Successful Showrooms Defy the Economy

While some showrooms are downsizing or closing down altogether, others have recently opened their doors to extraordinary new spaces that showcase top-notch creativity, a diversity of product and a try-it-before-you-buy mentality. The four showrooms profiled here show that, while the economic recovery has been slower than most would have liked, some kitchen and bath professionals are ready to expand and make a bold statement in the process.

One-of-a-kind creativity

For Peter Salerno, CMKBD, Peter Salerno, Inc., the new 10,000-square-foot showroom he recently opened in Wyckoff, NJ, to replace his previous 2,000-square-foot showroom has a two-fold benefit for clients. First, the partnerships he created with an appliance showroom and a tile showroom give homeowners a one-stop shopping experience. Second, with 14 displays – including those for kitchens, baths and specialty rooms such as wet bars, several of which are live – he has plenty of opportunity to show creative ways to personalize a space.

The seed for this unique partnership approach was planted in Salerno’s mind seven years ago, when the economy was flourishing. However, a few short years later, everything crashed. “But I was already deep into the process,” he says, indicating the groundwork had already been laid. “I was basically at the point of no return.”

So Salerno charged forward, opening the doors just three months ago.

“It was a long process, because we needed to set it up so it would work comfortably for all [three] of us,” he says. “We each have our own showroom, but clients can walk down the sidewalk to each of the businesses. It’s like being under one roof.”

Salerno designed his showroom to address some of his clients’ most common complaints: lack of time and not being able to find what they’re looking for.

“It takes time to track down products and materials,” he says. “But it doesn’t have to be agonizing. The first thing I tell my clients is that their projects will be fun.”

That philosophy shows through in the new space. “I am an artist,” he says. “I wanted to create an art museum and within that art museum, I wanted to incorporate cabinetry, which is different from many showrooms where cabinetry is accented with art. I basically turned the industry upside down with this showroom.”

That is evident in several of the displays, including a kitchen display that uses reclaimed tin from a 1920’s filling station to sheath a ventilation hood as well as the refrigerator.

An atypical powder room highlights the work of a graffiti artist who painted the New York City skyline on its walls. The concrete floor resembles an asphalt road, complete with a manhole cover.

A 1959 Corvette that Salerno salvaged from a junkyard and turned into a bar also garners a lot of attention. Synchronized with lights and 1950’s music, the display is a perfect example of Salerno’s creativity.

“When many people visit the showroom, they tell me they’ve never seen anything like this before,” Salerno says. And that’s good for business, he indicates. “A showroom is a tool, an instrument to show people what you can do,” he says. “If you can give people something that is one of a kind, they will want to work with you. I often hear people say, ‘if this is what he can do with a showroom, I’d like to see what he can do with my house.’”

Build it and they will come

When Michelle Henderson was hired six years ago to design, build and manage a new 15,000-square-foot, high-end showroom for Banner Plumbing Supply in Buffalo Grove, IL, she was brought onboard at a time when the economy was just beginning its downward spiral. Undeterred, the company forged ahead with an “if we build it they will come” attitude that has proven to be right on target.

With a variety of interactive displays – from hands-free and touch faucets to a working body dryer – the showroom is designed with a try-it-before-you-buy-it policy. Hot water is plumbed to eight tubs and four steam shower systems as well as 38 kitchen and lavatory faucets, 13 toilets and a multitude of showerheads and hand showers.

“Faucets and fixtures are a means of clients expressing their individual taste and personality,” says Henderson. “It’s almost like great jewelry for an outfit. The task of making these selections can be somewhat daunting to many, and we find that by providing attractive and diverse lifestyle suites, we can help lessen the trepidation about making the wrong choice.”

To encourage additional confidence, Banner Plumbing Supply created a reference book – which lists paint colors, tile, even where towels and props were purchased – so clients can duplicate a particular look if they desire a turnkey approach to kitchen and bath design.

During construction, much consideration was given to several design elements, including color, lighting and layout. Simple white showcases faucet towers, and mini vignettes are contrasted with rich, chocolate brown to make products “pop.” Lighting, with color-corrected lamps, provides the truest color display. All faucet towers feature back lighting, and working sconces evoke the feeling of a real bathroom. Adding stone or tile instead of standard paint or laminate to the walls makes the displays stand out. Henderson also painstakingly shops for just the right accessories and props to make a display feel like home.

