It wasn’t so long ago that showrooms were all about the show. They were created, designed and configured to show product. Or show design ideas. Or show color trends and interesting material applications.
Any way about it, displays were king, and whoever had the most and the best displays quite often “won” – at least in the eyes of the customer.
But in a society where multi-tasking has become standard operating procedure, kitchen and bath dealers have found that even the “best of show” doesn’t cut it anymore, not with consumers who are perpetually in motion, forever looking to maximize every last second of free time. After all, with the hectic pace of today’s busy world, who has time to sit back and enjoy a show – even if the show is spectacular?
Fortunately, savvy showroom owners have evolved with this trend, creating new and improved showrooms that are every bit as multi-functional as their stressed out, time-strapped clientele. The result? Showrooms that might more aptly be called “do-rooms” (see related Editorial, page 9).
Sure, these showrooms still showcase products, design trends and interesting material applications. But unlike their predecessors, they are neither static nor passive places. They show, and tell, and teach, and entertain and – perhaps most importantly – act as a live selling tool that works every bit as hard as the firm’s sales staff.
When it comes to creating a successful – and spectacular – showroom, every little detail counts, from location, signage and displays to the integration of multimedia elements, conference areas, live displays, children’s play areas, cooking demonstrations and more.
This month, Kitchen & Bath Design News looks at five innovative showrooms that have become a key part of the kitchen and bath selling process by integrating elements of service, technology, education, product and design.
Technology is the hottest thing happening at the newly opened NYLOFT Philadelphia showroom. In fact, through a partnership with B2 Technologies, NYLOFT Philadelphia is able to demo state-of-the-art technology featuring the latest version of Microsoft’s Media Center and Itel’s Viiv Technology.
According to NYLOFT Philadelphia president Edward Trupkovich, “The B2 multimedia system creates an environment for presenting information through Microsoft’s latest operating system, Media Center, which will allow customers to view the showroom’s entire product line through digital photography, video and digital music.”
It all begins when prospective clients enter the showroom, where they are greeted by three plasma televisions showcasing suppliers’ products and other educational materials. Slides, DVD and video are all incorporated to create a personalized presentation introducing customers to the showroom’s many features.
As clients move through the showroom, they are treated to a fully integrated working kitchen with seating for 20 that provides a high-tech background for cooking demonstrations and events, showcasing cutting-edge Miele and Sub-Zero appliances.
But lest all that technology make people feel the need for something cozier, the showroom also calls on the nearby Culinary Art Institute to provide chefs and students for weekly cooking demonstrations, ensuring the addition of delicious aromas wafting through the showroom.
And, the showroom also includes a coffee station, wine bar and comfortable seating areas throughout, along with consignment art work by two well known art groups. A famous sound studio in Philadelphia is also planning to showcase its students’ and artists’ work in the showroom, according to Trupkovich.
Of course a high-tech showroom has to feature cutting-edge displays, and to that end, the NYLOFT Philadelphia features a host of unusual architectural features that give the space its unique personality. There’s a large, curved wall with wavy Italian limestone, a six-foot column with spiral staircase, a lit stage area for demonstrations and an open design that creates a loft-like feel.
Unusual materials, like the teak kitchen, dramatic contrasts of richly grained wood and high-gloss lacquer, and copious lighting provide added visual appeal.
Signage is discrete, yet the three large display windows are visible to pedestrians, ensuring that the showroom gets plenty of walk-in traffic. And, the location helps, too, according to Trupkovich, who points to the showroom’s location in Center City Philadelphia, next door to a large design center and close to a host of upscale architectural firms, as a major plus.
At the Grand Rapids, MI-based Spaces Unlimited, they know that, just like with real estate, when it comes to ensuring a showroom’s success, it’s all about location, location and location.
