Adapt Your Showroom for Online Shopping

by Autumn McGarr
Sarah Reep

Will we need kitchen and bath showrooms in five years? What will continue to be important, and what new thoughts should we consider for our future kitchen and bath showrooms?

In this column, I’ll answer a few questions I’ve recently received in light of the changes in our businesses resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic and our need for social distancing. Change for our industry is occurring, and you should consider some ways to embrace this change (see related Barometers & Editorial, Pages 10 & 7, respectively).   

1. What is the future of kitchen and bath showrooms since we have learned to work virtually, and clients have more experience with online shopping?

I believe the physical kitchen and bath showroom will continue for at least seven more years – and ideally for many years to come beyond that. However, the shape, format and purpose of the showroom will likely evolve. We’ll continue to have more and better technology tools for businesses, kitchen and bath professionals and their customers. Technology supports are empowering all of us to work more effectively and efficiently, needing less to do more.

Technology will undoubtedly support our industry’s business processes to a greater degree, while allowing our consumers to take a stronger role in their design projects. Plus, all ages of homeowners are getting increasingly comfortable with online shopping – which is undoubtedly here to stay and will only continue to grow in users and product advancements. In addition, with homes increasingly being viewed as not just a haven but a safe refuge, the conveniences of online makes staying at home easier than shopping outside our homes. Consumers will gravitate to that ease of purchase.

New and remodeled kitchens and baths have a lot of moving parts. Shopping and purchasing products for these major projects requires coordination and accuracy if decisions are to work together successfully. The process is not easily learned; mistakes can be costly on many fronts. Because of those factors alone, I believe that the physical showroom will continue as a place for kitchen and bath consumers to discover, learn, meet, validate and understand.

The physical showroom will also continue to provide a space for both the consumer and the design professional to establish the kind of relationship needed for the project to be properly executed. Now, that is not to say showroom sizes, shapes and experiences won’t change. Showrooms are expensive to design and maintain. They represent considerable overhead. Because of this, a showroom’s plan and financial outlay will still need to be measured and balanced.

We are fortunate as an industry that our shopping category is for numerous small- to large-sized products needed to create a bigger total project. Fortunately, product needs are very individual to kitchen and bath clients – often two of whom, with different needs and viewpoints, are involved in the purchase decision. Adding to the complexities is their budget, project scale and style interests.

The showroom will remain to a connecting point and experience center. However, I do believe more and more of the upfront planning process will occur outside of a physical showroom space. I also can see that more meetings and longer time spent at the client’s home will potentially lessen the requirements of the showroom we know today.

Still, it will require business owners to change – and they will only when the shopping consumer changes first. It always comes down to what the consumer will do. What they will do will drive the showroom value to longevity importance.

2. With virtual meetings and online shopping growing, will we still need physical product samples in the future?

Assuming your business involves project-based sales, as opposed to cash-and-carry, your showroom is where clients – many of whom have gotten inspiration online – can see, touch and feel the real thing. The showroom is also where clients confirm that your business and its people are where they want to invest time and money.

Most homeowners still want to touch and see what they’re buying, especially when it comes to home-related fashion and products of color, sheen and texture. When you’re redesigning an entire room – from fixtures to cabinetry, painting and flooring – there’s a greater risk regarding how the products will meld. Computer terminals, tablets and smartphones do not provide the same level of color accuracy as viewing a product in person, and with the natural light that affects colors multiple times in a day.

Examining products in person is always best to ensure no regrets at the time of installation, or after the installation is complete. Showroom designs and displays have been improving over the past five years, making showroom selections easier and more accurate. If you have creative, illuminating displays in your showroom, consider marketing that as a reason for clients and prospects to visit.

In light of coronavirus-related shelter-at-home mandates, I was pleased to discover that designers were getting creative in navigating this potential roadblock. Some found ways to get product samples for homeowners to review by dropping the samples at their door and, later, hosting a virtual meeting to talk through all that was delivered in a contactless, safer way.

We, as an industry, have been pushed to be creative – to think and act differently than the standard way of operating. Will we return to the old ways of doing business? Or will we adapt and evolve to a mix of both old and new? That’s an individual choice that showroom owners will need to make.

3. What are some other physical aspects of the showroom essential to invest in?

I believe that having cordial, professionally-trained sales and design associates working in the showroom is more critical than any other factor. After all, they are the experts who serve by listening to clients and collaborating with them in making the appropriate decisions and product selections.

However, in the coming years, as we become more and more virtual, connecting face-to-face on screen and engaging clients through productive hand gestures and eye contact will become increasingly important. Being more like a natural, comfortable public speaker while presenting virtually will be essential for design associates to master, in an effort to keep online meetings productive and exciting for short-attention-span clients. A level of personal delivery, including high quality of the visuals, will become a new standard to achieve for designers seeking to make profitable sales connections online.

Designers have not had to incorporate these kinds of skills in the past, but they will now and going forward. Hint: Buy an add-on, higher-quality video camera for your computer and, if possible, turn on the “Touch Up My Appearance” feature to improve your online presentations. Most importantly, don’t forget to utilize optimal lighting, so you offer the best opportunity for clients and prospects to see what you’re delivering.

4. How do you think online and physical showrooms relate to each other?

We need to consider marketing and showroom design in relationship to the current and anticipated growth in online shopping. We also need to learn more about how consumers prepare for working with us.

Most of the showrooms I’ve visited need improved integration with their website and social media initiatives. They need to own their online showroom experience more than simply providing information about who they are and what they have to offer.

Business owners should not be afraid to show their showroom online, allowing prospects to pre-engage and become informed. For example, consider including a floor plan walkthrough with easy-to-understand references that are not visually disruptive. Your potential clients should not be surprised or disappointed by the difference between what they see online and then experience at your showroom. These two spaces – the physical and the digital – reflect the same company and should have the same marketing and brand relationships. Both should be developed with a seamless, frictionless view, as seen through the eyes of our clients and prospects.

5. What have I learned from the COVID-19 disruption?

I feel like I’ve seen it all now – although, of course, something will occur that I wasn’t planning or haven’t experienced. We, and our industry, are resilient. We’ll navigate the current market challenges, but it’s essential to be nimble and lean toward being prepared for the unexpected. We always need to have our sneakers on, and be ready to run with change. That’s easier said than done. But the key is to continue to learn, evolve, shift and adapt.

That will get us through this – together. ▪

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