Extending Your Showroom

You’ve begun the work day. You’re already lost in your routine, when, suddenly, you hear the voice.

“If you build it, they will come.”

You turn, you look, and no one is there.

Again, you hear it: “If you build it, they will come.”

Now, with apologies to W.P. Kinsella and Phil Alden Robinson, book author and screenplay writer, respectively, for the 1989 film, “Field of Dreams,” the decision to plow under your corn to build a baseball diamond for dead ball players is a no-brainer – of course you do it – it’s for baseball!

But, for you, the decision is all about a showroom. And you can’t help but wonder, if you build it, will they come… really?

Perhaps you’re thinking about, or in the process of, opening a new showroom. Or maybe you’re considering changing locations to increase traffic or get a more affluent clientele. Maybe you’ve been in a showroom for years and want something more ­­– more space, displays, square footage for other-room displays, or a second floor for bath displays.

Whatever the case, it’s true, “if you build it, they will come” – but only if they know you’re out there, and only when they’re ready.

Your challenge is to let potential clients know you exist and to help them become ready to buy. It’s about marketing to “extend your showroom” and generate traffic.

Showroom owners’ expectations and even desires for the type and number of clients they hope to attract and sign vary widely. Some want a steady stream of potential clients pulling off the road to browse, while other showrooms are closed to all but those who make appointments.

Determining where you fit is a business decision. Staffing requirements, space needs and other variables for the first scenario are very different from the appointment-only showroom. In any case there are ways to increase your showroom traffic.

WEB SITE

When it comes to extending your showroom beyond its physical space, your top priority should be your Web site. At this stage of the game, everyone should have some sort of Internet presence.

This is the quintessential extension of your showroom. That’s because it’s open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week; this valuable marketing tool is the salesperson that never sleeps.

Let your site tell your whole story. It should sell your showroom and you as a professional, talk about your experience, highlight the products you carry and show as broad a portfolio of projects as possible (see related story, Page 86).

Max Isley, CMKBD, owner of Hampton Kitchens, Inc., of Raleigh, NC, was among the first dealers to develop an Internet presence. “I use my [Web] site to tell our story, and I support the information with photography. As a result, our Web site is only one of two advertising channels we [need to] use to market our firm.”

Marvin W. Towler, owner of Architectural Kitchenworks, Inc. of Eatontown, NJ, recently opened a showroom. “I made sure I included the design and development of a Web site among my start-up costs,” he notes. “And, although is not yet fully operational – I only have a live home page with contact information right now – I know this is the best way to communicate with my potential clients. In fact, I am going to add a feature called Dezynepad that will give me the capability to work online with my clients.”

Serious consumers are now often shopping online long before they pick up a phone. According to the Web site shop.org, a March 2005 study by Kelsey Group and ConStat found that “70% of U.S. adults use the Internet as an information source when shopping locally for products and services – up from 60% in October 2003.

“These figures put the Internet on par with newspapers as a local shopping information resource, and suggest that the Internet is on track to surpass newspapers as a consumer influencer in the very near future.”

David J. Mackowski, CGR, CAPS, president of Quality Design and Construction, Inc. of Raleigh, NC, says, “We originally had an unprofessional Web site and have since hired someone who knows what they are doing. Our Web designer provided expertise in design, as well as search engine placement. In many cases, our site has been the reason we got the job over other firms.”

More kitchen dealers are seeing their clients following the direct link from viewing a Web address (either through a search engine or from more traditional marketing channels, such as visiting the site, calling the dealer and making the appointment).

Michael Teipen, CMKBD, Allied Member ASID, owner of Kitchens by Teipen, Inc. in Greenwood, IN, puts his firm’s Web address on everything from its sign, business cards and literature to our advertising. “Plus, we make every attempt to have reciprocal links with our vendors and associations.”

SEMINARS

Of course Web sites are only the beginning. As a kitchen and bath dealer or designer, you are an expert. So, how do you take advantage of your own expertise to make people realize how valuable your knowledge and skills are?

Consider offering educational seminars to the community. Be sure they are not sales pitches, but rather set them up to provide useful information to the potential client – and invite the press. You will soon become the community expert, increasing your notoriety and sales.

R.B. Davis, president of Signature Kitchens in Ft. Mitchell, KY, provides this advice for putting together a seminar: “Don Boico [of Classic Kitchen & Bath, in Roslyn, NY] once told me that ‘your first seminar is always full,’ which means plan a seminar, pick a date to give that seminar, but also pick an earlier date with no intention of giving the seminar. Advertise both dates and when the prospects call to pre-register, tell them the first date is already full, creating a greater sense of value and urgency to register immediately.”

Max Isley, CMKBD, also recommends conducting seminars as a way to build your brand, increase your visibility and enhance your professional reputation.
“Seminars are an excellent way to generate leads, as well as increase word-of-mouth recognition for my firm. I advertise them in the free calendar listings offered by the local newspapers. The investment is low and the potential is great,” says Isley.

But, as with any marketing venture, you may find that seminars bring in prospects, but not the “right kind.” As Teipen says, “We tried seminars a few years ago, but I didn’t feel they were effective for us. We put up signs at the local library and bought some space in the local newspaper. We had close to a dozen participants, but it didn’t generate any sales for us.”

However, just because a seminar doesn’t bring in clients, that doesn’t mean it isn’t still paying off in other ways. Seminars tend to have a ripple effect, increasing your visibility and creating a buzz about you that can get you press coverage and referrals for months to come.

However, if the people who attend your design seminars aren’t the upscale clientele you’re looking to find, try adding a different type of seminar such as cooking classes or cooking seminars.

