A comfortable area with tables, chairs and good lighting invites your customer to relax while making her purchasing decision.

In a world where extravagant special effects define entertainment and splashy computer created designs are ubiquitous, your store needs to compete for attention. And when you add to this equation the stress and exhaustion that is common for many people you begin to understand why theatrics will always play a big part in what we sell and how we sell it. The idea of a beautiful new floor in the kitchen, bathroom or throughout a new home just isn't enough. You've got to wow the consumer! You have to entice shoppers into your floor covering showroom and once they are there you have to engage them, excite them and, ultimately, entertain them.

All it takes is compelling displays, a wide product selection that includes varying price points, innovative lighting, an inviting atmosphere, and a layout that piques the customer's curiosity and encourages her to linger and browse. These are just a few of the things you'll need in your bag of tricks. And since it all starts before the store even begins, let's begin where the shopping experience begins.

Indeed, the displays that most efficiently draw customers in are window displays. They should be dramatically lit for effective evening drive-by exposure. People can't help but notice such displays and, when they are in the market for your products, they'll remember seeing your offerings when they drove past. Instead of relying on the same ho-hum plain vanilla display, don't be afraid to be a little outlandish and to portray the product in an unusual vignette. Maybe use a holiday theme. Leave reality for inside the showroom. The window display is your stage! Do it right and you will get them in the front door.

Then the hard part comes. What products do you highlight and how? Theories differ but I believe the best course of action is to display the most expensive products close to the front of the store. This way you'll find out quickly if the customer thinks that this offering is too rich for her pocketbook. If it is, you have the rest of the showroom to make the sale. It's always easier to slide down the price scale than to hike up it. This strategy also makes the customer realize that you are there to service her needs within her specific price range.

But whatever the pricing strategy, remember it's the variety and personalization that make showrooms sizzle. While emphasizing variety is easy enough, personalization is key to a showroom's success. In fact, personalization can be an important sales hook in your company's philosophy. You can say "A room by ABC Flooring is your room!" In other words, instead of limiting a customer to certain selections or encouraging her to conform to expectations, you send a different message. You carry a variety of unique products that allow your staff to create special looks that meet individual customer needs. Flooring is, after all, a fashion business.

What about flow? Plan the layout of your showroom to facilitate easy access for visitors. The majority of distributors and dealers favor U-shaped or circular setups because such formats allow for easy viewing of all product displays. They also entice the customer to peruse all of your displays, which allows her to see all that you have to offer before she makes a buying decision.

This approach also gives you, the retailer, a maximum amount of time to zero in on what that shopper is looking for without scaring them away. Carefully plan your display layout so there are few, if any, dead ends. The next display should be just visible around the corner of the previous one. Thus, the customer is pulled through the showroom by instinctive curiosity.

But be sure to use finesse to make the most of your presentation and above all keep things simple! This is a key to winning the customer's confidence. Similar products should be grouped together in order to eliminate customer confusion. This makes it easier for your sales staff to describe a particular feature and then immediately point to a section of products that offers that feature. The idea of grouping "like" products together is also the theory behind the merchandising strategy that involves carrying only a few manufacturers' product lines. Having too many different lines to show, and so many different stories to tell, can only confuse a customer and ultimately undermine her confidence in terms of what to buy.

The most effective way to enhance your customer's confidence is simple: Display products that people want to buy. To do this you need to keep your finger on the hot buttons in design trends. When you see a shopper's face light up and she says, "That's exactly what I want," you know you've chosen the right products to showcase. The customer will be delighted that you've made the design process easy for her!

Learn to optimize your entire showroom space and use all of your space. Of course you want to avoid a look that is too busy but you can still be creative. Many retailer designers stress a neat, uncluttered look for showroom displays. This philosophy extends to the reduction of literature, signs and other information from counters and other horizontal surfaces. This has been touted as a highly successful selling approach: The strategy is simply to make the client feel like she's standing in her own home. If you choose this as your own strategy, nothing in the way of literature or signs should be left out in plain view. What's more, all displays must be functionally correct. Customers notice if they aren't!

But that should not prevent you from optimizing your space. For example, with the increased popularity of home offices, using office and reception areas for their display potential affords you a subtle and very effective way to show what you can do in a variety of settings. For instance, one office can be set up to look - and function - like a media center. Don't be afraid to plant ideas in your customer's mind!

Or maybe something to add a little sizzle. Live cooking displays or just the wonderful smell of hot-out-of-the-oven cookies may be just the thing that draws a crowd, especially if your customers come in at lunch hour or after work. (Popcorn, although a bit messier, works too.)

But the sights, the smells, the easy ability to roam freely through out the store-these are all devices aimed at making your showroom as warm and inviting as the most cozy living room or den. Remember: When the shopper feels at home she is no longer a shopper. She is a customer.

Ask yourself: Would I shop here?

Want a quick and easy way to evaluate your showroom? Plant yourself in the middle of the store, take a good look around and ask yourself the following:

• Is my product selection worth the trip? Remember, it is possible to have too much product. The size and content should be determined by a business plan. Know what type of customer you are trying to reach and what products will get you there. Indiscriminately adding samples at a whim (because they were free, for example) only adds clutter and confusion for both the customer and staff. Too many samples to choose from are often referred to as option anxiety! You need to have a focused plan to reach your goals.

• Does my layout encourage shoppers to linger and browse? A natural flow that guides customers from one display to the next is a great way to arrange the showroom. It should offer a constant flow of ideas and be arranged in product sections. If you're selling ceramic tile, group your wall tiles together. Tiles suitable for floors should be together. And decorative tiles should be together. Not that a vignette can't show all types, just keep similar products close to one another in your displays. It cuts down on running the customer all over the showroom to see products and confusing them. Remember that your goal is to sell, not confuse. Confused customers look for excuses to leave.

• How effective are the room vignettes? Each vignette display should feature a product or accent to catch the customer's eye. It might be an unusual color or product, or an interesting way to use the product. Something that's memorable, even if you might not sell a ton of it. It's like the red convertible in the car dealer's showroom: It attracts attention and makes people say "I wish I had one of those." But keep it simple. Only one attraction per display please!

• How am I different from the competition? It's also a good idea to differ your products from the competition. Keep in mind the economic laws of supply and demand. Products that are in short supply garner higher prices. Prices fall on products in ample supply. Me-too products can confuse (or bore) the customer. It's hard to justify features and benefits on me-too products. Then all you have to sell is price. Of course you're left no recourse but to go lower on price. Be different from your competition. Be better.