Showrooms Doing More with Less

I took a conference call from the car this morning as I hit the drive-thru dry cleaner and then ran some chicken soup down to the animal hospital (where my dog, recovering from ACL surgery, is currently engaged in a hunger strike). The week before, I judged a design competition from a train on my way to a remodeling conference.

I seem to be doing a lot of that lately…conference calls from the car, proofreading at the hair salon, answering emails from my phone while on line at the grocery store.

And I’m not alone: virtually every designer I’ve spoken to in the last month has shared a similar story of outrageous multitasking because there’s simply “no other way to get it all done.” We’re all doing more with less these days, and that “less” may be less time, less money or less space.

“Bigger is better” was the clarion call of the early 2000s, but today, spaces are tighter, budgets are tighter, and time is tighter. And we’re all trying to find creative ways to adapt.

It’s not just the people who are being asked to do more with less, either; we expect our spaces to do more with less, too. In design, we’re seeing cabinets with elaborate interior fittings designed to maximize space, visual access and physical accessibility (see related story, Page 46). In appliances, the latest, greatest products combine multiple functions and technologies. Showers incorporate everything from tanning capabilities to music, and even toilets and bidets double as comfort stations with programmable heated seats (see related story, Page 56).

Likewise, we expect our homes to do more with limited space; laundry rooms double as craft spaces or mud rooms (see related story, Page 44); baths incorporate exercise areas, refrigeration or coffee stations; kitchens feature electronic docking stations, study areas, built-in pet stations and more.

So perhaps it’s no surprise that today’s kitchen and bath showrooms are also being pressed to their limits to help showcase and sell product and design services…despite smaller spaces, smaller staffs and often smaller budgets to update displays.

Interestingly, though, while a recent KBDN survey suggested showrooms are not going to be expanding dramatically any time soon, dealers polled seem to be finding creative ways to add displays and products (see related Survey, Page 40).

Technology is a huge asset here, as dealers can supplement their physical displays with everything from TV projection screens to interactive kiosks. As an added bonus, these can also engage prospects while they’re waiting for a designer/salesperson to be available to assist them, since staff shortages continue to be a part of the “doing more with less” culture.

Many dealers are also finding that using their iPads to show off their project gallery on Houzz, or utilizing increasingly realistic design software to help clients visualize projects can minimize the amount of physical display space needed – while still getting the job done.

Likewise, many dealers are getting creative with the physical space of their showroom, sometimes forgoing traditional desks in favor of open meeting room spaces designed to promote the collaborative process, or using mobile elements to allow displays to be rearranged in minutes.

As the market continues to recover, I suspect we’ll eventually see the restoration of at least some of the resources we had previously. But, in the meanwhile, taking advantage of the latest technology and rethinking the traditional showroom model may help us to maximize space, time and profits – something that will serve us well in any economy.