Make Your Showroom More Relevant

Over the past several years, the market has been in a holding pattern. Uncertainty about interest rates, availability of credit and whether the unemployment rate will improve has caused many businesses to hold off on implementing future plans.

So, do you plan to wait it out for yet another year before becoming proactive in bringing your showroom in line with today’s – and tomorrow’s – consumer?

The recession is no longer an excuse for showroom stagnation.

With the economy in flux, you may still want to exercise caution in making large capital investments. But there are still things you can – and must – do to keep your business relevant.

Even without assurance from economists that things are improving, consumers can’t wait forever to make improvements on their homes. Maybe this isn’t the time for everyone to invest in their deluxe dream kitchen, but some things can no longer wait. There are still customers looking for your products and services.

Now is the time to prepare your showroom for two possible scenarios:

1. The impending end of the recession; or

2. Further economic stagnation and cautious consumer spending.

In either case, it behooves you to understand today’s changing consumers and make strategic adjustments in your showroom in order to earn their business. If you aren’t doing it, your competitors probably are – and that gives them a leg up.

Ten years ago, you didn’t have to try so hard to make a sale. But today’s consumers are more informed and more demanding than they were then. They will insist on buying what they want – not necessarily what you want to sell them. You’re going to need to make your case to convince a consumer to buy a new kitchen from you, instead of your competitor.

So what’s your case? What do you do differently from other showrooms? Maybe your company’s designers are the most creative and experienced of any team in the area. Maybe you specialize in a niche market, such as Universal Design. Whatever your unique strength is, you need to promote it to the customer to rise above your competition.

Understand Retail

Unfortunately, our industry is far behind the market in adjusting to today’s new consumer. Today’s retail trends center on presenting consumers with value, not just products. In the past, customers were more likely to rely on a designer to tell them what their kitchen needed. Today’s consumer wants to be engaged in the process.

In the past, the showroom was the likely first place a consumer went to begin planning for a remodel. Today, the consumer has probably first done research online, viewed home improvement shows or sketched out a few design ideas.

The designer was once in complete control of the process. Today, the consumer is in control, and the designer needs to be more service oriented than ever.

That doesn’t mean that designers should simply write up the customer’s order without adding the value of his or her experience and expertise. But the designer needs to work in tandem with the customer, blending the customer’s wants and needs with practical and aesthetic advice. The designer needs to make customers feel they are receiving valuable advice.

Is your showroom designed for personal interaction and collaboration? In some showrooms, a desk separates the designer from the customer, providing a subconscious barrier to the process of collaboration. Have you considered using a neutral round table where the designer and customers can take equal roles in the process?

This is especially important in today’s showroom, where most designing is done interactively, and shared on a computer screen.

Learn to listen

A designer today needs to be an active listener. That doesn’t mean nodding in agreement every time the customer talks. It means being able to pick out important nuances from what the customer says, and address them in the design process.

Does the customer do a lot of entertaining? Does the customer have children? Does the customer have special needs due to age or a physical condition? These are details that impact how the kitchen will be used – and how it should be designed.

Identifying a customer need and addressing it with a good suggestion will convey expertise and experience to your customer.

Bart Frost, an industry expert on the selling process related to showroom consumer connections, teaches the “80-20 rule” during the initial phase of designing.

“That means that, in the initial intake, the designer needs to listen 80 percent of the time and talk 20 percent of the time,” Bart advises. “You listen so you can begin to understand and take in all of the information that a customer provides. I call it ‘needs based design,’ which is designing for the customer’s needs. If I don’t understand the needs, wants and desires of the consumer up front, and learn what their planned investment is, how in the world can I build that most effective design?”

In today’s market, we all want to sell more. It’s important to understand that today’s customers now buy based on value – getting the product that meets their needs, at the best price.

Keep your showroom clean, and your presentations uncluttered as well. Talking too much, or being overbearing, isn’t going to close the sale. In fact, it’s a good way to lose a customer – and a lot of potential referrals – forever.

We as designers must be confident and tout our expertise – while also knowing when to be quiet.

Know your purpose

While considering the relationship between your designers and customers, have you thought about what you want from your showroom? What are your goals for your business? Are you looking to grow from a mom-and-pop store into a multi-location business? Are you looking to grow value so that you can sell at retirement age, or to ensure longevity to be able to pass the business down to your children?

In today’s economy, many business owners are focused on getting through the end of the month, or even the end of the week. Long-term planning, however, is still essential. Where do you want to be in five, 10 or 20 years? And how will you get there? Your brick and mortar location(s) are a part of this thinking.

You can’t open the door in the morning hoping that customers will come in. Give them a reason to visit your showroom. And let that reason include the value of your professional designers. Stress the advantages of having an experienced design staff with a solid knowledge of your products.

Technology has changed the way consumers shop. As a business, you can use technology to increase your designer and services awareness in the marketplace. As consumers change, your showroom has to change to meet new expectations.