Raising the Stature of Bath Design is Critical

That famed philosopher Charlie Brown once said, “Potential is man’s greatest burden.” Brown was referring to spring and the start of another baseball season. He could have been speaking about the bath, however.

It seems like only yesterday the average bathroom was totally utilitarian, featuring a single faucet over a sink, a tub and some sort of a shower arrangement. Times have changed, and so has the perception that the bath is a solely purpose-driven room.

Or has it? As an industry, it is our role, responsibility and mission to move bath design higher on the priority lists of architects, interior designers, builders and the public.

Do you know the bath’s place on your customer’s priority list? What is the bath’s main competition for building/remodeling dollars? Is it the kitchen, home theater, outdoor living space or a three-car garage? If you don’t know, find out.

There’s a limited amount of resources on every project. Your goal is to ensure that the products sold in your showroom are considered priorities.

Showcasing the Bath

Bathrooms now rival any other room for style and functionality. Showrooms need to inspire and educate all parties on the bath’s potential.

Trade professionals will not come to your showroom unless there is a reason for them to do so. Are you providing reasons? When was the last time a designer stopped by on their own just to see what’s new?

Give tradespeople reasons to visit. Provide the tools that designers need to present elegant designs to their clients early in the process. If you build the image correctly, designers will not only talk about your business, they will specify products that you offer and purchase them from you.

Walk into Coach, Tiffany or other luxury retailers. What ambience is projected? Does your showroom embody the same type of atmosphere? Your showroom should be comparable if not superior to other fine retailers of high-end merchandise.

John Howe of K & B Galleries in Chicago understands the importance of look and location. “We located our Merchandise Mart showroom on a floor dedicated to designer furniture. We are not with the other traditional kitchen and bath showrooms, because they are only visited when the designer has a specific job. We placed our showroom next to studios that interior designers visit regularly to stay in touch with new styles and trends. Being next door is a tremendous advantage, because we can show them what is new in the bath. Our location makes K & B Galleries a resource for their businesses.”

A lesson in Business 101 is location, location and location. It might cost a bit more, but K & B Galleries’ position is in large measure the reason for its penetration into the designer market and its success.

At a time when most showrooms are battening down the hatches, Union Hardware in Bethesda, MD is investing in its well-established showroom to transform itself into the finest venue for decorative plumbing and hardware in the national capital region, bar none.

“We want our showroom to be a place that designers, architects and homeowners want to visit,” notes company senior v.p. David Goldberg. “Today’s market gives Union Hardware the opportunity to change the way people think. I want this to be the place where they will see products that they cannot find anywhere else. Our unique and evolving product mix, along with our versatile product presentations, will help educate and captivate designers and architects.

“The new merchandise that we have installed in our showrooms is on par with luxury products found in any design center. We are constantly receiving information on new bath products that defy imagination. Our commitment to our customers is to have those products on our floor,” Goldberg concludes.

To grab the attention of the style-conscious public, a showroom must be unique, easy to navigate and filled with products that pop. The best showrooms take chances. They are constantly changing. They present products that are wildly different and carry a price tag that will raise some eyebrows. Pricing in a luxury showroom for unique, innovative and functionally superior products should never be a concern. Showcase your one-of-a-kind merchandise as you would envision it in a multimillion-dollar home.

Sensory Experiences

It’s important to remember, too, that we are in the water business. Displays need to work. They need to spotlight the functional and technological superiority that they deliver. This is a huge advantage brick-and-mortar showrooms have over the Internet. The Web does not enable a customer to feel the pulse of a showerhead or experience the luster of a PVD finish.

As bath technology continues to improve, each water-flowing display becomes a treat for the eyes and a feast for your customer’s imagination. Dynamic products in interactive displays attract dynamic customers.

Howe relates, “Most designers visit a showroom for two reasons. One is to spec a job. The second is to see what’s new. If we are not known as a place to see what’s new, we lose a lot of opportunity to teach designers what is special about our products and our business. Product is the real bait.”

At a time when everyone is scrutinizing each purchase, there may not be a better opportunity to differentiate yourself in the eyes of the design community by investing in your business, making changes and outfitting your showroom with working displays and a few distinctive products that are truly unique. Is there a better way to tell the design community that you are not only viable, but also forward-thinking?

When everyone else appears to be cutting back, consider the impression you make when you promote that you are moving forward. At some point, the tide will turn. Investing now will position you to be far ahead of the competition and put you in an advantageous position to capture more market share.

To do better, you need to stay fresh. This is not an easy path, but it will pave the road to move the bathroom up in importance and give it a larger share of the budget.