Showroom Savvy

A clean layout, displays that creatively showcase myriad products and attentive, informative personnel are the hallmarks of a successful showroom. That’s the consensus of several experts who have spoken recently on the topic of effective and alluring showroom layout and strategy.

“People expect to see… a significant amount of products in a showroom setting today. They’re more savvy and sophisticated in terms of the products they want in their homes, in their kitchens and baths. They want more value for their money,” notes Joan Eisenberg, CMKBD, ASID, and owner of JME Consulting Inc. in Baltimore, MD. She spoke extensively about the topic at her seminar entitled “Transforming Your Showroom from ‘Ho Hum’ to ‘Oh Wow’” which took place during the recent Kitchen & Bath Design & Remodeling Expo in King of Prussia, PA.

“Your showroom should give potential clients not only a good idea of what kind of products are out there, but it should spark ideas, get them excited and give them a good idea about what kind of job and service you can provide,” says Eisenberg.

“The manner in which you display products should also reflect the type of jobs your firm does. It should be based on the business model of your firm,” states Ellen Cheever, CMKBD, ASID and owner of the Wilmington, DE-based design firm, Ellen Cheever and Associates. She explored the topic in depth in her recent “Profitable Showroom Design” seminar in Stamford, CT – part of an ongoing seminar series done in conjunction with Kitchen & Bath Design News and the Hackettstown, NJ-based National Kitchen & Bath Association.

“Will you display only products that you sell or products from allied businesses? Will you show and sell appliances, or simply refer clients to an associated appliance dealer? Or, will you have no involvement with appliances at all? Are you just a kitchen firm, or do you also design baths?” she asks. “These are just some of the questions dealers need to answer in order to create a showroom that first, makes sense, and second, creates excitement. Remember, you cannot be all things to all people.”

According to retail expert Paco Underhill, designer professionals should really examine the first impression their showrooms make. He encourages owners to travel the path that their customers take.

“It starts in the exterior of the building and the parking lot. Stand in your lot or outside your showroom and imagine that you are a client looking at the showroom for the first time,” advises Underhill, the New York-based CEO of Envirosell, Inc., a research and consulting firm focusing on retail issues. “Does the parking lot befit a luxury operation, or is it pitted with cracks and potholes? Examine signage. Does it communicate the message that the showroom wants?”

Underhill was given the chance to observe several showrooms by the Bethesda, MD-based DPHA in early 2006, and later gave a keynote speech about how showrooms can be more enticing and consumer-friendly at the Fifth Annual DPHA Conference in October.

EBB & FLOW

Inside, Eisenberg feels showrooms need to have a layout that flows well and directs clients through the displays in a logical way.

“The very first thing potential clients should see is something that ‘wows’ them. It doesn’t necessarily have to be the most elaborate or expensive display, but it should be eye-catching – whether it’s via the cabinet style or an accent piece or paint color. It should entice people to walk through it,” she asserts.

“There should also be several ‘wow” displays throughout the showroom, and in between there should be several displays that are more subtle, down-to-earth. There ought to be one to three full displays in a showroom, depending on the size, that mix themes and display sizes. They should be interspersed with smaller vignettes that are also in different shapes and sizes,” she elaborates.

“One display should represent a real kitchen, but a display, by and large, should be more about creativity, and showcase what’s possible,” adds Cheever.

And don’t forget about getting into the zone – literally. According to Underhill, in every retail operation there are zones. “The zone at the entrance to a showroom is the transition zone. It’s the area that the client first enters that causes a change in peripheral vision and a reaction to changing light. The goal of the transition zone is to slow down the client. Changing floor or wall coloring can accomplish this… Showrooms could also consider some type of physical barrier that marks the difference between the door way and the entrance to another world.”

In many showrooms the transition zone ends with a receptionist or greeter. Underhill suggests that showrooms that have receptionists could make the transition more comfortable by offering a cup of coffee.

Indeed, clients must be greeted graciously, says Cheever. She offers one successful approach: a sign that reads, “You are welcome to browse in our showroom; designers are available by appointment.”

“I have a major problem when I walk into a showroom and feel like no one is there. I feel strongly that there should be an area with a person who’s visible to people entering the showroom. At the very least, there should be a camera that shows staff when someone arrives so that a staff member greets that person,” adds Eisenberg.

