Ceramic sheep add a touch of whimsy to the front windows of Flooring Innovations, visually announcing the selection of wool carpets inside. Photo courtesy of Camarie Photography.

We all have a powerful tool at our disposal to literally transform our homes and our places of business. We can use it to create a level of comfort and security, or to increase sales, or to convey a message of professionalism and integrity. That “tool” is interior design. Floor design choices, effective space planning, and ‘intelligent’ product displays, should all work together in your showroom to produce positive results.

I can share an example of one retailer who got that combination just right. There is a shining gem of a retail flooring store in the California desert: Flooring Innovations, located in Cathedral City. Opened in the fall of 2003, the owner of this model store, Bill Nicholson, had plenty of training in how to create a flagship retail environment. Bill is a veteran floor covering professional. His previous experience includes a decade as retail store planner for DuPont Corporation, traveling the country turning ordinary stores into Stainmaster Flooring Centers.

Using Bill’s store as an example, store owners, designers and space planners should recognize the sound design principles applied to create a welcoming, functional space plan. For consumers, this analysis should set the bar for your own regional experience in shopping for floor coverings.  Here are the key factors that, as an interior designer, I feel set this store apart from so many others.

Reserve tall, vertical displays for perimeter walls and shorter displays for the store interior. Photo courtesy of Camarie Photography.

A welcoming ambience –First and foremost, as you enter this showcase store, there are amenities that say “welcome.” There is always someone to greet you at the front reception desk, and effective Feng Shui touches draw you in. A softly flowing waterfall feature creates a relaxing, upscale touch. Colorful flowers set the mood. Crystal bowls all around the store are filled with candies and mints. True-to-scale ceramic sheep add a touch of whimsy to the front windows, visually announcing the beautiful 100% wool carpets you are about to see.

Exceptional space plan –It is a fact that this Cathedral City store is huge! But that, in itself, doesn’t ensure a spacious, open flow to a store. Big box stores are also huge, yet the flooring departments seem cramped and utilitarian. They overuse vertical space and show product at heights far above eye level. This doesn’t work because consumers make buying decisions based not only on what they see, but how the product feels. That pertains to carpet, of course, but also hardwood floors, luxury vinyl tile, natural stones and tile. Surface texture is important!

Flooring Innovations took all of that into consideration and created a spacious, attractive layout. They decided to “departmentalize” different flooring materials to make the shopping experience organized and enjoyable. Displays and waterfall racks are set on the diagonal, creating roomy walk-through aisles with most products displayed at eye level. Specialty areas include carpets, area rugs, hardwood floors, luxury vinyl planks and tiles, laminate floors, natural stone, porcelain and extraordinary glass tile.

Unique selections –There are international offerings to be found in every type of floor covering. Customers deserve to be exposed to an array of distinctive fashions for their floors. Successful retailers do a worldwide search for their customers and select materials that can’t commonly be found. Flooring choices are a long-term investment, and customers want to see the best possible offerings before they make their choice.

F.I. ascribes to this formula, highlighting exceptional American-made products alongside tiles from Spain and Italy, carpets from Europe, Israel, Australia, and beautiful North American hardwoods.

Intelligent displays –Here’s an area where the “less is more” theory applies. It’s not a matter of how many displays you can cram into a retail showroom, but what works for your customer base and what fits your space. Reserve tall vertical displays for perimeter walls. Shorter displays work well throughout the interior space. (Tip: An open sightline across the interior space of a showroom always gives a feeling of spaciousness.) Organize your displays to create walkways and direct traffic patterns where you want them to go. Choose attractive displays that tie into your marketing strategy and fit the demographics of your target audience.

Displays need to produce results, and savvy owners should review their sales frequently to see which are working, and what needs to go.

Be creative with your vignettes and installations. Show what your floors can do! Photo courtesy of Camarie Photography.

Combination lighting –To be able to make important design decisions, you have to see flooring products in the best light possible. Flooring Innovations uses natural light to its best advantage to assist in the selection process, along with strategic interior lighting.

Creative floor design –Forward-thinking retailers use their own floors to showcase distinctive materials AND their installation abilities. F.I. designed their sample floors to highlight creativity. Changing their floor vignettes frequently keeps the store current and relevant in an ever-changing market. Combining flooring materials within a design helps fuel the customer’s own vision and creativity.

Comfortable work areas –So many retail stores forget one important ingredient in creating an environment conducive to creating floor designs. They have nowhere for customers to lay out and coordinate samples (along with any personal items brought from home for color and pattern). F.I. factored in a number of homey tables and seating where homeowners can assemble their “finds” and create a personal design.

Mobile sales/design service –Sometimes customers simply need to see a selection of flooring choices in their own home. In today’s service-oriented market, most retailers offer in-home appointments. Others add product-equipped vans to take sales on the road. Either way, this is an important facet to meeting customer needs.

Exemplary customer service  –So far, we’ve focused on the physical attributes of retail store design. However, never forget the most important ingredient to creating a successful sales environment is exemplary customer service. From the courteous first greeting, through the actual sales process, to the final day of installation, the most successful stores commit themselves to superior customer service.

There are some retail establishments that simply know how to create an exceptional buying experience. Nordstrom has done it at the fashion level. The Four Seasons Hotels have done it at the hospitality level. Flooring Innovations is one example of a retailer setting the standard for flooring sales. This commitment to excellence should give our industry reason to be proud, and inspire us in our own businesses.