Play Up Versatility In Your Showroom

In today’s era of instant information and instant gratification, customers aren’t used to waiting or being inconvenienced.

One effect of today’s spontaneity of information is constant change. That means the traditional static showroom of yesterday needs to give way to a versatile, flexible showroom that plays to the expectations of today’s shopper.

VISUAL FLEXIBILITY

Visual flexibility is critical in communicating compact bits of information in a simple, efficient way.

How does your showroom stack up in today’s quick-change market? Are you making visual changes regularly to keep it interesting for potential customers? Are you planning your space for optimum versatility? If not, you may want to consider whether your showroom impedes your customers’ desire for new experiences.

I’m not suggesting a costly showroom remodel every quarter, or even every year. But today’s showroom can, and should, be designed with versatility that offers variety in appearance as well as flexibility in function. We need to improve our ability to transform the retail showroom space to fulfill a different purpose from day to day for a strategic goal, business opportunity, etc., without jeopardizing long-term day-to-day needs.

Transforming our showrooms from inflexible and unmovable to dynamic can allow us to easily change their appearance and function as the need arises.

WALLED UP

For years, the kitchen and bath industry has displayed products in “walled up” mazes of cabinets and vignettes that focus shoppers’ attention on what is directly in front of them. That may have been a required strategy when consumers were far less visual. This configuration worked to guide and focus consumers on purchase options, as style could be more easily captured and contained.

But today’s consumers aren’t as likely to shop as if they are visiting the Louvre – standing before a single display and contemplating it for long periods of time.

Walls are not always bad. But consider the placement of those walls as a way to drive opportunities – new ways to merchandise and interact with your brand.

In the traditional static showroom, displays are permanent and costly to replace. With the economy still precarious, investing in change can be daunting. But consider how long it’s been since your last major showroom change. If it’s been three or more years, then you may be at risk of being left behind.

As you think about revitalizing your showroom, be ready to dump the status quo. Simply replacing existing displays with new components will provide a fresh look, but it won’t address the versatility needed to modernize the shopping experience. Think outside the box and consider shopping behavior. Consider technology. Consider cultural differences in how various customers shop.

When Lifestyle Kitchen Designs began to plan its new showroom in Centerville, OH last year, the firm sought fresh ideas from professionals outside our industry. They brought in a creative designer, a commercial computer designer and a graphic artist to create an expanded team approach.

Dan Brower, v.p./development, said the goal was to “avoid the baggage of the traditional kitchen and bath showroom. We wanted to create a whole new environment, from look to smell to feel.”

The key is to make your showroom look and feel permanent, while also being easy to change, add to and adjust to make your space more flexible.

The use of mobile displays, for example, will provide opportunities to change the way customers see your products, but also can quickly open your retail and design location into a roomy venue for special events. Removable tile backsplashes are another way to allow for a quick change.

THEATER APPROACH

Consumers visiting kitchen showrooms frequently make a beeline to cabinet door samples. Consider designing your showroom so that not only the appearance, but the process changes to a more engaging scenario.

At Lifestyle Kitchen Designs, visitors are greeted by the Director of First Impressions – an appropriate title for the receptionist.

A showroom I recently visited modernized its floor space by pushing its six displays to the perimeter, widely opening up the center as a flexible area where special events can be held, or portable work areas can be easily set up. Having more open spaces around each display allows for more people to gather. That’s important for cultures where whole families shop together. Increased space around displays lets you bring in chairs so elderly members of the family can sit down without being excluded from the discussion.

Up-front planning is key. That’s why I always recommend working with a master plan that includes periodic changes and tweaks, rather than trying to piecemeal alterations as you go. Build in some flexibility. Be a “quick change artist,” allowing your business to be more flexible to address trends and refresh the showroom with fewer costs. The key is to look and feel permanent, while also allowing for change.

GETTING STARTED

So, where do you start?

The first step is to step back and look at your showroom. Conduct reviews and interviews to get a variety of opinions about what’s working and what isn’t. Are you currently using your front window areas to grab attention, make an impact and connect the consumer to your business? Are you utilizing the same naturally lighted and energetic area as a location for staff meetings and customer closings? Can you make the space versatile enough to serve both functions?

If you’re working on a new showroom location, adding adaptability on the front end is easiest. When you’re working with an existing showroom, focus on a portion of it along with a selling and marketing strategy.

For example, one business I know intended to place moveable displays on wheels toward the back center area of the showroom. A well-planned path to the warehouse made it easy to take the moveable displays off the floor for special events. This versatility lets you bring in and test new products that are draws and hot buttons.

Work with local trades to design merchandising areas that are less permanent and more changeable, while maintaining a fixed and permanent appearance.

Remember that we live in a world of rapid change. Consumers expect change, and the businesses that keep up with those expectations have a better chance of success.

If you think referrals were important before, look out! They will be even more important moving forward (see related story, Page 32). To earn those dollars, it behooves us to tailor the shopping experience to satisfy them.

Remove the wall between you and today’s consumer. A showroom will need to be more fluid and adaptable to change to keep up with new consumer buying patterns and technologies.

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