Your store’s approach to merchandising is an ever-changing terrain. At least it should be. It’s up to you to keep your showroom fresh and inviting. Use your creativity! Showcase stunning new products not only in your display racks, but on the floor itself. Create a space that invites shoppers to explore. Use dramatic lighting and bold colors. Make sure there is a place people can sit comfortably and discuss their options. Eliminate clutter and craft a look that tells the world you are in the fashion business and you take great pride in your showroom. If you think all this is too costly, inconvenient, or simply not necessary, think again.
As a merchandising specialist and A.S.I.D. designer, I have been invited into hundreds of retail flooring showrooms over the years. Often I’m asked to assist with space planning, merchandising, and consulting on the overall showroom designs. It may surprise you to learn that many successful retailers here in Southern California re-select and re-install products on their floors at least twice a year! Why? Because as a top-notch flooring retailer, you are expected to scout out the best of the best and bring it to your customers’ attention. Featuring a stunning new exotic wood, metallic tile, Italian marble or patterned carpet installed in a vignette on your showroom floor is an excellent start.
You have probably heard someone say, “If it’s installed on the floor in your showroom, it will probably sell well.” And here’s why: Studies show that few people (maybe 20 percent ) can actually visualize “room-size” from what they see in a small product sample. So when you give them the opportunity to see an entire area decorated in a specific product, this is a huge advantage. It helps the customer translate that product into their specific room (or entire home). What a great way to fast-forward sales of the products of your choice.
Look at this as a huge opportunity. It is your responsibility to preview every new product the manufacturer reps parade through your door. From these options, you get to select the very best to dress your retail floor in style. If you have a longstanding relationship with the manufacturer, don’t be shy about asking for the product as an “accommodation” or, at least, at a discounted price. Flooring retailers are not noted for their shyness, so you may be doing this already. Even in this tough economy, your long-standing relationships with key manufacturers can and should be leveraged to get your hands on product at little or no cost. The upside for the manufacturer is obvious: You are allocating space to showcase their products on a larger scale.
If you are still wondering if merchandising well-chosen products on your floor helps sell those products, let me give you a parallel example. As part of my duties as a sales and marketing specialist for Leonard’s Services & Design Centers in Anaheim, Calif., I often meet with builders and visit model homes. My company provides flooring for builders to use in their model homes and our design staff helps new homebuyers select flooring as well. After 46 years at Leonard’s doing this, certain “trends” have become evident-consistently! First: It is no accident that 60 to 70 percent of new homebuyers will ask for the exact same products they saw in the model home - in some cases they duplicate the model exactly, including carpet, wood floors, ceramic, porcelains and vinyl flooring. This is simply because the customer has seen it “full scale” in the model home. Thus, the “risk” of choosing poorly is reduced. They don’t have to make the visual leap from concept to real world. They get to see the real thing room-size.-and they like what they see. When you take the risk out of the purchase, the customer’s comfort level goes way up. I have seen this countless times and if it works in model homes, it can and will work for you on your showroom floor.
So stand in the middle of your store and take a good look around. Are you pleased with its customer appeal? When was the last time you updated the carpet on the floor? How about the stone floors in your entry? Are you showcasing fresh new product? Have you added a mosaic or medallion to spark interest in that wonderful (and profitable) design accent? What about some of the spectacular new “color-infused” woods? These will wow the contemporary design customers when they walk in. Have you designed floors that integrate wood with travertine, or porcelain with metallic accent tiles? This is a surefire way to spark your customer’s creativity. You are the expert. Show them what you can do.
Another excellent technique favored by fashion-conscious retailers is to create small “room vignettes” in the store. Front windows are a natural. Also use small pieces of furniture within an L-shaped mini-wall or room divider to create a small-scale living room, library, bathroom or den. Include stunning floor covering and watch the attention your little vignette will command. Visit a high-end furniture store like Ethan Allen, and you’ll see exactly what I mean. You don’t have to reproduce an entire room-just a small corner that defines the space and highlights the floor. Also, look to floor covering trade shows for inspiration. Exhibit space is always tight so designers create mini-rooms using a tiny amount of square footage. This is fun and it’s effective in drawing attention to the floor covering. Next January when you are in Las Vegas for Surfaces, notice the vignette designs. Take photos and appropriate the best ideas.
But there is more to merchandising than adding room scenes. Here are some common sense and artistic ideas you might consider:
• Unclutter the clutter. Less is more when you want your products to shine. There is nothing attractive about a store with displays that create a confusing maze for the customer. If shoppers must navigate through little avenues of racks you need to reconsider. You want them to stand back and get a full view of the products.
• Optimize the space. Vary the height of your display racks, saving the tallest for the outside walls. Eye-level rack systems give a more spacious feel to the showroom.
• Add the right light. Lighting is a key element in showroom design. As part of your showroom makeover, call in a lighting expert. Mix up the types of lighting used and add a splash of drama. Track lighting is very effective in drawing attention to key products. If you want your store to “shine,” a good place to start is lighting.
• Get a white glove. One of the best ways to send you customer to your competition is a dusty, unkempt showroom. Have every sample put back in its place; vacuum the floors daily and sweep or polish the way you would do when company comes calling to your home. All this fussing will not go unnoticed by your customers. Over the years, I have visited stores where dead insects under display racks seemed to be an acceptable accessory. Those stores are no longer in business.
• Join forces. Consider joining a buying group or implementing a Mill Dealer Program. They often offer well-constructed “blueprints” on how to layout a retail floor; including desks and conference tables. Product samples, lighting fixtures, merchandising materials and sometimes even furniture are provided. These programs may not be free, but they draw from the experiences of veteran merchandising experts. These packages have a proven track record. If you are looking for an all-inclusive way to give your store an astounding makeover (in a relatively short amount of time), this is your best route.
I am well aware that these ideas involve a significant investment. However, most are very affordable and all are effective. Use your negotiating skills and invite your top suppliers to “come to the party.” Use you creativity and your fashion sense and you can freshen up your showroom at a reasonable cost. The other major objection is time. I often hear dealers say something like “I can’t afford the downtime needed to make these changes. I need to keep my business open.” That may be true, but the reality is you can’t afford not to make these changes. Unless yours is that rare store that is open 24/7, you can always find time to make the changes that will enhance you business-and your life.
The top retailers in this business have ascended to their perch because they know how to stay on the cutting edge of design. They research products and select carefully. They see unique products as a crucial element of their selling floors because they know it sets them apart. They know that creativity, fashion and emotion are at the heart of flooring. This approach will always pay big dividends in the long run.