Appeal To The Customer's Curiosity -- Create interesting windows and doors in your displays. These openings allow the customer to see what's ahead, thereby enticing her to peruse your entire showroom.

As a specialty flooring retailer, the first thing you need to consider is whether your product selection is worth the trip that the customer made to get to your showroom. Occasionally, someone will ask me, "Is there such a thing as having too much product?" I believe there is -- especially if you have a lot of dirty, damaged samples lying around.

Showroom size and content should be determined by the business plan that you formulate for your showroom. You should have a plan tailored to the customer segment you are trying to reach. So it follows that you'll also need to determine the product mix that will get you there.

Indiscriminately adding samples on a whim (because they were free, for example) only adds clutter and creates confusion for both the customer and your staff. Having too many samples from which to choose fosters an attitude often referred to as "option anxiety." You need to have a focused plan to reach your goals!

Plan for a display area that's as extensive as possible. From the instant she walks through your front door, give the customer the impression that there's a lot to see. Use 100 percent of the space you have -- that includes offices, restrooms, kitchen space, and even outside areas. If you calculate the cost of your showroom on a square-foot basis, you'll understand that you have to make every square count!

Layout and display configuration

Arrange the layout of the showroom to facilitate easy access for visitors. The majority of distributors and dealers favor a U-shaped setup, because it allows for easy viewing of all displays. It also encourages the customer to go through all the displays.

They can see all you have to offer before making a buying decision. You can take advantage of all that time to zero in on what products would best meet their needs.

Show the most expensive display or products first. This way, you'll quickly find out if the customer thinks that what you're showing her is too rich for her pocketbook. If so, you'll still have the rest of her trip through the showroom to make the sale. It's always easier to come down the price scale than to go up. This also makes the customers realize that you are there to service their needs and do it within in their price range.

By orienting all of your displays at a 45-degree angle to the front door, you allow the customer to see more than one display at a time. Careful configuration of angles acts as a lure. The angling helps draw the customer through the showroom because while she's perusing one display, she can also get just a peak of what is going on in the next one.

This is an effective way to get the customer's natural curiosity to work in your favor. A window in the wall of a vignette lets visitors see what's coming next. It helps to build interest without creating a direct path.

Product grouping

A natural flow that pulls customers from one display to the next is a great way to arrange the showroom. You should offer a constant flow of ideas and arrange them according to specific product sections. If you're selling ceramic tile, group your wall tiles together. Tiles suitable for floors should also be grouped together. The same holds true for decorative tiles.

It's not that a vignette can't show all types. But you should make an effort to keep similar products close to one another in your displays. This way you won't have to run customers all over the showroom to show products -- which will probably do nothing but confuse them. Your goal is to sell, and confused customers don't say "yes" to the sales pitch. Confused customers look for excuses to leave the store.

Group similar products together. This is helpful in avoiding confusion for a customer. Such groupings make it easy to describe a particular feature, and then point to a section of products that offer that feature.

Each of your displays should feature a product or accent that's likely to catch the customer's eye. It might be an unusual color or product, or an interesting way to use the product. Use something that's memorable, even if you don't sell a ton of it.

Think of the red convertible in just about every car dealer's showroom. It attracts attention. But keep it simple too. Feature only one attraction per display to maximize the impact of your accent. You've probably seen a woman who was wearing too much jewelry. All of it may have been very good jewelry, but it was probably hard to tell because there wasn't a single focal point to zero in on.

Whenever possible, create working models in your vignettes. Even if you don't sell plumbing fixtures, customers are usually impressed to see water in tubs and sinks. If you're in the ceramic tile business, those sinks and tubs can be made from tile -- which will really make an impact when discussing this type of custom installation. (Perhaps the customer is having problems finding a tub that fits her bathroom. You may have just provided a solution to her dilemma and chalked up a sale for yourself!)

Sample size, lighting and more

It's also important to show actual-size products in your displays.Actual size = actual visualization!When a tub or sink is actual size, you can show the difference between how a 4-by-4-inch tile will look in the home vs. the appearance of a 12-inch-square tile. A miniature model won't cut it! A mini mock-up can confuse a customer, which may lead to misinterpretation at time of installation.

Lighting changes between walkways or display areas play to a customer's curiosity. This is a good technique to keep them moving. It also helps them to concentrate while viewing each area.

Mood lighting can be achieved with colored gels over spotlights. Consult an expert to keep your displays looking good. Motion detectors can activate lighting, music or other sensory stimulants to create a surprise effect. They can also save electricity costs by turning the lights on and off as visitors enter and leave a display.

Many people advocate displays with a neat, uncluttered look. To achieve this look, eliminate literature, signs and other information from counters and other horizontal surfaces.

Some experts believe this is the most effective way to make clients feel like they are standing in their own homes. This means that nothing in the way of literature or signs should be out in plain view. It also means that displays must be functionally correct. Customers notice when they aren't!

Always keep things simple -- that's the key to winning the customer's confidence. The idea of grouping "like" products together is the theory behind carrying the product lines of only a few manufacturers. Having too many different lines to show, and having so many different stories to tell, can only succeed in confusing a customer. This, in turn, erodes her confidence in you and her product choice.

Use offices and the showroom's reception area to display products, too. With the popularity of home offices today, it's a good way to subtly show what you can do in other rooms. One office can be set up to look like a media center that actually functions as such. Don't be afraid to plant ideas!

In summary, remember these basic rules for visual merchandising:

Balance -- distribute weight (both physical and visual) in a display.

Repetition -- this achieves rhythm, variation creates contrast.

Proportion -- scale of one display should be in proportion to all!

Contrast -- Use color and texture to maximize its power. Juxtapose glass with metal, light with dark and rough with smooth.

Dominance -- establish only one dominant item per display.

Until next time, keep those showrooms looking great!