As regular readers of this column probably realize by now, my passion is designing showrooms. It should be your passion also, because your showroom is your key to sales and profits! To create a professional look, you must plan and maintain an effective, efficient showroom.

Invest in one good kitchen vignette that can be updated and changed often. Allow for space to use the kitchen for gourmet cooking classes or catering open house events.

For the past few years, I've been asked to present seminars at Surfaces, Coverings and numerous other trade shows. While that puts me in a teaching role, it's not unusual for me to learn during my seminars too.

This year's Surfaces show was no exception, as I received a lot of useful feedback from attendees of my "More in Store: Rejecting the Cookie-Cutter Look" presentation. We enjoyed several good, open conversations during my seminar. Many participants offered candid responses to several ideas I floated and others had good rebuttals to those comments. I feel that everyone went away learning something new that they could apply in their own business efforts.

As regular readers of this column probably realize by now, my passion is designing showrooms. It should be your passion also, because your showroom is your key to sales and profits!

To create a professional look, you must plan and maintain an effective, efficient showroom. Examples would be the showrooms with the up-to-date displays that are complete with the latest in features, finishes and design elements.

We've all been to the other kind of showroom. These are the showrooms that are boring, with shopworn samples and dated designs. What separates the effective example from a boring one is the effort of a business owner who has resolved to update the showroom on a regular basis.

I'm often asked how much space one should allocate for a showroom. My standard answer is, "How much can you afford to completely change out in 18 months?" I realize that represents an aggressive maintenance schedule -- one that's tough for most business owners to observe without breaking the bank.

Most business owners attempt to calculate the showroom's cost per square foot using the same equation they apply to the warehouse. I'm sorry, but that just won't work. You'll need to spend a little more on the showroom.

Moreover, how much business can you afford to lose when the consumer visits your outdated showroom and comes away with the impression that you are a second-rate source of product? Wouldn't it be better to maintain a smaller, dynamic showroom than a larger, unexciting one?

Adequate planning is essential to realize an ideal outcome in this respect, but many rush to the showroom design phase before they have thought through the entire process. A good step-by-step plan would include the following elements:

1. A design plan, in concert with your marketing strategy, that is aimed at your target audience. This showroom plan should exist in addition to your business plan. Think of your showroom as a separate business unit.

2. An efficient traffic plan that considers flow through the space. In most instances, only one or two good flow plans work for a particular space. Once you've zeroed in on an efficient one, you can decide how to periodically change the displays in a manner that complements and supports that traffic-flow plan.

3. Destination centers for selling and selecting products. These areas should be selected for the task at hand. They should be quiet, well-lit areas that have all the supplies necessary to get the selling job done.

4. A complete graphic identity that extends from the entrance of your property to the back door. Avoid the habit of quickly whipping up a little sign on the computer. Design, color and quality should all fit with your overall graphic plan.

5. A detailed lighting plan that identifies display areas from task areas, maximizes impact and is easily changeable. Once the traffic-flow plan is in place, this system should need only slight adjustments.

As you can you see, considerable planning is involved in creating an effective showroom. Have you really done your homework?

Now that the groundwork has been addressed, let's discuss the kinds of displays that appeal to the consumer. I'll be perfectly blunt -- it's not a rack that holds a multitude of samples! The consumer seeks displays that solve a problem. Such displays usually address one or more of the following issues:

  • What floor will make my room look beautiful?

  • Is one type of flooring (i.e. vinyl, laminate, ceramic tile, etc.) better than another?

  • How can I blend the color of the new floor covering with the other materials in the room that I'm not changing?

  • What's it going to look like when installed?

Even a small vignette can depict enough of an idea of what an entire-room installation would look like. This vignette is a little larger than 4-by-4 feet, and easily gives you the idea of how the entire installation would appear.
You'll notice I didn't list anything about money. That's because if you solve problems, the money issue becomes less important. If your customer feels satisfied that she has the right product for her space, and it will look good in her home, you've won her heart! She feels good about the purchase regardless of price.

How do you get there? Focus on that last bullet point -- what the product is going to look like in her home.

Now, granted, you can't build her house in your showroom. But you can build a vignette that illustrates something like it. We all have kitchens. And because kitchen floors are subject to the most traffic in the house, they're going to be replaced more often than flooring in other areas. So, it's a good idea to invest in one, good kitchen vignette.

Make friends with a local kitchen dealer and swap products. Invest in a cabinet look that's on today's cutting edge of fashion. Although you'll have the cabinets in the vignette for a while, you'll still be changing out the floor, wall color and accessories on a regular basis. If you do it well, your customers won't even notice that they're the same cabinets.

Make it a working kitchen and you can serve freshly baked cookies or popcorn to your visitors, or even host gourmet cooking classes. The display can also work for your open-house celebrations or be used to host other organizations that you invite to your showroom. (Search my archived articles on NFT's Web site, at, for other ideas.)

At this point, you can supplement this larger kitchen vignette with smaller ones. They can be as simple as 4-by-4-foot platforms with attached walls where you show flooring with coordinating accessories. Or maybe you'll elect to add another small kitchen or a bath vignette.

Or maybe it's an entryway. The entry of the home is another area where upscale products can be easily sold, particularly because there isn't so much square footage to cover.

Relegate the display racks to a less-conspicuous area, one that's accessible but not your primary selling space. In fact, as one of my Surfaces seminar participants suggested, "You should be shopping the rack for the products to present to the customer only after you've ascertained what it is that will solve her problem!"

That comment had to be the best piece of advice given. Consumers become very overwhelmed by the sheer volume of available product selections. Yet only a small percentage of the entire selection will work for them in their homes. If you learn only one thing from this article, please take that comment to heart.

I have a few more tips for continually updating your showroom. In my next column, I'll explain why it is the most viable part of your business. A well-planned showroom is more than a showroom -- it's your show-and-sell room!