Dealers Strive to Inspire Desire

authors Janice Costa | June 4, 2015

Like baking the perfect chocolate chip cookie or making the perfect martini, there’s no one-size-fits-all recipe for creating a show-stopping showroom. The “right” size, product mix, layout, displays, signage and philosophy can vary widely depending on the clientele, space available and unique talents of the dealer or designer running the business.

However, one commonality seems clear – great showrooms inspire desire among those who visit, calling to mind visions of comfort, luxury, warmth, ease and happiness, and these emotions are a key factor in crystallizing the dreams that lead to sales. That’s according to dealers and designers recently interviewed by Kitchen & Bath Design News, who shared their tips for how to create a truly spectacular showroom.


Different types of displays serve different purposes, and each can play an important role in a showroom’s success, according to Kirk Heiner, CMO of KB Express, who cites several types of displays that can help a dealer or designer in the “Pathway to Purchase.

He notes, “A vignette’s purpose is for visual appeal and to display your design capability. Interactive Displays can be fun and engaging. Some can allow you to show a lot more products and style options without overwhelming the customer.” As an example of this, he cites “our patented interchangeable display that is interactive and engages the customer,” which can be seen at ShowroomsoftheFuture.com.

Next, he points to demonstrable displays, which “show comparisons to create clarity and to establish value. They can help you influence the buying behavior and give you an opportunity to express your industry knowledge.”

He continues, “Working displays can combine all the types of displays in one. They can be a working vignette, are interactive and demonstrable. However, they are limiting and once they are a working display, they are much more costly to change out, so choose your products carefully here.”

Ultimately, though, he believes all vignettes should have three components: they should have the “wow” factor, which inspires desire, they should show what sells, and they should show what’s different, “that you know will sell if shown right, and that your competition isn’t selling.”

Integrating a variety of display types is also part of the strategy at the Ferguson’s showrooms, according to national showroom manager Kate Bailey. She explains, “We display by vignette to provide inspiration, in addition to comparative displays by type to allow for ease of selection.”

She continues, “Working vignettes and interactive displays also allow customers a hands-on experience interacting with the products. Displaying a version of a product with the maximum features and benefits can certainly be a very effective selling tool. Customers can easily transition from color, options, or technical features to a more basic model whereas it can be difficult to visualize some upgraded applications and benefits without showing the model with all the ‘bells and whistles.’”

Nick Geragi CKD, CBD, ASID, general manager at the South Norwalk, CT-based Klaff’s also subscribes to the “variety is the spice of life” theory, with a mix of both full kitchen displays and vignettes. At his showroom, he notes that, “The ‘other rooms’ tend to be the vignettes. Smaller, they represent life style spaces such as the ‘Man Cave,’ Coffee Bar, Library, Master Suite/Closet, Outdoor Kitchen, Wine Cellar, laundry, and Mud Room. While smaller, they can be more impactful when set up live for customers to experience.” His advice for creating effective vignettes is to “Make them unique, use products, materials, ideas and technology in ways you have not done before. If your business is in proximity to lakes and boating, display a bar as if for a yacht. Create drama, entertain their senses and their imaginations.”

Jennifer Gilmer, CKD, owner of the Chevy Chase, MD-based Jennifer Gilmer Kitchen & Bath, Ltd., agrees that it’s not enough for displays to be attractive and engaging, they also have to show things that are unique. She says, “It’s really important to stay on top of the technology, be ahead of the curve, show types of hardware others don’t have yet, different ways of handling appliance garages, doors and drawers, etc. Lighting the interiors, drawers – its really important to show all these things, because if you’re recommending something that’s foreign to someone or that they haven’t seen, it’s difficult for them to fully understand how it would benefit them. People are afraid of the unknown, so when you can show it in your showroom, they understand it much better, and you can illustrate how it can benefit them.”


Many years ago, common wisdom said that showrooms needed “the red kitchen” – basically, a dramatic display with a design that consumers would be unlikely to buy, but that would draw attention and prove that the firm was creative and cutting edge. People would come in and admire the red kitchen…and then buy a standard white one.

While red kitchens no longer seem to be adorning showroom windows, the concept has continued to evolve in many showrooms.

Kirk believes that, “What was accomplished by the ‘red kitchen’ vignette of the past, will in the future be replaced by interactive technologies. It’s about making a statement that you are on the cutting edge.”

Gilmer notes that “It’s important to have something in the front window that really wows them,” and suggests a smaller display so it can be readily changed out on a regular basis to keep interest. She points to one of her displays, a quartersawn high-gloss walnut high loft in the shape of a piano, as one that provides dramatic “wow” appeal, but adds that, “after that, we have a white Shaker display that’s more typical so they don’t get scared off.”

