Room to Grow

While most business people believe brick-and-mortar success comes from “location, location, location,” there are actually many factors that go into creating an effective kitchen and bath showroom.

The fact is, it is not simply enough to make a showroom visible; it also needs to create a strong impression via an almost home-like experience, with unique merchandise that will invigorate a client’s senses – and sense of wonder.

Jeff Burton, president of San Francisco, CA-based The Bath and Beyond, noted in his “Legacy Lecture” during the recent South Florida Regional Meeting of the Decorative Plumbing & Hardware Association: “Everything in a showroom should be flexible. Walls should be moveable to allow you to change the daily appearance of your showroom.”

He also stressed: “We’re in the water business, so there should be running water, such as water fountains [in conjunction] with pleasant music.”

According to design experts interviewed by Kitchen & Bath Design News, other tactics that can be implemented include creating an experiential environment through technology, or setting up presentation areas for customers to view design portfolios.

Tom Kelly, president/owner of Eugene, OR-based Neil Kelly Design/Build Remodeling, adds: “Showrooms are like fashion. They should be up to date and edgy. However, they also need to be warm and friendly, with a receiving spirit.”

Hank Matheny, ASID, whose firm Haskell Interiors Design Collection in Cleveland, TN, earned first-place honors in the

“Showroom” category for the 2007 NKBA Design Competition, adds that full-room settings help greatly in this regard.

He explains: “Our customers tend to buy rooms, not products, [and] we would rather capture their imagination by showing everything in a room setting. It also helps people visualize how things will look in their homes.”

In order for a showroom to be deemed effective – and profitable (in terms of the return on assets invested into it) – it must reflect the firm’s best work, including products that a visitor would want to take home or that feature the ubiquitous “wow” factor.

That “wow” factor can also be presented in the form of a concept or marketing promotion, such as the aroma of home-baked cookies, plasma televisions that loop flashy design presentations, or airline miles to those that spend $5,000 or more at the showroom, as Burton does with his firm.

“We’re in the showroom business. That means we have to put on a show,” he concludes.

The Cozy Confines

Bill Wolf, CAPS, uses the tidy 1,000 square feet of space in his DreamMaker Bath & Kitchen of Greater Grand Rapids showroom, based in Grand Rapids, MI, to prove one point: Bigger does not always mean better.

“[Our showroom] lets people visualize products and the showroom as being part of a home. For instance, we have a red-and-black room that features a working fireplace with glass tiles in the surround that definitely has a ‘wow’ factor to it.”

He continues: “There is a nice flow in different areas. The fireplace room can also be shut off and be used as a private room.”

Wolf adds that his showroom relies on a wide selection of products that are accessorized and held together with a unifying color theme. To that end, the firm has incorporated subtle touches that will enhance interaction between staff and customers.

He explains: “There is a lot of variety that may not come to the eye right away, such as types of trims, or corners and drywalls, or crown moldings. Other items include pull-out drawer styles and lots of tiles and countertop differences.”

Wolf notes that eventually the firm would like to feature three styles of bathrooms – “good, better, best – where people can see each one rather than have someone talk about them.”

Currently, the showroom features a front area that works as the main showroom, and a back area referred to as the color – or selection – room, which separates the showroom into two parts.

“We also frequently bake cookies here and welcome visitors to give them a good experience,” he adds.

The showroom, which hosts roughly 30 visitors a week, also has strategic lighting that enhances product offerings and makes the selection process easier for visitors.

“We try to help people with as many selections as possible, so we have little tube lights and halogen lights, as well as undercabinet lights,” he offers.

“I think our customers can have a great experience here, especially with the way they are handled by our staff and with the way the showroom looks,” he concludes.

A Tasteful Environment

When the words “taste” and “high-end kitchens” are used together, thoughts often turn to mouth-watering cuisine.

However, Lynn H. McLain, CKD, v.p. of Charleston, SC-based Signature Kitchens & Baths of Charleston, Inc., offers a more fashion-oriented connotation when discussing her 7,500-square-foot showroom.

“We try to make sure that every display is tastefully done so that we come off as a company that deals in fine products,” she says. “Everything we do is done to be as complete as [possible].”

She continues: “We wanted to show full displays with appropriate appliances so people can get a feel for a total look. Our displays serve as different rooms, and each of the kitchens offers a definite style.”

McLain adds that this approach dispels any discussion of how small firms compete with the inventory of “Big Box” chains.

By the same token, “I don’t think anybody will walk through our doors and think they are in a mom-and-pop showroom,” she stresses.

While a recent showroom expansion significantly grew profits for the firm, it is the experience for clients who come to the showroom that makes the difference, she adds.

“I constantly tell my staff that customer service, phone etiquette and friendliness toward customers before, during and after the sale [is critical], because a great deal of our business is referral-based,” she says.