And, as owner and senior cabinet designer Jennifer Holtrop notes, “We have an awesome location! We are in a boutique shopping plaza that specializes in unique finds. All of the businesses that surround us are destinations that our clients would also go to. And, we are located conveniently next to a major highway which allows for our out-of-town clients to visit
But while location may get prospective clients inside, it’s the showroom itself that keeps them there. According to Holtrop, the showroom is set up as a “complete design package” with each vignette including “cabinetry, trim, flooring, countertops, tile, appliances, lighting, wall treatments, furniture and accessories.” Every item in a display, right down to the accessories, is available for purchase, and Holtrop notes that, “Because we turn our merchandise quickly, we are able to constantly keep a fresh, new look in the vignettes.
“We try to keep it as residential as possible so people walking through the showroom can visualize what their home could look like,” Holtrop continues. She believes that this helps to create an “atmosphere” where clients can lose themselves in the fantasy of a new kitchen or bath, without the intrusion of elements that have a store-like feel to them.
Indeed, Holtrop knows that atmosphere is about far more than just the visuals, but rather the whole emotional experience that clients react to. To that end, she states, “We want to create a mood or a feeling for our clients as they travel through our store. [And] we want them to crave the same feeling for their personal homes.”
Working appliances enhance the “real home” feel, including a large working fireplace that creates an interesting visual, while providing added warmth and sensory appeal on those cold winter days.
The layout itself is also key to the showroom’s success, with visual lines from one display to another arranged so visitors can’t see the complete display until they are in the area. This helps draw them through the showroom, where they can see a broad array of design styles, with each area creating a complete theme, according to Holtrop.
Lighting also plays a key element in the showroom, and Holtrop notes that, “We use a tremendous amount of lighting.” This is combined with “very warm colors and a lot of different textures, [particularly] by our windows,” in order to intrigue passersby who are looking in the store front.
But the displays aren’t just there to look pretty; they also are there to educate clients. As Holtrop explains, “We’re always using our displays as learning tools. We are able to show the latest technologies and unique design concepts. People always seem to appreciate it if they can see something in person, and [using our displays], we help our clients understand the importance of center lines, having a specific focal point, how to blend colors and textures and how to make cabinetry look like fine furniture pieces.”
The “experience” in the title of the HOMExperience showroom in Carmel, IN is more than just a catchy showroom name. Indeed, the HOMExperience store marks the first time a home builder has centered a design studio for new- home buyers around a retail store front in a high-end mall, according to director Mark Flagg.
So, the “experience” is a multi-faceted one, with an 8,000 sq.-ft. retail center that combines a home retail store, a customer Design Studio and a new home information center – all under one roof.
According to Flagg, this “concept store” allows new-home buyers and others not only to design and personalize their home plans but also shop for everything from kitchen cabinetry to leather furniture.
The venture is a partnership of sorts: Custom home builder Estridge Companies partnered with vendors dubbed “Gold” partners – those that invested significant dollars – to build the Design Studio, according to Flagg. Gold partners include MasterBrand Cabinets, Kohler, Innovative Solutions, Anderson, Tremain, Westfield Lighting, Kathy Ireland International and Lafayette Window Treatments.
Estridge builds about 400 homes a year in the Indianapolis area, and the company decided: “Why not leverage this position and take a chance to offer our customers an ongoing life experience where they can always come back here and we can offer them furnishings for their home and other design solutions?”
The location is an upscale outdoor mall that draws consumers with a variety of stores related to the home, along with eight trendy restaurants and a host of special events, such as free summer concerts. To add excitement, the company hosts live cooking demonstrations Thursday through Sunday.
From the sidewalk, visitors can see “what we call our home decor store, HOMExperience, which has a home environment and offers 2,000 sq. ft. for home accessories in a very non-traditional retail setting,” explains HOMExperience store manager Margaret Whelihan. “It’s not just shelves of things; it’s really more of an environment [that offers a] fun vibe.” There’s even a stage that can be used to showcase merchandise or special events, such as having someone on stage demonstrating faux painting techniques.
