To be fair, manufacturers and retailers have different agendas. Manufacturers want to load up retail showrooms with as much of their product as possible. With a dozen of them having the same agenda, it’s no wonder the average dealer’s showroom is an ugly mishmash of sample books and displays—a veritable retail jungle. Conversely, retailers would like to present their product under proper selling conditions.

Understandably, a reason manufacturers rarely hire me is I could never say that what they do is always 100% right. DuPont used to say I was a “loose cannon.” Yes, some elite mills hired me for sales training—Fabrica and Milliken for example—but for the most part suppliers were the establishment and I was an outlier, someone who speaks the truth, but the establishment thinks is a jerk. Well, I would rather be the truthful jerk.

Except for my own beautiful showrooms and the 20 or so I’ve designed throughout the country, in all the trade magazines, brochures or in visiting and attending trade shows, I have never viewed a layout, a design element (save one) or even a sample rack that was useful in a retail showroom.

Nothing can make a showroom uglier than different manufacturers’ racks littering America’s showrooms. Abbey, CCA Global and some of the other professional groups at least gave their members slightly better looking displays, of uniform design which make their showrooms presentable.

A great example of the uselessness of current display racks is while I was attending a session at a recent convention where a female vice president was explaining the proper way to present a sample to a customer by gently giving her the sample, having her touch, feel and caress it.

Great stuff, except her mill’s display rack had these teeny-tiny swatches pasted to pieces of cardboard. The jerk in me came out and I interrupted her by stating she was exactly right, and saving my contempt for her president who was sitting in the room, asked him how any salesperson could follow her advice with the displays they offered.

Reps sometimes tell retailers they want samples of different styles shown together. Years ago, the color wall grouped colors together. The obvious danger is the consumer asking, “Are those all the blues you have?” or “Are those all the Berbers you have?” instead of consumers being exposed to other styles and colors available.

At one time flooring was dominated by large retail chains—Kaufmann’s, Allen Carpet Co. and New York Carpet World. As consumers became slightly more sophisticated, their aggressive sales tactics, bait-and-switch advertising and other deceitful sales tricks soured them.

Large Samples

However, not everything was bad. They displayed large samples in their stores. Even the cheapest materials felt like a million dollars when a customer held them. Together with private labeling, no consumer would believe it was the exact same sample seen elsewhere.

The decision not to use any size except 27 x 54-inches in my showrooms was a no-brainer. Never, under any circumstances, were sample books or anything not part of a display allowed in the showroom. Strange, as today, manufacturers give retailers larger size vinyl samples; I wonder why this is?

One manufacturer— of long ago—that displayed carpet in an effective way for retailers was Trend Mills. This is where I first met Sandy Mishkin, who would go on to help build CCA Global Partners. He designed vignettes, which means slices of life, for carpet. These were displays that featured a large piece of flooring accessorized with small pieces of furniture, vases, artwork and flowers.

The vignettes I designed were made to be placed on the wall, 6-feet high, framed and with a small 3 x 3-ft. platform upon which went a chair or a vase with flowers and the quality name on the wall.

If a retailer has 50 manufacturers’ racks near the front of the showroom, consumers would ignore them if they spy vignettes in the back of the room. Actually, she would rather even see room settings—usually undoable in flooring—which changed the face of furniture retailing. Consumers want to see flooring displayed as it is to be used in their home. This isn’t hard. Why don’t marketing people, designers and consultants know this?

Mishkin knew that if you use display racks with larger samples they had to be built so retailers could easily remove the sample to show it on the floor. You already know when attending markets and you want to remove a sample, it generally stays fully affixed. Don’t the mills know colors look entirely different on the floor than when shown vertically?

My book, “Warren Tyler on Retail,” not only gives you all the elements of proper showroom design and display, it shows how to construct vignettes and floor displays for just a fraction of the cost of ready-made units, so incredibly, the right way is actually cheaper. Looking back during my 27 years as a columnist, speaker and trainer, I should have spent more time assisting retailers to build, as I called them, “Showrooms That Sell,” but it was unfortunately just a small part of my business at the time. I was traveling 50 weeks of the year teaching selling, service and elements of professional retailing.

A huge element of Showrooms That Sell is lighting. Fluorescents wash out color and give an ungodly horrible look to any room. Americans do not use fluorescent lighting in their homes and, as a retailer, you need to have your showroom lit with the same kind of lighting in their homes to make it easier for them to view samples. A most common statement by customers upon entering our showrooms was how beautiful the colors were—amazing since we all sell the same products. One more thing, mirrors and plants give showrooms life. Again, “Warren Tyler on Retail” gives you all the critical information.