the opportunity to incorporate those same items.

"We deliberately wanted to make sure that all of the showroom ‘props' seen by clients are available to them," she says.

The aim of the showroom, says Merrill, is to make the customer feel comfortable.

"Our showroom feels like a home. It greets you with a refined elegance and simplicity, yet it is warm and inviting," she concludes.

Client-Centered Chic

Designer Bev Adams, CMKBD, bristles at the notion that a showroom could possibly satisfy the desires of every client walking through the door.

Adams, principal and lead designer of Denver, CO-based Interior Intuitions says, "Showroom design should not simply be about vendor-blending. Good design is about behavior-blending.

"A lot of young designers seek to latch on to vendors and product lines and shove particular products down the clients' throats. Clients don't want that," she stresses. "They want to be able to dictate what they really want. The showroom should encourage that type of collaborative process."

The purpose of vignettes and showroom displays, according to Adams, is merely to present a picture of what a design may do for a client, not offers an exact blueprint of a project.

She continues: "There should be a display that really showcases the talent and creativity of the firm."

Illustrating ease of use is key, Adams adds.

"Provide the elements, whether through photos, vignettes, cabinetry, etc. that will show clients the operation of the products they are considering – or don't know about – and their ease of use."

Interior Intuitions is in the planning stages of its next major remodel, according to Adams. The focus for the new showroom is to display Adams' signature cabinetry line, Intuitive Cabinetry.

Adams believes firms do themselves a disservice if they do not consider a branding strategy such as creating a signature product for their showroom.

"There's credibility in it. Clients feel like they have an immediate point person. If the vendor is me, they known how to reach me, they know I will take care of them."

Ultimately, she says, "the showroom should convince your clients of the versatility of your designs and their value and ease of use."

Demonstrating Designs for Appliances

Cheryl Hamilton-Gray, CKD, principal of Carlsbad, CA-based Hamilton-Gray Design, has a history of showroom design in her portfolio. The Riggs Distributing appliance showroom in Burlingame, CA presented her an opportunity to expand her experience.

"The property had previously been a chocolate factory, so extensive remodeling was required to convert it to serve the firm's function," says Hamilton-Gray. "The company had outgrown its leased property and had the intention of utilizing the new building for the head office, showroom, training center and warehousing of product."

For this type of showroom, Hamilton-Gray was sought out for her ability to create a particular kind of design.

"Having had previous showroom design experience, I had been asked to help this same company with the design of a showroom in Hawaii," she says. "This was very successful, but a lot of lessons were learned in accommodating demo kitchen needs, so they got me on board early in the planning stages to develop this flagship showroom."

The market that the showroom serves is architects, designers, specifiers, appliance dealers, appliance representatives for training and the public for training on appliances by appointment, according to Hamilton-Gray.

"With the nature of this market we decided to devote two large areas to accommodate live kitchen demonstrations, accommodating 12 participants each," she continues.

Both demo kitchens are serviced by two commercial prep kitchens for wash-up and food preparation.

"We did extensive research nationwide in similar showrooms to determine the need for a fully equipped prep kitchen," says Hamilton-Gray.

The workability of this type of design was the key concern. Appliances are housed in laminate wood casework, with the ability to change out models economically. A cave-like wine grotto showcases wine refrigeration products, while a large bar showcases bar appliances and provides an entertaining area for visitors to the showroom.

Cross-Continental & Custom

Branding of a product is often done by design professionals as an afterthought. However, for Henrybuilt, it was the impetus for opening a design showroom in the first place.

Lisa Day, director of marketing and public relations for Seattle-based Henrybuilt, says the company started out as a custom contemporary kitchen builder. The successful expansion of its product branding has led the company to expand into a total home division.

"In 2008, we launched Henrybuilt Whole House, expanding our product line to include storage systems for the entire home," says Day.

Henrybuilt opened for business in 2001 and opened the doors to its first showroom in Seattle in 2002.

"In 2008, we moved to a larger space a few doors down," she reports. The new space, she says, is a perfect fit. "It's a great corner location on Western Avenue in the center of Seattle's design district."

Both the Seattle and New York locations display the company's signature contemporary, spare and wide-open style. "The space really lets the products take center stage," Day says.

Updating the showroom is a top priority, although Day concedes it would be impossible to show everything the company's designers are capable of creating.

"Because Henrybuilt has customizable kitchen systems, the product on display is only a representation of what the company is capable of doing.

"A Henrybuilt designer works with each client to create a kitchen specifically suited to their needs," she concludes.