Create the unexpected! Although customers may ultimately choose the traditional sunken tub for their homes, show them the dream scenario. Photo courtesy of Ricchetti Tile.

Although I’ve concentrated on showroom management for the past couple of years, clients continue to ask me about showroom design. One of the first lessons of Marketing 101 is to give the customers what they want.

So here it is: my first installment of “Basic Design Principals for Your Showroom.” As an aside, I’ll be conducting a seminar under this same title at Surfaces 2002 in Las Vegas. Also, you’ll be able to buy the book and accompanying CD-ROM at May’s Coverings International Tile and Stone Exhibition in Orlando, Fla. So with that shameless plug out of the way, let’s get down to the business of designing a good showroom!

I believe certain regional characteristics must come into play when designing a good showroom. While I can’t begin to address in this article each geographic area of the country, you probably already have a pretty good idea of the unique characteristics of your own market. So keep them in the back of your mind as I detail what I consider to be the six key elements for every showroom. Specifically, these are: drama, color, lighting, sound, architecture, and display.

Let’s start with drama. In today’s fast-paced market, you’d better establish at least a bit of drama to hold the attention of your customers. To capture the attention of the contemporary seen-it-all-already consumer, we need to put the show back into the showroom.

Showmanship has always had longstanding appeal to American consumers. Primed by media hype, we gravitate toward glamour and drama — particularly when they are packaged in a setting that will wow us out of our daily doldrums. We may fill our homes and even our everyday lives with more traditional elements, but the staid is not part of our dreams. No, our dreams are filled with excitement, glamour, heart-stopping beauty, and elegance.

Customers will gravitate to any area of the showroom in which you can bring the impact of color to bear. Photo courtesy of Edilgres Tile.
In decades past, before the population of endlessly busy two-career couples exploded and the home became a place to “stop off between stops,” just the thought of a pretty new kitchen or bath might have been enough to capture the attention of a consumer interested in investing in a beautiful new room. Back then, imagination was the sales tool of choice. And whenever a salesman managed to capture the consumer’s dream in words, imagination took over. Often, that was enough. And on the basis of imagination and a good sales pitch, the deal was struck.

As a society, though, we’ve become increasingly busy and, perhaps as a result, more jaded. In a world where special effects largely define our media and — with the advent of the computer age — our lives, imagination alone has fallen by the wayside.

Consumers still have big dreams, but their imaginations need to be propped up a little. When these people visit your showroom after a hectic day, they’re tired, distracted and often unable to conjure up the kind of enthusiasm that imagination alone once provided in abundance.

Today, they need to be grabbed by the throat. They need to be excited. They need…a show! Smart showroom owners understand this.

The showroom’s main purpose should be to visually stimulate. Most people have trouble visualizing what they seek. People like to see, touch and feel because doing so makes them more confident about the choices they make.

What story does your showroom tell? Is it one of innovation and excitement, a story of design, products and services that will transform client’s homes, beautify their surroundings and simplify their lives? Or is it just a bunch of pretty displays?

The successful showroom is not necessarily the largest one. Rather, it’s the one that appeals to all senses. These showrooms just don’t show the products, they allow customers to experience them.

To a great extent, the level of interaction established between customers and the showroom is what makes that showroom successful. You need to promote a kind of chemistry that resonates with the people who walk through the door and make them see, think, feel, touch, and visualize. The most exciting showrooms are active, not passive. They are places that draw people inside emotionally as well as physically. They make the client want to buy — not just look!

Whether it’s with working displays, potpourri or other “scent-sational” accessories (such as cookies baking in the back room), realistic displays that make people feel at home, unusual product applications that spark ideas customers will want to use in their own homes, or a staff of trained professionals who expertly answer their questions, you can best utilize display space by making it as complete as possible.

Honestly ask yourself whether your showroom helps a prospective client visualize her own dream room, or if it’s merely focused on glitzy displays that have little bearing on real life. Does your showroom create an environment where customers can do more than just look? Does it tell them a story that will make a difference in their lives? Is it more convenient, more comfortable, and more enjoyable? Most important of all, is your showroom a fun place to visit?

Work to create displays that are exciting and innovative. Try to show concepts of products, rather than just massing items and showing everything a particular manufacturer makes. Show products in a new and unusual settings. Combine colors in ways that are innovative and fresh. Push the envelope and dare to be different. Your customers could have stayed home if they merely wanted to buy the “bread and butter” items.

Don’t be afraid to show intricate details, even if it may entail a higher installation cost. Doing so will set you apart from your competition. Such details convey an important message. Figuratively speaking, they endorse your abilities and say to the customer, “We’re the professionals in design and execution of your project.”

Consumers come to you in search of ideas. They may have a notion about what they want. Indeed, some customers have it all thought out. But even if they have thought it out, they can still be open to new ideas.

That’s where your expertise comes into play. You are the expert! Show them what you know. Show as many styles as possible without overwhelming them. But whatever you do, show them ideas!

Unfortunately, too many dealers and distributors (AND designers) have forgotten to put the show in their showrooms. They’ve forgotten the fine art of creating a setting, staging the displays, choosing a cast of products and salespeople with magnetic appeal, and showcasing the product with dramatic lighting and an unforgettable backdrop. They’ve forgotten that to sell a dream these days, you have to put on a show.

It’s true — there’s no business like show business for bringing people’s dreams to life. So perhaps it’s time to take a good look around your showroom and see what kind of reviews your show merits!