Is Your Showroom Technologically Savvy?

The latest Showroom Usage Study conducted by the Research Institute for Cooking and Kitchen Intelligence (RICKI) revealed two related trends that we need to pay close attention to: The showroom of tomorrow will be smaller, and it will utilize more technology and digital displays than the showroom of today.

At the convergence of those two trends is the rapidly expanding use of technology by your Gen Y consumer of tomorrow.

Kitchen and bath center owners like Wayne Weintraub, co-owner of Kurtis Kitchen and Bath Centers, a five-location operation headquartered near Detroit, are finding that technology not only helps them service the new wave of young, tech-savvy shoppers, but it also reduces the high overhead costs associated with large showrooms.

Weintraub says the use of technology lets him “show more with less space.

“Costs keep going up, the price of materials keeps going up and square footage prices keep going up,” he laments. “I can’t afford the showroom size I used to have.”

He continues, “By using technology and better planning, I’ll be able to accomplish what I do now in a showroom half the size. Technology allows me to show customers all of their options digitally, so instead of showing 30 kitchens, I can show 10 or 12 kitchens. And, with technology that lets me demonstrate all of the possible options available, I can actually show thousands of kitchens in a much smaller area.”

As I travel the country, I see that many showrooms are clean and attractive, but are technologically stuck in the 1990s. Large, high definition flat screen monitors – a staple of today’s visually oriented society – are not being sufficiently utilized to reach out to the young consumer. In fact, I’ve been surprised to see that some showrooms have actually restricted Wi-Fi access from use by shoppers. Be careful if you’re one of them. Some young consumers may be turned off and never come back.

If you aren’t making the best use of flat screens, notebook computers and interactive designing systems, today’s youngest generation of consumers, who are unlikely to be seen without the latest mobile device, may consider your showroom outdated and undesirable.

TECHNOLOGY TRENDS

The RICKI Study, published in September of 2011, reveals Weintraub is far from alone among the showroom owners who plan to reduce floor space in the future. Presently, 31 percent of the survey’s respondents report having a showroom that is less than 1,500 square feet, and 64 percent say their showroom is less than 3,000 square feet. But among those who plan a new showroom within the next year, 63 percent say their future showrooms will be less than 1,500 square feet, and 93 percent say their new showroom will be less than 3,000 square feet.

Meanwhile, on the technology front, only 26 percent of the survey respondents reported using a high definition or plasma TV to showcase projects or showroom advertisements, and only 14 percent said they use a large projection screen for presentations.

When asked to predict changes in kitchen and bath showrooms over the next five years, 30 percent of the respondents cited “more technology/digital, interactive displays.” That was the most common answer.

IN THE SHOWROOM

Perhaps the most exciting new showroom technology is the interactive design kiosk introduced last summer by a major manufacturer. The system’s library is loaded with all of the company’s product offerings, allowing customers to design and experiment with an unlimited combination of door styles, countertops, wall colors and flooring.

Weintraub was among the first to install the system. He says the kiosk enhances his customers’ showroom visit – although some are a little apprehensive about the unfamiliar device.

“When we first put it in the showroom, customers would walk by it and look at it a little bit and keep walking,” Weintraub says. “They need to be invited to use it. It’s not something that is a standalone technology. A designer usually needs to assist the customers with it and explain how they can play with it and make alternative choices. Once they start to use it, you can see their eyes light up. They like to see a kitchen with this color tile or that color paint. They enjoy the process because it allows them to visualize what their final product will be.”

It’s up to us, as the professionals, to offer technology to our customers without overwhelming them. And be careful not to let the technology become a barrier between the customer and your design professional. Use it beneficially to supplement the sales effort.

Tina Blanchard, manager of Kurtis’ showroom in Livonia, MI, says the interactive system keeps the client in the showroom longer, while requiring less time from sales associates. The design kiosk has solved one of the industry’s biggest problems – the inability of a customer to visualize what the final product will look like.

“Technology has allowed us to get over that speed bump that most people have had for years,” Blanchard says. “Customers can now see the different looks and styles and see what the final product will be so we can close the sale quicker. It allows our sales team to do what they do best, which is to sell. We don’t have to show customers 30 different things. Nine times of out 10, even with the physical cabinet you are showing them, they are not buying that same style or that same color or configuration. This makes it easier to view the many options.”

Customers at One Man and a Hammer, a kitchen contractor and showroom in Mentor, OH, can work interactively with the company’s designer using the latest design software projected on a large flat screen.

“Our designer is able to show customers exactly how their project will look after completion before they order,” explains Bob Gallese, owner of the company. “Before their eyes, she is able to switch wall colors, cabinet styles or flooring designs.”

Some manufacturers today also offer iPad and iPhone apps that designers can take to in-home client consultations.

MAKE A STATEMENT

Aside from the advantages it brings to the client, Weintraub says using the latest technology makes a “positioning statement.”

“It sets the tone for who we want to be,” he says. “It shows people that we are the leader in technology, and that allows us to connect more powerfully with them.”

Recently Kurtis set up its manufacturer’s interactive design kiosk at a local home improvement show.

“It was extremely effective,” Weintraub says. “It spurred interest and showed people the direction we’re going in. We need to show the younger consumers that we are adapting to their lifestyle. While members of Generation Y are not a large percentage of my customers today, I would be foolish not to understand that they are going to be an increasing percentage of my clients in the decade to come, and I can’t wait 10 years to learn their technology and learn how to appeal to them. I need to start today.”

QR CODES

Among the latest technologies ready to make their way into the showroom are Quick Response (QR) codes. As the name implies, a scan of these two-dimensional barcodes with a SmartPhone takes the user immediately to a company or product Web site, Facebook page, email address or any other Internet location programmed into the code. The QR codes have recently begun to appear in advertisements, business cards and other printed media due to the growth in use of scan-capable mobile devices.

The use of QR codes in the showroom is a top priority at Kurtis Kitchens.

“That’s the next thing we’re looking into,” Weintraub says. “In the past, on every display you would open a cabinet door and find a listing of the manufacturer, the color, the door style, etc. I’m thinking of putting one of these QR codes on every display so the customer can scan it with a SmartPhone and immediately get all of the information they want and take it with them for a store reminder.”

Along with providing a wealth of information, Weintraub plans to strategically place QR codes inside the showroom that will take visitors to his Facebook page.

JUST THE BEGINNING

As far and fast as technology has come in recent years, Blanchard says we’re just beginning to tap into its potential.

“The adage is you don’t have time not to make time,” she says. “If you don’t make that step forward now, you are going to spend a lot more time trying to catch up.”

Weintraub says the use of technology isn’t the goal, but a wonderful new way to obtain the goal.

“People want to spend their money wisely and I want to help them do that,” he says. “The more information I can provide to them as conveniently as possible, the better it is for everybody.”

Looking into better usage of technology in your showroom isn’t as much an option as it is a necessity. Your customers are now savvy technology users. They embrace technology – and you should, too.

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