Showroom Planning for the Future - Part II

You may recall that in my last column, I touched on a couple of strategies kitchen and bath retailers can use in their showrooms to capture the attention ? and ultimately the sales ? of current homeowners. In summary, the ever-increasing pace of American life has brought about a change in buying habits. No longer are consumers only browsing stores and showrooms during traditional business hours. More and more, shoppers are leafing through catalogs and surfing the Internet to comparison shop, read product reviews and to buy ? at all hours of the night and day. This new "24/7 mentality" means consumers want the right merchandise, at the right time, in the right place.

All of this convenience translates into an increased interest in inspiration and immediate (if not sooner) gratification. The three generations that most closely fit this homeowner profile and are poised to purchase are Baby Boomers, Generation X and Generation Y. Each group has its own specific set of needs. Understanding and catering to these different needs helps to ensure your business can reach and attract all potential buyers.

For example, Baby Boomers have entered their post-child rearing years and are beginning to make decisions about what they want from their next stage of life. They are reinventing their homes to fit these desires and are likely to want you to "Do It For Them." Conversely, members of Generation X are in the midst of their "busy years." These "Do It Yourself" consumers are reinventing their homes to fit their personal styles, finally discarding hand-me-down furnishings. Research indicates that more than any other generation, often at least one person in a Gen X household works from home or for a home-based business. Meanwhile, members of Generation Y have reached adulthood and are beginning to set up first households. Known to use the Internet at any time for any reason, they are all about constant reinvention.

By employing one or more of a number of strategies, you can use your showroom as a tool to satisfy each of these homeowner generations. The first two strategies ? becoming a Master of Reinvention and how to utilize Experience Retail techniques ? were featured in the February issue. Three others ? Home Sweet Home, Making a Connection and Theater ? are outlined here.

Home Sweet Home
In this retail concept the showroom is set up to simulate the home environment, enabling consumers to experience products as they would in their own homes. The cold starkness of past sales floors is warmed through the use of intimate settings and realistic, welcoming details. For example, some furniture stores (including IKEA) have replaced the cardboard TVs in their featured entertainment centers with actual television sets. Higher-end showrooms might also include soft seating and multiple lighting types for function, ambience and accent, making the shopping experience more homelike and leisurely. Other ideas that fit within the Home Sweet Home strategy are:

Multi-lingual Tools. For showrooms in areas of ethnic diversity, perhaps a multi-lingual audio tape could be used to guide shoppers through the display and product selection areas. Multi-lingual POPs explaining product benefits can also be placed throughout the showroom, as long as care is taken to ensure that the space remains uncluttered.

Snack/Coffee Bar. Creating a welcoming image that portrays the comforts of home helps customers to feel comfortable in the initial meeting and carries the same warmth and reassurance through to the final presentation.

Kid Zones. A popular solution in many showrooms, these can be an advantage when busy Generation X parents or Boomer grandparents shop with children in tow.

Aromatherapy. This popular technique, helpful for putting your clientele at ease, can range from baking fresh cookies to simmering seasonal spices.

Making a Connection
Service is an integral part of retail. To provide the best service to your customers, it's important to keep service offerings fresh. These days, making a genuine and valued connection between your business and its community and customers is becoming more and more critical, especially for younger generations. Some options to consider:

Make information areas less intimidating. Venues that are easy to use and in which a customer can self-teach are highly valued. These are especially attractive to younger, savvy buyers who are accustomed to helping themselves. Perhaps a POP marketing expert can improve your display materials to make your sales and education message easy to read and understand.

Provide unique "Surprise and Delight" services. Consider thank you gift certificates for flowers, dinner or a cookware purchase. Or, let satisfied customers show off their finished installations on your Web site, even if anonymity is a condition. Include pictures and a profile about why they chose to remodel and, if possible, get a testimonial to boost your professional credibility. Another way to delight your customers is through sincere follow-up. When a job is finished, leave behind a card that invites the customer to call and let you know how everything is going. Then, call or send a card two months after an installation to check in. This is also a good time to ask for referrals.

Community Involvement. Use your showroom for fundraisers or to support a local cause that brings your business out into the community without overextending yourself or your staff. Don't forget to invite the local press to support your cause and give you a better chance to connect with your community.

Today's kitchen has become a communal room, not only for the family but also for entertaining. Think of your showroom as a stage and you are the theater manager. Envisioning the spectators and performers in any future kitchen can help you to bring drama and excitement to the sales floor.
To accomplish this:
---Host a special invitation event to attract homeowners who wouldn't otherwise walk in.

---Use theme merchandising ? for instance, "The Loft Kitchen" or "Our Cottage Home" ? and mix up the assortments to create inspiring solutions. Try to reflect the home your consumer wants with dream kitchens and retreat baths.

---Experiment with music or sounds that suit specific areas within your showroom. For a nature-themed room, play soft background sounds such as birds chirping and a babbling brook. If done correctly, this can be very relaxing and effective. Pay attention to customers' reactions and adjust accordingly. Stay away from "elevator music."

---Use lighting with different angles and intensities to highlight new items. If you can, choose only a few techniques, however, at least have a spotlighted area to feature and draw attention to new products.

---Employ color to enliven and empower the retail space.

With the barrage of multi-media advertising and marketing messages aimed at consumers, it's no wonder we struggle to capture their attention. We must start by getting to know and understand our customers' desires in their current stage of life. For example, Baby Boomers are starting to relax, but continue to search for products and furnishings that define their new, mature identities. Generation X is striving to balance career and family, while expressing individual style. Lastly, Generation Y is comprised of people who are finally on their own, adjusting to adulthood and homeownership.

Armed with this knowledge and by making use of any (or many) of these strategies, we can formulate a plan that piques the interest of today's 24/7 consumer.