Does Your Showroom Foster Collaboration?

The showroom was once the starting point for creating kitchen and bath projects. Before the age of instant information and online shopping, the primary way to learn about product and design options was to visit a retail showroom.

The Internet, and more recently mobile devices, changed the role of the showroom. Rather than being the place where consumers learn about kitchen and bath products, the showroom is now where consumers refine their knowledge of products and how they can be designed into their home projects. The salesperson or designer today is less likely to lead the conversation, instead answering specific questions from consumers who already are familiar with the products.

Considering the wealth of information consumers have available, designers may sometimes find themselves at a disadvantage with respect to information. While designers know their product lines, they can’t be expected to compete with the data capacity of a mobile device that has access to virtually every detail about every product imaginable.

That means the “pitch” that was once the foundation of selling cabinets is giving way to a collaborative effort that combines the wishes of the customer with the expertise of the designer.

Armed with more knowledge than ever before, showroom customers now require more opportunity for personal engagement, and that requires physical space where they can connect with designers. Along with impressive and inspiring displays, your showroom needs dedicated space where customers can sit down comfortably to review options and plan projects with your staff.

The way you collaborate with your customers to fulfill their plans is a vital consideration in today’s market. How you deliver that value-added service will make the difference in whether you keep a customer in your showroom or whether that customer moves on to your competitor. In the age of instant information, product details and price are more transparent than ever. Customers who are inclined to purchase on price now have the information they need before they step foot in your showroom.

But those customers may not realize the value of interacting personally with your experienced and skilled staff. It’s your job to show them that value. This vital interaction, which results in a positive, rewarding experience, is the most important driver in the showroom. And it can’t be done online.

Because collaboration has become so important, it should be an essential element of your showroom design. I believe showrooms need to change to reflect the changing consumer buying patterns. Instead of a worktable squeezed into a back corner of the showroom, create a focal point workspace that inspires collaboration.

New Shopping Patterns

Before the economic collapse, we were so busy selling that we didn’t have time to think about changing consumer trends. With the market primed to improve, now is the time to consider what changes you’ll need to make in your showroom design to adjust to the new breed of customers.

The availability of instant information has empowered more consumers to plan projects on their own. That means project planning is no longer the exclusive domain of the kitchen and bath designer. Many of your customers have developed a knack for project management of some kind in their professional or personal lives. For them, a new kitchen may be the next challenge.

So, what does this mean to your showroom layout?

Collaboration implies working together with customers to put all components of a project together – combining the knowledge and experience of a designer with the wants and needs of the customer. That means you need to remove barriers to collaboration to facilitate easier sharing of information and ideas. Instead of a designer sitting opposite customers at a desk, put them together so they can easily share samples, plans and photos.

Visualize sitting side-by-side as you would sit at a dinner table talking over a problem. If a computer is used, position the monitor so it can be seen by all parties involved to allow the design process to be more collaborative. Think about installing a flat screen TV on which to project drawings or other information from the computer. The idea is to make the design process a more engaging, rather than dividing, experience.

Consider dedicating a generous portion of wall space in your selection area for presentations, so customers can visualize the full project as it comes together.

A builder I recently visited with had a desk arranged so he could easily work together with his customers. A computer was there to support the process and was not in the way of conversation. The workspace included a large panel board where samples could be easily viewed and compared as a complete master plan.

Look around your showroom. Does it facilitate collaboration?

One of the most detrimental impediments to the planning process is clutter. If you have loose sample doors to show, it’s important they aren’t lying on the floor and taking up valuable space. Make the selection area open and airy, not claustrophobic.

To encourage collaboration, consider adding these elements to your showroom:

  • A large table with room to spread out;
  • Standing-height countertop work areas;
  • Good, quality lighting;
  • Sound absorption to eliminate noise and entice conversation.

Embrace technology, but don’t let it interfere with your personal connection to your customer. Create spaces that encourage the building of a trusted advisor relationship. Eliminate some walls and barriers to foster a feeling of openness. Make your reception area warm and welcoming so customers feel a connection as soon as they walk in the door.

Build their project

For a lot of people, trying to conceptualize many small components into an end result can be stressful. Even if you sell only one component of their project, you can help them build their project. Show them how their kitchen will look when it’s finished, using their choices and input. This helps put them at ease, makes them a part of the process and creates a little more obligation to one another because you helped with more than just giving a price.

More importantly, it becomes an experience as opposed to a simple financial transaction.

With an improving market, checking your showroom’s current footprint would be timely as you continue to reset your showroom environments.