Successful Showrooms Defy the Economy

During these past, difficult few years, there’s been plenty of talk about how this industry is changing. We’ve heard from dealers and designers who have gone out of business, those who made it through, but barely hanging on by a thread, and some who have dramatically changed their business models in order to survive.

Over the past few months, we’ve profiled “mobile” showrooms and designers who have walked away from their showrooms and now design kitchens and baths out of their homes because they felt the showroom model didn’t work anymore – too much overhead, too much uncertainty, too little traffic.

For several years now, we’ve talked about profit margins and pricing and staffing, budget-conscious marketing strategies, industry partnerships, getting into new niche areas…in short, all of the things that need to be looked at carefully during lean times.

In fact, in this month’s Bettering Your Bottom Line column, Ken Peterson writes about the importance of addressing business flaws or weaknesses that may only have become evident during the recession (see related story, Page 24). He believes now that we are getting “back to normal,” many of the small issues that cause kitchen and bath firms to lose profits – which were dramatically magnified during the recession – will be forgotten, rather than addressed, causing more pain during the next downturn.

Indeed, there’s been plenty written about the pain of the recession – how to survive it, how to recover from it, how to rebuild in the wake of it.

But one thing we haven’t seen a lot of is big success stories during the recession. After all, a recession is a time to cut back, play it cautious, take no risks, right?

Well, not for everyone. So this month, we decided to talk to kitchen and bath professionals who defied the odds by successfully launching new showrooms during the downturn (see related story, Page 40).

For Kim Moyer at Tague Lumber, a new showroom was a chance to brand the company’s strengths – especially critical during challenging times. Indeed, a red Model T Ford truck, parked right in the front window of her new showroom, provides a powerful visual reminder that the company has been around for 100 years. In a time of uncertainty, where many firms were going out of business and consumers were feeling skittish, this was a powerful – and effective – message about Tague’s longevity and stability.

Boldness was also rewarded at Banner Plumbing Supply, which took an “If we build it, they will come” approach, according to Michelle Henderson. She notes that the company recognized the need to offer something unique – in this case, a tremendous array of interactive displays and a “try-before-you-buy” philosophy designed to ease consumers’ worries and tempt consumers on a visceral level. The showroom is further differentiated by a focus on products geared toward Baby Boomers, illustrating how easy it is to make a bath age appropriate while also being aesthetically appealing.

Peter Salerno, CMKBD, never planned to open a new showroom during a recession. He’d actually laid the groundwork for his new 10,000-sq-ft. showroom long before the market crashed, and by the time the economy had gone south, he was “at the point of no return.”

So he adapted, recognizing that to be successful, he had to offer something unique. For him, that meant partnering with a tile showroom and an appliance showroom to create a one-stop shopping benefit for consumers, while focusing on his greatest strength: his creativity.

As such, his displays run the gamut from a powder room highlighting the work of a graffiti artist who painted the New York City skyline on its walls to a bar display that incorporates a salvaged 1959 Corvette synchronized with 1950s music and lights.

As Salerno sees it, “A showroom is a tool, an instrument to show potential clients what you can do. If you can give them something that’s truly one of a kind, they will want to work with you.”

Indeed, looking at the four showrooms profiled this month – and all of those who were able to survive and even grow during the recession – it’s clear that both strong business skills and the ability to offer something unique are essential to succeeding in the kitchen and bath industry.

It’s a lesson well worth remembering, because it is the one tenet that holds true in any economy.