From there, Flagg notes, “You’re looking right into our Design Studio. The kitchen has a big 92” television that has current news, HGTV or a local sporting event on it.” Trendy, upbeat music also adds to the “fun” environment.
The Design Studio takes up the other 6,000 sq. ft., and features five kitchen vignettes, along with “a very expansive cabinet area with over 70 different doors in all the different colors and styles we offer,” according to Flagg. A countertop area showcases granite, Centura and solid surface, while a Kohler display features a shower, two bathtub settings, half a dozen sinks and a variety of different faucets – with as many as 50 offerings.
There are also areas devoted to window treatments, storage solutions, lighting, home networking systems, flooring and a sound controlling area by Owens Corning.
Further back is “a little electronic kiosk which visitors can use to learn about our homes and neighborhoods that Estridge builds.”
At The Kitchen Design Gallery in Lenexa, KS, Shawn McCune, CKD, knows that you have to showcase something truly unique if you’re going to capture consumers’ attention. McCune also knows that showrooms have to appeal to all the senses, not just the eyes.
So, when creating a showroom display that would have real “wow power,” he focused on designing something that would not only combine beauty and functionality, but also appeal to prospective clients on a full-sensory level.
The result was a vignette with a unique focal point – a designer waterfall created from iridescent glass tile. The piece not only provides an eye-catching backdrop to the designer glass hood and custom cooktop, it also provides wonderful, nature-inspired sound effects, with the running water an appealing auditory backdrop that relaxes customers without distracting them from the striking displays.
And, to add another interesting element to the design, he added two wall cabinets with a wide stainless steel hinged front that swings up to open, yet when closed, creates the illusion of a single cabinet. It’s these kind of unique design elements that help differentiate a showroom, McCune believes, adding both visual and functional appeal, while making a dramatic visual statement.
In fact, the showroom display was so striking, it captured first-place honors in the National Kitchen & Bath Association’s 2006 Design Competition.
Of course, focusing on the details can also give showrooms a competitive edge. That’s because this sends a message to consumers that the showroom will take care of the entire project, right down to the “little things.” For The Kitchen Design Gallery, that means displays that include items like removable inset cutting boards, edge-lit shelves to hold decorative items and soft-close drawer guides on cabinet drawers.
The end result is a showroom with unique design elements that make it stand out – while also assuring clients that their kitchen or bath will not only be beautiful, but also carefully thought out, right down to the very last detail.
While everyone likes the idea of “freshening up” their showroom, sometimes it takes outside forces to commit to a complete overhaul. In the case of the Architectural Artworks, Inc. showroom in Winter Park, FL, a brand new look was the result of a ceiling cave in. Forced to move to a new, contemporary space, Joan DesCombes, CKD, realized the new location provided the perfect opportunity to take advantage of the latest technology and design materials.
But how do you let clients know you’ve got a whole new look? For DesCombes, it was simple: She made sure the first view of the new showroom through the glass front windows would be of a kitchen display that would be simply unforgettable. To do this, she began with a powerful splash color that would be impossible to miss – a dramatic turquoise lava stone table top, inset with mother of pearl and paua shell mosaics.
Continuing the theme, she then incorporated a taller island countertop made of concrete inset with semi-precious gemstones. After all, who can resist precious stones in any setting?
DesCombes also wanted to differentiate her showroom by including a lot of upscale and unusual material choices to show clients the wide array of options available for personalizing their projects. Thus, she incorporated not only the lava stone and concrete countertops, and semi-precious gems and shells, but also a burgundy slate countertop, glass terrazzo flooring and aroko wood sink cover. She knew that even if clients didn’t choose these materials for their own kitchens, they would make an exciting visual statement that makes it clear to prospective customers that Architectural Artworks is on the cutting edge of design.
Of course, in such a contemporary showroom, technology obviously had to play a key role, so DesCombes included a state-of-the-art, flat-screen TV concealed in a cabinet, which showcases a DVD of her work for clients visiting the showroom.
The result is a one-of-a-kind showroom that is contemporary in both appearance and functionality.