Reception Area Offers Central Service

We've all done it. We've all been approached by salespeople, eagerly offering their help, and we've promptly dismissed them with, "No, thanks, I'm just browsing." But, we weren't really just browsing. We simply wanted some time to get our bearings, get acquainted with the merchandise. Then, when we were ready, we would ask for help.'

There have also been times when those pesky salespeople seemed just a little too eager as they attacked us, one foot in the door. When faced with this situation, we've often left, without even looking around.

It's a delicate and difficult balance to achieve letting customers freely peruse their choices while still being accessible and helpful. But one showroom I recently visited has devised a floor plan to help master this task. The key to its design is a staffed, centrally located secondary reception area.

Strategic solutions
Designers at KDA used prior experience as a guide when planning the Rockford, IL, showroom. "We went to the school of hard knocks," says Doug Trussoni, CKD, business development manager. "After some study, we feel that we've hit the nail on the head."

Like many showrooms, the previous Rockford showroom situated its reception and clerical areas in the front of the store. Because of this arrangement, designers/sales associates often approached customers immediately upon their entry into the showroom. The problem with this was that the customer often felt overwhelmed, to the point where customers found often themselves asking passersby clerical workers, even salespeople with other customers for help.

Trussoni reports that they tried several approaches to solve the dilemma. "We tried setting the reception desk off to the side, at an angle, but people would avoid the area entirely," he states, adding that customers complained that they felt ignored and didn't like having to search for sales staff to help them.

Faced with the chore of designing a new showroom, Trussoni and the KDA designer sales staff put their heads together. They decided that depth was the key to meeting both the needs of the staff and the customer.

As a result, a wide reception counter was set back a reasonable distance from the front entrance, amid a sprinkling of bath vignettes. Clerical offices were situated behind the counter. The plumbing selection center was designed as a horseshoe-shaped area that provides a space for customers to sit and make choices. The kitchen and bath displays sprawled beyond.

The strategy behind the design was to use the often-forgotten plumbing and lighting areas as a prelude to the highly sought kitchen displays. First, customers' senses weren't overloaded by competing visuals and too-much-too-soon offers of help. Designers were also pleased to discover that the two-workstation plumbing area, which is always staffed and highly visible, was a magnet for clients. In effect, the plumbing-selection area has become the showroom's secondary reception area.'
Customers are more comfortable in this showroom, Trussoni observes. "It has definitely created accessibility for customers. They have a source and a spot of reference to go to at all times. They're not afraid to ask, even though people may be busy."

Showroom success
By eliminating the hard edges found with square- or rectangular-shaped designs, the horseshoe shape invites customers to it, while encouraging traffic flow through the showroom. In addition, it acts as a hub for nearly all other retail activities. Sales associates can easily direct customers by simply pointing to displays or departments within the store. Its location and function make it the obvious go-to place (information station) for customers, once they have had a chance to explore and become familiar with their surroundings.

Including two workspaces ensures that customers are never left waiting at an empty counter. One employee can "cover" the duties in this area while the other is away at lunch, for example.

Functional features included are:

  • Tall cabinets along the back wall allow for compartmentalized, tidy storage of product literature. Sales associates can find what they need with a glance, quickly meeting the customer's needs.
  • Aesthetically pleasing and clever, more enclosed spaces house a small photocopier, a computer and fax machine.
  • ' A back counter area offers extra workspace.
  • A privacy wall, located between the two workspaces, reduces distractions and provides a more intimate meeting space for staff members and clients.

Enduring less-than-perfect showroom design situations served as a catalyst for KDA designers' creative problem solving. I whole-heartedly commend all of the designers of KDA's Rockford showroom on the persistence and effort they displayed in conquering such a unique and perplexing challenge.' But, above all, I hope their' creativity and experience can' benefit your business and further help you to better serve your customer base through the creation of an effective, customer-friendly showroom design.