Showroom Planning for the Future in a 24/7 World

The increasing pace of American life in the 21st Century has resulted in a 24/7 consumer mentality. Buyers want the right merchandise at the right time in the right place. With today's computer- and product-savvy shoppers, this could mean browsing your Web site at 9:00 p.m., visiting your showroom at noon or paging through a catalog in the afternoon. Understanding this expectation for constant inspiration and immediate gratification is your ticket to growth in the future.

It's also essential to understand the different generations that shop your store to avoid leaving out any potential shoppers. Following are summary profiles of the age groups shopping for kitchen and bath products:

  • Baby Boomers have entered their post-child rearing years and are reinventing their homes for this new life stage. With this transition, they are beginning to make decisions about what they want and expect from their next life stage. As the key consumer group fueling the luxury market, they are more likely to want you to "Do-It-For-Them."
  • Generation Xers are reinventing their homes to reflect their personal style, finally discarding the hand-me-downs they inherited to mix and match new products into their own statement. This group is in the midst of its "busy years," and research indicates that there is a high likelihood that at least one person in a Gen X household works from home. This is very much a "Do-It-Myself" consumer.
  • Generation Y includes the newest adults just beginning to set up their first households. They are all about constant reinvention and are known to use the Internet at any time of the day for any reason, because it's there. Raised with the newness of technology, they expect this freshness to be a part of other product categories. They also expect to be an integral part of the design process, making them the "Do-It-With-Me" generation.

To satisfy these current homeowner generations, one can employ one or more of a number of strategies, which I will discuss here, in a two-part series. The first two strategies becoming a master of reinvention and how to employ experience retail techniques are outlined in the following paragraphs.

Master of Reinvention

To meet the needs of today's 24/7 consumer, retail managers must become masters of reinvention. Just what does this mean? Consider the lasting success of the mistress of reinvention herself, pop music icon Madonna only for the kitchen and bath industry. To accomplish such a lofty goal, one is required to stay ahead of and anticipate the desires of today's homeowners, who not only like the look and feel of newness, but expect it. Reinvent your store keeping this in mind.

It's also important to remember that as a relatively affluent society, our needs are pretty well satisfied. Most consumers approach retail looking for purchase inspiration. Desires have taken over as consumption incentives that drive retail purchases. The upswing in kitchen and baths sales reflects consumers' desires.

When planning a reinvention of your showroom, create a feature display or educational area focused specifically on trends in new products. This concept can be as simple as a bulletin board displaying pictures from home magazines or as elaborate as trend boards, complete with paint chips and materials samples. The goal is to inspire, reassure and bring the shopper up to date regarding the newest colors, patterns, finishes and motifs.

One great way to get customers' attention and draw them into the decision-making process is by encouraging their experimentation. Burger Innovations, an Atlanta design and remodeling firm, does this using a dedicated "Idea Center," which features huge squares of paint on the walls. Velcro strips are affixed to these areas, allowing customers to mix and match cabinet doors and countertop materials against different colored backgrounds.

'Experience Retail'

The U.S. is entering the beginning stages of its fourth economic phase, the Experience Economy. Our society began as an Agricultural Economy, then moved into an Industrial Economy, where factories made mass production feasible and delivered operational efficiencies. We have been in a Service Economy for the last several decades.

Our entry into an Experience Economy is fueled by global awareness, technology, affluence and the growth of the Creative Class employment sector. This group comprises teachers and scientists, as well as architects, designers and decorators. The influence of this sector can be proven by the overwhelming success of home-oriented "makeover" reality television shows, which have made stars even heroes of designers such as Oprah's Nate Berkus and carpenters such as Ty Pennington of "Extreme Makeover Home Edition."

The dramatic shift into an Experience Economy affects how we live, work, shop, consume and entertain. Retail is becoming more about the experience of shopping. In fact, the shopping experience is becoming as important as price, quality and design in today's perceived value equation. For example, atmospheric influences, such as scents, lighting and music, are important for inspiration. Some retailers employing atmospheric influences include:

¦ Old Navy, which plays a mix of contemporary music, oldies and jazz to make a cross section of people feel welcome.

¦ Macy's, which is testing food courts near the apparel to encourage longer shopping trips.

¦ Supermarkets, which use "mini-town" marketing to create the nostalgic feel of several different specialty markets bakery, butcher, fresh produce, fish, deli together under one roof.

Knowing that these techniques are working for other retailers, what would work for your business? Consider in-store event marketing. Host "Wine and Dine" evenings to offer a relaxed, luxurious atmosphere. Giving customers a chance to feel pampered and appreciated can enhance their shopping experience. Consider partnering with local real estate offices to publicize the event for new homeowners.

Other creative ways to attract customers involve non-traditional uses for your showroom. Perhaps your showroom space could be used for a local book club meeting. Or, how about a class for homeowners: how to design their own kitchens, how to cook or how to decorate? You could form a cooperative alliance with a local firm or "celebrity" chef, earning valuable leads for your business and theirs. This can not only set you apart from your competitors, it could also bring in potential customers who might never have visited otherwise.

Understanding tomorrow's consumer trends entices us to step outside of our comfort zone and take a wider look at what's emerging. Doing this not only helps us to see what lies ahead, it also allows us to prepare a showroom plan.