Smart Showrooms Forge Emotional Connections

Visiting kitchen and bath showrooms has always been a passion of mine. Like many consumers, I love the visceral elements of our industry; I can’t seem to keep myself from running my hand down that zebra wood cabinet, stroking the cool quartz of a glossy countertop or rubbing my finger across the textured hardware pieces.

I’m always the person who’s touching the knobs on the appliances, opening the drawers to feel the glide action or waving my hand in front of the touch-free faucets because I want to see and hear the water flow. This probably makes me poorly suited to shop in 90% of the gift shops in America, where “Look, don’t touch!” signs abound, but it makes me pretty typical for a kitchen and bath showroom visitor.

So, when the economy took a dive, in addition to worrying about all of the typical things (Will the housing industry ever come back? Will I have to work ’til I’m 90 to recover all the money my 401K lost? And how am I going to pay for the dog’s ACL surgery, since she seems immune to my suggestions that she put off expensive injuries until after the economy recovers?), I worried about the fate of the kitchen and bath showroom.

For a while, it seemed like every dealer I spoke with was struggling – some downsizing, some going out of business entirely, others foregoing the showroom in favor of working independently out of their homes, using online portfolios to showcase their work or touting a “virtual” approach.

Now, I love technology as much as the next person, and I think the cyberworld allows for some amazing connections. Yet, still, I couldn’t help but wonder, “How will we TOUCH everything?”

There’s no question that the economic changes of the past few years have revamped the face of the kitchen and bath showroom, just as we’ve seen an evolution in how consumers shop and what products and features they value. Today’s showrooms are often smaller and smarter than showrooms of six to eight years ago.

Yet thankfully, despite the downsizing in square footage, the majority of showrooms I’ve seen seem to retain the core essence of what makes them so important to the kitchen and bath buying process in the first place.

In fact, in this month’s showroom feature (see related story, Page 34), dealers talk about how creative rethinking has allowed them to maximize smaller-space showrooms in the same way they are maximizing smaller kitchen spaces. Instead of lamenting the fact that they may have less square footage than in the past, they are taking advantage of the positive qualities (the sense of intimacy a smaller space provides, the way rich details resonate in a more intimate environment, the ability to seamlessly blend “live” designs with technology to appeal to a broader range of clients) while working around the challenges (incorporating all of the necessary elements without ending up with a look that’s cluttered).

In fact, both Daryl Ann Letts, CKD, CAPS, of MI-based Kalamazoo Custom Kitchens and Baths and Lorey Cavanaugh of VA-based Kitchen + Bath | Design + Construction talk about how the smaller-scale showroom allows for a space that “feels like home” – making it more “relatable” for many consumers.

Additionally, they maintain that focusing on a more targeted client profile, rather than trying to be all things to all people, can actually make their showrooms work better and smarter than a larger but less focused space.

Interactive technology is, of course, integrated into their showrooms to expand their offerings virtually and provide that ever-critical instant access to up-to-the-minute information and specs. But the core focus remains on providing a visceral, sensory experience that consumers will be drawn to on an emotional level. And that’s a strategy that always makes sense.

Of course not every showroom goes by the “smaller is better” mantra, and this month KBDN also profiles two larger showrooms that revel in their ability to showcase a vast array of product to meet a vast array of needs.

But in the end, showrooms, like kitchens or baths, do not succeed or fail based strictly on their size, but rather on their ability to showcase the creative talents and unique products and services offered by the designers who populate them.