Hints for Selecting a Showroom Site

As someone who makes a living designing showrooms from the ground up, Paul Radoy is an excellent resource both for veterans in the industry and those just starting out. I first met Paul when we worked together 14 years ago. I hold great respect for him as a peer professional. With his varied and vast experience as a designer and as an active member of the Color Marketing Group, Paul possesses a wonderful practical sense of design as well as a keen architectural eye for detail. He also has a knack for knowing what customers want, which is why his opinion is of value to others planning new or remodeling existing kitchen and bath showrooms.

While the importance of product merchandising has always had its rewards, Paul says the challenge in today's market is greater because of increased and varied competition, whole-house storage possibilities and the advent of Web sites as information sources.

"Consumers are better informed than ever," he says. "Your showroom or model can and should stand as a credible example of your design capabilities and business ethics. Also, providing superior service and knowledge compared to others in your market can give you a real edge."

It's in the Details
In his 30-plus years working in the kitchen and bath industry, Paul has worn many hats, working in product development, trade show exhibits and model homes, as well as designing small retail and large-scale, company-owned showrooms. Currently, Paul is responsible for trade show exhibits, promotional photo sets and model home/showroom designs as manager of design services for Merillat Industries in Adrian, Michigan.

Recently we met to discuss the myriad challenges and decisions facing kitchen and bath showroom owners. He offered the following guidelines for those considering locations for a new kitchen and bath retail showroom:

  • Location is key. Is the venue in a high-traffic area? If not, is it conveniently accessible by major roads and/or highways? Is it visible from the road(s)?
    Shop around, and compare with what your competition has. Know who your competition is and what their business location looks like inside and outside.
  • Assume nothing when renting or leasing. Do your homework and be sure you get all of your questions answered to your satisfaction before entering into a contract. Find out what the landlord is responsible for providing and, if possible, negotiate extras he or she might be willing to provide.

You will also need to understand:
How many square feet will the showroom be?
What is the annual rental rate per square foot?
Is the rental rate based on gross or net? Gross is a lease of property under the terms of which the landlord pays all property charges regularly incurred through ownership, including repairs, taxes, insurance and operating expenses. Net is a lease that requires the tenant to pay rent as well as the costs of maintaining the building, including taxes, insurance, repairs and other expenses of ownership.

When will the lease begin?
Are there any rate escalators included in your lease? Such factors generally mean that your rent can be increased in case of increases in taxes, insurance or the cost of living. For example, if any of these expenses increase, your rent can be raised accordingly.

  • Resources in real estate and city or county government can provide helpful information and direction to someone looking to lease or build. Some of these contacts include commercial real estate professionals and officials in the city or county departments of planning, building and zoning. Don't be shy about asking questions or advice. It's their job to know or be able to find out the answers.
  • Outside, what does the store or surrounding location/neighborhood look like? Does the opportunity exist for walk-by traffic so you have customers' noses against the glass, or will you have to depend on drive-by impact to attract your customers? Is there a busy intersection nearby from which traffic can stop and see your business? Is this a freestanding space, is it adjacent to other businesses, or is it a space within a larger building? What other businesses are close by? Is there a restaurant or similar venue that hosts after-hours window shoppers? Do area covenants restrict business hours, parking or sign-age? Is there ample parking space within a convenient walking distance? Are there curb cuts and designated parking for customers requiring wheelchair access? Is the exterior and parking area well lit to invite nighttime shopping, maximize security and ward off loiterers?
  • Inside, begin with the basics: Is the ceiling height sufficient for a showroom? Paul recommends ceilings be at least nine feet high to accommodate the use of tall wall cabinets plus crown molding. Are there restrooms? If so, are they in working order, code-compliant and accessible per ADA requirements? Are they in a location that works with your floor plan? Are the windows sound? Do they offer good visibility and an area to create a "roomscape" for window shoppers or passersby? Is there enough or too much natural light? Too much light from morning or afternoon sun may require tinted glass or other window treatments to block ultraviolet light that can harm display finishes and fade other materials.
  • System Requirements: Do the electrical wiring and HVAC mechanics meet code specifications? Are these systems set up to handle the loads required for your showroom? Check with your leasing agent about whose responsibility it is to pay for system upgrades. Is the allowance enough to cover needed improvements?
  • Take a walk through the interior space and imagine the layout of your showroom. Try to look at the space from a visitor's viewpoint. Is the entrance welcoming? Will you greet customers from a concierge area or a reception lounge? In areas of the country with cold winter months, is there an area for coat and boot storage? Will you have sufficient area to display your products? "If you're selling it, you need to be showing it," Paul says. What about the interior structure will you have to plan around or disguise columns, power boxes, electrical outlets or ceiling material? And don't forget to consider important behind-the-scenes operations: How will you receive deliveries? Is there an out-of-the-way rear delivery dock and adequate storage so that your retail area does not become cluttered?
  • Team Approach: Especially if you are the new kid on the street, having an established local project-related partner is essential. Alliances with nearby "partner" businesses are important in establishing your new showroom. Are there other project-related businesses such as stores selling paint, appliances, lighting, fireplaces located within a convenient distance? These alliances can come in handy when outfitting your showroom and are great for drawing new customers who patronize your partners' businesses.
  • Figure the cost for remodeling. Does it fit within your budget? Even if you remodel, will the space meet your and more importantly, your customers' standards for an attractive, professional, welcoming business? Perhaps a smaller but well-appointed space would be a suitable choice for your business. Monitoring expenses and progress along the way ensures that your expectations are met to your satisfaction. Also, don't forget to include promotional and advertising costs. Will you host a grand opening? Will you advertise in the Yellow Pages or local business directory? Such advertising can heighten customers' awareness of your business, especially when you are trying to draw them to a new location. And remember, if you have something to show, don't forget to include it on your Web site.

Whether you are striking out on your own in the kitchen and bath retail arena or are simply searching for a new location for an existing showroom, keep these suggestions in mind. Being prepared can help to eliminate the surprises that can (and too often do) spring up when facing such a daunting challenge. And, by continuing your own ongoing research, preparation and hard work, your business will be ready and able to serve customers well and reap the rewards of its success.