LuxeHome Provides Industry Benchmark

Recently, I had the pleasure of experiencing the new LuxeHome showroom, located in The Merchandise Mart in Chicago. I say I "experienced" the showroom, because it is unlike any other of its kind in the nation, and, dare I say, the world.

Technically, LuxeHome is not one showroom, but a collection of about 25 smaller showrooms or boutiques, aimed at attracting an affluent clientele seeking a luxurious shopping experience. Its customer profile encompasses educated, professional consumers with a healthy disposable income. A vast variety of upscale kitchen, bath and building products is offered at LuxeHome, including cabinetry, countertops, flooring, kitchen systems, hardware, appliances, bath accessories, doors, marble, stone, granite and tile.

Being a kitchen and bath showroom designer for more than 20 years, I was struck by the grand scale of this ambitious project. Not only is this a mammoth undertaking, but its very existence makes a bold statement about the importance of our industry. LuxeHome positions luxury kitchens, baths and personal spaces within the home as a selection option for discretionary income, similar to cars, boats or vacation homes.

The Master Plan
My curiosity about LuxeHome inspired a conversation with Katherine Flaherty, v.p./building products and special projects for Merchandise Mart Properties, Inc. A 17-year veteran in the kitchen and bath real estate field, Flaherty is responsible for leasing space in some of America's largest kitchen and bath retail outlets, including the Washington Design Center in Washington, DC, the A&D Building in Manhattan and Chicago's Merchandise Mart. She was instrumental in getting the LuxeHome project off the ground.

Flaherty noted that, from concept to completion, her team of architects, designers, builders and other specialists worked for 14 months. Flaherty hand-selected each of the companies and brands that were invited to be a part of LuxeHome. To achieve just the right mixture and placement of individual showrooms, the team concocted at least 40 different floor plans.

"It's like putting a puzzle together," she says. "We wanted to make the shopping experience as attractive, luxurious and relaxing as possible. We also wanted to encourage consumers to dream, plan, create and buy the products to achieve the visual end result they desire."

As a result, retailers gain clientele from a pool of ready, qualified buyers, while customers get the convenience and attention they want from a one-stop, boutique-shopping destination. In Flaherty's words, "Instead of driving around to separate shops, you can accomplish in one day what it would take you three months of Saturdays to do otherwise." Saving time is very important to customers rushing around in today's busy world. And being well served by knowledgeable, dedicated sales professionals is equally important. These two essential factors combine to create a "total experience."

Once Flaherty and her team decided on a master plan, they took on the task of building the framework. Deciding to keep the historic integrity of the building intact, the team selected high-quality materials, such as marble baseboards, to promote flow and continuity within the high-style design. Banners, signage and huge lifestyle images were added with consistency to help shoppers find their way. Finally, to soften the space and to contribute to a pleasurable shopping atmosphere, trees, planters and comfortable benches were situated along major traffic paths and in the large lobby.

From there, individual retailers were in charge of design and construction for their own showrooms.

"What stimulated a lot of the design for LuxeHome is keeping with the spirit of our country, and that is we thrive on competition," Flaherty says. "Each designer knew their showroom design would be a statement of who they are as a designer, and everyone wanted to create the best showroom."

The grand opening in September 2003 marked the beginning of LuxeHome's foray into luxury kitchen and bath marketing. Like showrooms on the outside, retailers in the LuxeHome complex must regularly update displays and merchandise. Each showroom is required to completely re-merchandise at least every five years, although new products are being brought in all the time. Window displays must be redesigned at least once each year. Finally, each boutique, as well as The Merchandise Mart, contributes to a special fund to pay for LuxeHome's group advertising and special events.

As a result, Flaherty says sales at stores with LuxeHome locations are up between 50 percent and 400 percent over their other locations. In addition, LuxeHome has helped to stimulate a desire for high-end kitchen and bath products. She notes, "Twenty-five percent of LuxeHome sales are from out-of-state clients."

Creating this midwestern destination zone for the kitchen and bath category is driving interest and conversation about our industry and products. Even showrooms that don't offer high-end products can learn from and capitalize on LuxeHome's success. The lesson is to work within your market and do whatever you can to create the buzz that makes your showroom a destination for your target group.

Showroom tips
Below are some showroom tips from Flaherty:
1. Focus on the total shopping experience. Don't just sell to your clients; take care of them.
2. Create a gorgeous showroom, outfitted with fully appointed displays to maximize the experience.
3. Outdo your competitors. Be the one with the newest and best.
4. Plan at least 2,000 square feet of showroom space.
5. Create a "look" by choosing one great, well-known brand with an extensive product offering.
6. Hire top sales professionals, and be sure they are well trained.
7. Plan carefully and allocate sufficient money to achieve the total shopping experience. Remember, your showroom is an investment in the future of your business.