Attaining Showroom Balance with New Products

In my last column, I touched on the reasons for displaying new products in your showroom and some of the ways to tell if your business is suffering from a lack of new offerings. In this month’s column I will discuss how to balance the reality of your business plan with consumer’s dreams.

For instance, we have all heard the adage “You sell what you show,” but is it true? I believe it is – especially when potential customers are unable to visualize possibilities without seeing and experiencing tangible displays. Fortunately, today’s new products are seen on television or on the Internet by consumers. But they must come to your showroom to experience these items before they buy.

Before jumping into any display changes, however, it’s important to remember that new products should make up a minimum of 25 to 35 percent of your last three years’ total sales. This figure is a good guideline because attaining this level of success indicates that you probably are offering enough new products in your merchandising. If your total product offering does not mirror this benchmark, it’s likely that your showroom is out of date and you are not encouraging the consumer to shop your category.

Worthwhile Work
As one might expect, maintaining your showroom as a destination point takes work, time and money. Ignoring your displays is much easier and less expensive, but allowing them to become stale and lifeless only hurts your bottom line.

Aligning your business with experts who make it their job to know product trends and predict which new items will sell can help you recoup the costs of new displays. Further, budgeting for updates can help prevent dramatic dips in your checkbook balance. But as you budget, don’t simply plan the lump amount; remember the details. For example, assign a certain percentage of the total to architectural or superstructure improvements, another percentage to the products themselves, as well as an amount for the installation of those products.

Managing the accuracy and timely execution of new product additions is vital, particularly since your customers will be watching. Delegate project management tasks to someone proven to understand the intricacies of such a remodeling project.

Remember, how you handle your own showroom job reflects how you might handle a customer’s project. To avoid an incomplete installation or unsightly hole in your showroom, make sure all components of the new display are on hand before removing the old one. For example, pre-installing most aspects of the new display before it’s put into its final place can ensure the installation appears seamless to the consumer.

Some kitchen and bath dealers even use their installation of new displays as a selling point, a live-action example of the detail and design understanding with which they support their projects. Making the most of your project in this way can work, as long as your risk is minimized by a well-orchestrated change-out process. It’s extremely important not to waste time or energy trying to sell old displays. Don’t draw attention to a de-constructed display, heaped in a pile in the middle of your showroom floor, by putting a “for sale” sign on it. A better option is to create a public relations event for your new display. Have visitors register to win the old display, or better yet, give it away to a good cause within your community. Publicize such an event through advertising and celebrate the giveaway at a showroom ribbon cutting introducing your brand new display.

How Much is Enough?
Once you have determined that your business could be helped by the inclusion of fresh visual merchandising, you must decide how ambitious your approach should be. Using a baseball strategy, your approach can range from just enough – a “base hit,” to playing well – a “home run,” to all-star status – a “grand slam.”

To employ a “base hit” strategy for your new products, create a new products area to spotlight an item. Consider a new countertop, sink, faucet, cabinet door or new finish surrounded with coordinating decorative materials. If appropriate, use an easel or platform and literally place a spotlight on it, along with tasteful signage calling attention to its feature as a new product. Such an area is best situated in a window or reception area, where a greeter can make conversation about “the latest thing.” Or, consider placing the spotlighted item near the refreshment station, where associates and visitors might casually converse. Changing out a new sink, faucet or appliance is definitely easier and less costly than full-blown remodeling, but it warrants immediate action. I suggest performing such minor change-outs within one month of a product’s introduction.

For a “home run,” designate an end/feature wall within or close to the selection area to display new items together. For example, use an endcap to create a décor wall that pulls together combinations of new products that coordinate. Emphasize the area with an overhead title and keep the area fresh by replacing old items with fresh offerings.

Another “home run” technique is to convert the top of a work island to accommodate inspiration boards. Using a consistent format and size, boards could be created to display new product photos, information or reviews. Flat items or decorative appointments (fabrics, laminates, wall coverings, etc.) work well for boards built into the countertop. Or, consider creating a glass-wall shadowbox to show off larger items (faucets, tile, moldings) displayed against a fashion background. This technique is an effective icebreaker and a way to call attention to your expertise of products and design combinations.

If you really want to hit a “grand slam,” it’s necessary to set your sights and know your goal. Once you have the vision, you can set to the task of realizing it. For you, it might be a single, eye-popping display. Or, perhaps you want an all-new addition to your showroom, specifically for displaying new products and design concepts in a home environment.

In either case, research is essential to find the best choices for your business. To really make an impact, look beyond the competitor across the street. Consider combinations, materials and treatments that are not commonly seen in your regional area or part of town. Go farther than what would normally sell in your mainstream, toward new products that will get people talking. It might be necessary to step a bit outside of your comfort zone to garner this type of reaction, but in the end, the risk could reap great rewards!