These offer a great excuse to make use of your working displays. Plus, they can create additional avenues for finding potential clients.

As Rodger A. Kaufman, owner of Kitchen & Bath Design Center, Inc. in Ashland, OH says, “We hold cooking classes in our showroom. They are only ‘somewhat effective,’ but I like the way they keep us
in the mind of the consumer.”

Towler agrees: “I am committed to using our new showroom for seminars. We’re planning to have cooking classes, as well as a series of kitchen design seminars. I want the community to consider us a resource, as well as a premier design showroom.

So, think about tailoring the events in your showroom to the type of clients you hope to get. For instance, some showrooms feature art exhibits (see related story, Page 68), charity events or silent auctions that draw a more upscale crowd.

Davis also recommends giving away a free gift at seminars to help boost attendance. The price doesn’t have to be high, but the gesture will create a sense of good will that can pay off down the road. “Give away a free gallon of ice cream. It is very unlikely your prospect will spend the afternoon visiting other showrooms after leaving yours with ice cream!” he suggests.

HOME SHOWS

A staple of the industry for many designers is the home show. These can be expensive, but they’re an excellent way to literally take a part of your showroom to the consumer – particularly if you can creatively and memorably differentiate your business from others attending the event.

Teipen believes “home shows are an excellent source of leads for us. We rent space, pass out brochures and take the names of ‘qualified’ leads. We strive to have the best booth to set us apart.”

Of course, sometimes, differentiating yourself could just mean paying attention. As Teipen explains: “I sold my first $100,000 kitchen to a young couple walking through the show at 2 p.m. during the middle of the week. No one else they had talked to would take them seriously. I did. It works. And, although a lot of people at the show are not in our ‘target market,’ many more are.”

Towler agrees: “Home shows can be an excellent source of leads. We have already participated in two this year, and will likely take part in two more. The cost for the booth, the space and the collaterals, when amortized over the course of four or more home shows a year, is quite affordable. And when you consider the income, it is a great marketing venue for us.”

Pat Ryan, CKD, owner of Kitchen Concepts, Inc. in Cincinnati, OH, creates a “value-add” to the typical home show booth – invitations to a showroom open house. “The home show environment is not always conducive to answering questions and certainly not ‘closing the sale,’ so we plan an open house at our showroom a couple weeks later and pass out invitations at our booth. This gives serious consumers an invitation to visit us after they’ve had time to recuperate from the home show frenzy,” Ryan explains.

RELATIONSHIPS

Your relationship with past clients and allied professionals in your area is another way to extend your showroom. Each one of these individuals is a potential salesperson for your business. But they are only effective representatives if you maintain a connection with them.

Whether you send eNewsletters, regular-mail newsletters, letters, birthday cards, coupons or magazine subscriptions – or even if you simply call from time to time – you must keep your name in front of these potential salespeople in order to reap the benefit of the good will you’ve built through your dealings with them.

This can work both with past clients and other allied professionals with whom you may have worked successfully in the past – or even those with whom you have not worked, but with whom you feel you could benefit from a mutual partnership.

Gretchen Cutsler, director of marketing for Kitchen Design Center, Inc. in Beaufort, SC is a strong proponent of building and developing relationships. “We regularly send out electronic newsletters called ‘Ask the CKD.’ These are e-mailed to architects, builders, interior designers and sales professionals. Company president Barry Cutsler, CKD, answers questions these allied professionals have asked him.”

Cutsler insists that she “never hears ‘no’ when asking allied professionals for their business. Keep probing with questions such as, ‘Are you happy with your current cabinet company?’ and ‘Why?’ Eventually they will ask you to quote on a job.”

Some dealers have established incentive programs for past clients, allied professionals and realtors to encourage relationships. You may decide it’s worth a percentage of the job to establish your firm as the key referral for kitchen and bath projects.

Becoming “partners” is another marketing opportunity. For example, you may give entertainment center cabinetry to an HDTV dealer for his showroom, while in exchange you get an HDTV for yours. Each of you place signage in the other’s showroom. You may also consider similar relationships with appliance, tile or flooring dealers.

According to Teipen, “I think partnering is one of the best things a kitchen and bath professional can do. We are all very small firms, and the more we can team with another business or two, the bigger we look to the public. We also gain credibility. If a client sees us on the showroom floor of a well-known firm [in a complementary area], the ‘approval by association’ really works. We just sold a job that was right at $100,000. The client lives 35 miles away and came to the appliance store near me. The appliance salesperson recommended me and the rest is history.”

IF YOU BUILD IT

These four ideas are just the beginning. As with any business, in any industry (with the possible exception of baseball), “if you build it, they will not come” – not until they are told why they should. Extending your showroom means marketing it, and giving them myriad reasons to come.

One of the most common responses to the question “Do you market your showroom?” is “No, I don’t need to. All my business comes from referrals.”

However, even referrals need to be reminded that you’re out there waiting patiently for them to come to you.

If your business is successful simply by sitting back and letting the referrals come to you, imagine how much more successful it could be if you spent time actively marketing – even if it’s just to those past clients who are doling out referrals for you.

“We are in a small mom-and-pop industry,” believes Teipen. “However, people need to
invest funds in marketing. It’s something most of us have no experience doing. I would advise every business owner to interview someone who can help them establish a marketing program that will [specifically] work for them.”

Towler advises: “Do some brand development for your firm. Design your showroom to meet your target market. Don’t try to be everything to everybody – create a niche for yourself and tie your marketing into branding that niche.”

Regardless of your firm’s budget or its location, or even the size of your showroom, marketing should be an integral part of your firm’s overall business plan. And, remember, a good marketing plan is an integral key to your firm’s success.

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