Clean, open sight lines emulate a museum environment. “Clients can see that gorgeous faucet they fell in love with while they’re standing at the sink that it will be paired with,” she says. “Many manufacturers have tried to get me to place tubs or other displays in random locations, but I dig my heels in to maintain the integrity of the space to carry that open museum-like feel I was striving for.”

To maintain relevance, the company seeks to stay ahead of the curve to give clients a look at the latest and greatest products. “Another focus has been to incorporate attractive products geared toward our Baby Boomer population to show how easily you can make a bath age-appropriate, while looking great at the same time,” she offers.

Recently, Henderson has also been dabbling in custom designing furniture pieces with various manufacturers. “Our clients are looking for something special, something different,” she says. As such, one of the latest installations features a reclaimed barn wood console designed with Native Trails. A handmade, glazed clay vessel is topped with a Brizo faucet in a Venetian Bronze finish that resembles twisted iron. “I really enjoy pairing the unexpected together,” she says.

One-stop Shopping

While Tague Lumber is a 100-year-old, family-owned building materials distributor in the metro Philadelphia area, it didn’t have a showroom until three-and-a-half years ago when it opened its new 10,000-square-foot space.

“There really isn’t anything like this in the area, especially anything that showcases kitchens and baths,” says Kim Moyer, senior kitchen designer. “It gives people the ability to touch and feel [products and materials]. While they can do a lot of research online, coming to the showroom provides interaction. Plus, it gives us face-to-face contact, which I think is key to making a sale.”

The showroom, which was designed by Ellen Cheever, CMKBD, ASID, CAPS, coordinates 10 kitchen and five bathroom displays – two more are in development – with additional housing needs, such as interior and exterior doors and windows as well as hardware and mouldings. One kitchen display is live, providing the ability to host events, including those for local industry association chapters as well as the chamber of commerce and publishing companies.

“Our showroom is a great place for designers and architects to bring clients to see more than one thing,” she says. “It’s very convenient for them. A majority of the builders in this area send their clients to us.”

The open floor plan allows customers to easily walk through the space. Polished concrete floors provide a warm ambiance, while an extensive lighting system allows each display to be illuminated individually with task lighting, in-cabinet lighting, undercabinet lighting, etc. “You can turn everything on or off at different times,” she says. “It helps provide a true feeling of how lighting would be in a client’s home.”

A color scheme of neutral grays with pops of color, including red, lime green and warm gold, is popular. “Gray seems to be the new beige,” she says. “And we’re still finding that white is a popular color for cabinets.”

Each display features a unique theme, covering all of the bases from traditional to contemporary. The traditional kitchen with off-white cabinetry and beaded inset doors draws the most attention. “It makes a ‘wow’ statement as you walk in the front door,” she says. “We sell the most [product] off that display.”

Visitors also seem to be interested in storage options that help them become more organized. “People are really interested in finding out how to better use their spaces,” she says.

But one of the biggest attention-grabbers has nothing to do with kitchens or baths.

“The red Model T Ford truck parked in the front window catches everyone’s interest,” Moyer relates. “It’s a great way to start our story, to let people know we’ve been around for 100 years.”

Comfortable and Inviting

Like Banner Plumbing Supply and Tague Lumber, Wallington Plumbing Supply has a long history of serving clients, opening the doors to its first store in 1980 and expanding to four locations in Wallington and Wayne, NJ, in the years since. And, like these two businesses, it operated without a showroom until about two years ago, when it opened its new space in Saddle Brook.

The showroom was built in large part to fill a need for area contractors.

“Before we built the showroom, they didn’t really have anywhere to send clients,” says Allen Marion, showroom manager. “But now a lot of them bring in their customers, and it’s definitely been a benefit to our business.”

And it’s also a benefit to customers, he notes. Since plumbing can be one of the more expensive items in a space, the new showroom gives them an opportunity to see and touch products before they make a purchase. “It gives them depth perception they just can’t get on the Internet,” he says.

The 2,500-square-foot space, designed by Ellen Cheever, features an open, airy floor plan with tall ceilings and a lot of natural light that floods in from eight large windows at the front of the showroom. It also includes a wide variety of displays, including Kohler’s Next Generation vignettes, which feature an all-white theme with sink options conveniently displayed in pull-out drawers. Other neutral colors, including almond and bisque, dominate the space, which features plumbing supplies from nearly 20 different manufacturers in an array of finishes and price ranges.

With only minor tweaks needed thus far, Marion indicates that updates are made as manufacturers introduce new products.

“The space just flows,” he says. “It’s very comfortable and inviting, without being overwhelming.”