Space is king. If you want a consumer to stay in your store, you must make the showroom appear spacious and uncluttered. Make sure your design has a distinct flow.

Good showroom design is subjective to each storeowner’s personal tastes and ideas. There is no one formula for producing a showroom that is functional, effective and aesthetically pleasing. But there are some guidelines that might be useful to you, spiced up with some uniquely creative suggestions.

In my former position as a merchandising specialist for Anso nylon, I visited hundreds of retail showrooms, large and small. Now, as a designer/marketing specialist for Leonard’s Services, I am exposed to some of the most beautiful design showrooms in California. In this month’s column are some of the winning ideas I’ve observed that might be of use to you in creating your own functional, effective and aesthetically pleasing showroom.

Create an effective space plan.Try not to overload your showroom with so many racks/samples that customers get wedged between as they try to navigate your aisles. A design firm that specializes in space planning (for an hourly fee) can provide a professional layout that best utilizes your space. In planning, place the tallest sample racks around the perimeter walls. By using racking systems lower than eye level, you can create more spaciousness while keeping the sight line throughout the interior of the store open.  

Tune in to Green.You have to be incredibly selective in what you choose to take onto your showroom floor. Every square foot of real estate has to pay off for you. When it comes to products that have an honest green story behind them, they should take precedence in your selection process. 

Green products are on their way to becoming a separate brand. The importance customers attach to sustainability is growing, and adding green products to your floor has the capacity to net big dividends. Your salespeople have to learn and be comfortable with the green story behind the products for it to work for you. Rather than wait for the customer to bring it up, these products should be some of the very first you direct customers to. Please don’t disregard this huge cross-generational marketing trend. The desire for sustainable products is reaching a tipping point across the country, and just can’t be ignored.

Pay close attention to lighting.Take a cue from the buying groups and mill programs that do showroom makeovers for their members. Lighting is almost always the element that helps bring the redesign together, and highlights the placement of racking systems and work tables. Lighting adds an important ambience to any showroom. Also, don’t forget your best lighting friend - natural light. 

Front windows provide very limited natural light and you might find your salespeople taking samples to the front of the store. An alternative would be the use of skylights. I recently redesigned a showroom for clients that didn’t even know they had skylights in the roof of their building. They had installed a dropped ceiling years ago and covered the skylights. I installed six-piece tempered glass ceiling panels into the existing grid, right below each one of the skylights, and the results were dramatic. Now they have spots of natural light throughout the showroom.

Create a women-centric ambience.To prepare for this article, I revisited some of the “to the trade only” showrooms in Southern California. Designers expect exceptional ambience and merchandising, and you should try to emulate these characteristics in your store. The showrooms were impeccable: Clean, neat and well organized, with flooring vignettes strategically placed around the floor.

My advice to you as a retail showroom manager: Please look at your store objectively. And look at it from a women-centric point of view. Clean it up, weed out the displays that don’t work, and add some touches that will add a sensory “welcome.” Fresh flowers at the main entrance, scented candles or aromatic “plug-ins” throughout the store, a good dusting and cleaning, maybe even some music playing in the background. These all work to entice customers to stay a bit longer and browse. 

Use your vertical space effectively.Many of the stores I saw had open ceiling heights -- some up to 30’ with dropped lighting fixtures. If you are looking for a major makeover, and you have lots of vertical space, consider a second story loft area for more display space. Many tile showrooms utilize this idea and create beautiful lofts with full bath vignettes on the upper level. It’s an effective use of the space you are already paying for and customers are always curious to see what’s upstairs.

What’s on your floor?Make sure you keep the featured flooring products installed on your showroom floor from your current product offering. Discontinued flooring materials should be replaced immediately. I know this takes constant vigilance on your part, but nothing says dated more than a customer falling in love with something that is discontinued.

Your floor is your blank canvas.You’ve got the talent to keep that fresh and current, and it’s one of the biggest selling tools you have. Did you know that less than 10% of the world’s population has the ability to visualize concepts? That means that 90% of the people who walk in your door will be drawn to something that’s already there-life-sized for them to see. And manufacturers may be willing to cut you a deal on materials you are willing to showcase on the floor. It’s always worth asking.

Design your floors.Store after store use different flooring materials in squared-off predictable plots. It is functional, but totally predictable. When you get into home settings, your installers are asked to lay curves, diagonals, and mixed materials (stone with inlaid wood, for example). You can certainly incorporate some of those techniques into your floors.  

Here’s one unique showroom idea: Natural stone pebbles were used to create a winding path from the front door of the showroom, through a lobby area, to a larger back showroom. I was asked to create something different and inviting, so I drew it out in chalk right on the cement subfloor so the installers had a template to follow.

The stone was inset into a body of marble flooring set in the lobby, and ended at a carpeted, larger secondary showroom space. It created a wonderful mix of materials, and felt like a garden path leading customers exactly where they were supposed to go. Bottom line: A little bit of imagination and creative use of materials with some staying power can net big results.

The items outlined above are only a few examples of creative and effective showroom designs. I’d like to hear if you’ve discovered something fresh and effective for your own retail space. Just like your evolving showrooms, this subject is never done. Look for more ideas to come from the collective experts out there-you.