In fact, the showroom staff is so keen on the customer experience that each employee – including the company president – takes turns inspecting for dust on glass shelves or stray samples in order to guarantee that the showroom always looks its best.

The showroom also features wide, open aisles for disabled customers, as well as a handicap-accessible bathroom and a large elevator for easy traffic among the three different showroom levels.

“If you have a tight-feeling showroom, you don’t get a good feeling,” she asserts. “I would rather have one less display than have everything feel crowded.”

In fact, overcrowding is the precise reason that she has decided to open another 8,000-square-foot-facility two miles away from the current location.

“We just couldn’t adequately display the different appliance offerings that we carry,” she says. “It’s a display opportunity, and people need to see the appliances before they make the purchase.”

Green with Envy

Ask Tom Kelly, and he will tell you that he has used his three showrooms to make people green with envy.

“When you go into [our] showroom, the thing that is probably the most distinguishing for us and our mother showroom would be the green emphasis,” he comments. “We have been involved in all things green and sustainable for a long time, and a lot of our products are green.”

The firm represents a variety of cabinet products, as well as its own cabinet line. To complement these offerings, the showroom also features a variety of enhancements.

He explains: “We try to spend the extra effort to do very good lighting design, for instance. We also have a flat-screen television that shows photos of projects. It is a pretty good way to relate all of the things that we do.”

In order to capitalize on the current eco-conscious climate, Kelly insists that an educated staff – more than showroom size or even products at his three showrooms – is what creates an informative and personalized experience.

“We believe it is important to have an experienced designer talk to the [customers]. We have about 25 designers who work for us, and they are all going to do their stint in the showroom and greet customers so that the customer gets something more than just a walk-through,” he explains.

“The main thing for us is the people. The reception that the client receives from the staff is the most important thing [with regard to] making a first impression.”

He continues: “I want customers to be able to judge the ability of our firm when they come into our showroom. They should be able to see the level of design that we [provide].”

To make his showrooms true destination locations – while simultaneously continuing the education of his customers – Kelly has maintained a seminar program that the company began some 20 years ago. The monthly program – which covers a variety of topics related to the kitchen and bath – offers attendees information about recent product line launches (and sometimes a free lunch). These presentations can draw anywhere from 40 to 300 people.

“Ultimately, your showroom sets the standard for the kind of work you do. The work has to be of excellent quality,” he stresses. “It is also the benchmark that you set when you have really challenging clients, so it really needs to be clean and well accessorized [in order for it to be successful].”

Making a Splash

Many have asked “What’s in a name?” but Deb Dumel, sales/design consultant for Newton, MA-based SPLASH Showroom, The Portland Group, knows the answer.

“We have a lot of equity with the name SPLASH, so we feel it is a very important thing for us. It is fun and whimsical,” she comments. “There is a certain image to uphold with the name, and SPLASH is something [that resonates] and that more people can relate to.”

The same holds true for many of the high-end product lines that the firm chooses to carry, she comments. “Our showroom reflects more exclusive product lines. Customers will come here for very specific powder room and high-end kitchen items, for instance. We also have product lines that are not always displayed, but we can always take them to our other locations.”

According to Dumel, the firm runs four showrooms. The Newton location is 10,000 square feet, while the others range from 2,500 square feet to 4,000 square feet, respectively.

“The bigger the showroom, the better, in my opinion,” she says. “With a larger showroom, we can display more product with different kinds of styles and designs for the customer to see.”

But the idea of a larger showroom must be kept in check, she acknowledges. “With respect to displaying more product, it is good. On the other hand, we constantly keep in mind that [so many product choices] can be overwhelming for the customer.”

Dumel also notes the importance of displaying merchandise the way it would look in an actual bath or kitchen.

“The key is to have the visual presentation in vignettes so that people get the feeling that their bathroom or kitchen could look exactly like it does here,” she offers.

To keep clients and employees informed about its offerings, the company offers weekly sales training about product lines, and also sends employees outside the showroom to get hands-on training from vendors of certain product lines.

“Training is a very important part of informing the customer,” she notes. “The end consumer visits our showroom, so educating them and giving them product knowledge is key to our showroom’s success.”

Fittingly, the showrooms of SPLASH offer working vignettes with running water, as well as rooms designed specifically to classify brands of product.

To further enhance the showroom experience, Dumel notes that the firm utilizes spotlights as well as daylighting effects to put featured products in the best possible light.

She explains: “Our showroom is a very well-lit environment. You will never see a dark corner [and] not be able to see what color the product is. Every product is highlighted with some sort of lighting. We go through a lot of lightbulbs here!”
Conversely, she adds that the layout of the showroom makes it easy for customers to shop, as well.

“You can easily walk around the perimeter of the showroom and then cut across back and forth and search for product throughout a lot of different rooms. It is a very appealing showroom.”