The greeter should also speak with the client so that a proper introduction can be made when a salesperson becomes available, says Underhill. Furthermore, showrooms should have albums featuring some of their most successful projects available for clients to peruse while waiting. Or, they could set up a home theater display that’s active and shows projects and company information on a loop, adds Eisenberg.

ENTICING DISPLAYS

To make displays truly come to life, Eisenberg stresses the use of accessories.

“The styling or accessorizing of a showroom display is a key to its success. The perceived value of these showroom displays is dramatically enhanced by the right styling. So take a look at your showroom through the clients’ eyes, and see what needs to be changed,” agrees Cheever. “Doing so can change a stark ‘selling space’ into a welcoming, ‘homey’ environment.”

Eisenberg also believes that accessories such as artwork enliven displays and extend their shelf life. “Typical displays last 18 months to three years. I would suggest that 18 months after a display is installed, you evaluate it and figure out what can be done to update it,” she says.

“Start small. Remove or add accessories to change the feeling of the display. Change the wall or cabinet color. Accent a few cabinets with color. Replace a countertop. Change the cabinet door. And at the end of three years, you’ll have changed everything in the display, including the fixtures, if it’s a full bath, or the appliances, if it’s a full kitchen, without getting hit with full replacement costs every three years,” advises Eisenberg.

Cheever also suggests using fabric such as towels, place mats or napkins to add “touch” to the display. In addition, she suggests focusing on simple neutrals, tribal-colored pieces or one vibrant color in contemporary settings. Another idea is to use much more colorful, patterned materials in traditional settings, she adds.

However, be careful not to over-accessorize, warns Eisenberg, or else you run the risk over-stimulating clients’ eyes. “I’m a big on themes, whether it’s a garden theme, for instance, or a period theme or an overall style. They help solidify the design, and you can style and accessorize accordingly.”

“Appreciate the value of simplicity. Be sure the displays are crisp and clean. Clear out the clutter. Re-accessorize simply to update the look. Remove all counter cards. Remove the sales awards – those should be in the office area. Put beautifully framed artwork or photographs in their place. You can even put framed thank-you notes from satisfied clients or a handful of design awards,” advises Cheever.

Eisenberg and Cheever agree that, above all, showrooms should always be kept clean, and that there should never be any missing items.

Additionally, be mindful of the noise level and of the type of background noise clients hear. “What does your showroom sound like? Is it calm? What kind of music do you play?” asks Cheever. “Today it’s key to maintain a calm, clutter-free, Zen-like showroom that makes people feel the focus is on them.”

When it comes to vignettes, it’s not the number of vignettes a showroom has, “it’s how well you use the ones that you put in, and attention to the detail is key,” adds Underhill.

To that end, “every room that’s accessible to the public should be designed as a display and accessorized,” believes Eisenberg. With regard to offices, there are two schools of thought.

One, says Eisenberg, is to completely conceal them from the public, and just concentrate on making sure meeting rooms and the reception area are warm and friendly, showcase products and ideas and reflect the design sensibility of the showroom. The other, she says, is to make the designers’ offices into the place where they meet with clients. In this case, all offices should be fully appointed and be kept clean and neat at all times. “It’s up to the showroom owner to decide what works best,” she says.

Lastly, displays are also a chance to partner with a local appliance dealer if a showroom doesn’t sell appliances, a local computer store if the showroom features home offices or a local home theater store if the showroom features living rooms, Great Rooms and media rooms, notes Eisenberg.

PERSONABLE PERSONNEL

Because showrooms are not just competing with each other or with big-box stores, but also with the different needs and wants of their clients, they need to tap into clients’ desire to attain a certain level of luxury. Many clients want to “live the dream,” even if they’re not quite sure what that dream looks like.

Underhill broke down the quest for the dream into three buying stages: the first is a scouting mission; second is a defining mission; third is the buying mission. Showroom salespeople need to recognize each client’s mission, he says, so that they establish a relationship based on trust and help their clients see them as a knowledgeable guide on their quest – whether it’s to attain a certain dream or fix a problem (see related story, below).

“Personnel should be able to relate to their clients. That’s true whether they’re successful Baby Boomers who are willing and able to spend on cozy, more traditional spaces [or possibly downsize to smaller but still upscale condos] or invest in a second home – or younger Gen-Xers, who are looking to spend less on warm, casual, contemporary, high-tech spaces because their homes will generally not be their last,” concludes Cheever.

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