She continues, “after a more ordinary display, we have another unusual one – in our case, our red crocodile leather doors. I’m constantly doing research to find things that are new, like wood floors that are wavy instead of having straight planks – these were introduced to our country just two months ago, so you won’t see them everywhere else. Even beyond that one dramatic display, you need to have things others don’t have.”

Bailey notes, “The concept of the ‘red kitchen’ is still important today…but, it must be balanced with displays showcasing popular everyday models so that the average customer can relate. It’s critical to support products at all price points appealing to different customers.”

Donohue, however, disagrees. “I think we’ve evolved past the red kitchen,” she says. “Our clients are more and more sophisticated [and] we need to show people what they can imagine in their own kitchen, comforting them, not assaulting them with too much ‘stuff.’”

Dugan has her own take on the theory. Rather than showcasing something out of the ordinary that clients wouldn’t actually buy, she aspires to use her displays to convince clients to be more creative in their own homes. She cites a display with Andy Warhol tile as an eye-catching display that’s also inspirational. “You can’t be afraid to push the envelope in your showroom,” she believes. “If a designer can’t do it in their own showroom, they’re never going to get a client to [be creative] in their own home. You have to have faith in your design. 


The right layout is part of creating a positive showroom experience. To that end, the concept of the showroom needs to be well thought out before the layout is designed.

In Dugan’s case, she says, “When I decided to do a showroom, I didn’t want to have a huge showroom that looked like every other showroom with rows of four cabinets in this style and five in that style. So my concept was that it should be a microcosm of a home.”

Geragi says, “We want to see everyone who walks into the showroom. But we don’t rush in, we give them time and space, observe, listen to the conversation and then introduce a welcoming acknowledgement with qualifying questions as to their visit. To do this the receptionist or sales designers are a bit further back from the entrance to allow people to feel less intimidated.”

Geragi also favors simple signage, noting, “[If there are] too many distractions, people are not internalizing what they have read. We try to be sure everyone gets a take away color brochure with bullet points reminding them of what they saw, and the products and services we offer.”

Bailey says, “We feel it is important to have an area where customers can wait, be educated, and/or entertained which is close to the entrance. It is quick and easy to make a customer feel comfortable by simply welcoming them, offering a beverage or snack, and asking what brings them in. Beyond the initial impression, signage helping to identify types of products and sections of the showroom can be very effective if done tastefully. More and more customers like to “self-shop” when in the idea-gathering phase. This makes it important to ensure that all displays are accurately labeled.


Bailey believes that, “A successful showroom will engage all five senses.” She notes, “Sight is the most obvious one – it is important for displays to be visually enticing and free of holes and clutter. Touch is just as critical as customers come to a showroom to touch and feel products. To maximize exposure to this sense, ensure that displays are easy to reach, clean, and in good operation. Invite the customers to take product in their hands, as it will intensify the memory that is created.

She continues, “Taste and smell can both be activated very simply: The smell of freshly brewed coffee in the morning or hot out of the oven cookies in the afternoon can heighten the senses.

Bailey adds, “Appealing to all tastes can be challenging when considering sound. Select soft music that is relaxing and upbeat and ensure that customers have private areas for meetings so that they are not overwhelmed by the buzz created by other conversations.”

Dugan agrees that the experience is hugely important, noting that, “My whole concept was based on experience. When I first took the space and thought about how I wanted it to be physically, I started with how I wanted it to feel for the customer.”

She continues, “You walk in and it feels more like a home than a showroom, this is what your home could be like. It’s also why I felt it was important to have appliances working – I can make you not just a cup of coffee but a fresh vanilla latte or a soy cappuccino, within three minutes of you walking in the door. I can turn on my oven and bake you cookies or have a croissant, and the showroom smells like the coffee and croissant. In the afternoon, I can have cold cheese from the refrigerator, and bread baking, a glass of wine…tthe kids can watch TV in the media area or sit and do their homework. The experience is very important.”

Geragi notes, “Bring your portfolio to life. If you have a web site or Houzz account you are almost done. With a little outside production help to put it in motion, you can put your portfolio to work. Install several video touch screens looping your message and telling your story throughout the showroom. Make them interactive where customers can select a project or topic to watch. This only needs to be the equivalent of 30- 45 second U-Tube spots. Topical subjects are endless; projects you have done, products and services you offer, community service projects you may sponsor and of course previous customers singing your praises.. .,  

Kitchen displays should be live to take advantage of the designs you have created, its functionality and the products you have displayed. Remember that todays consumers care most about “how”, what you have to offer….. affects their lives. Can they see themselves in the room(s) you are showing? Something should be cooking or baking at strategic times of the day. Cappuccinos between 10 and 11:00, Game hens on a rotisserie just before noon, cookies at 3pm.

Light the displays up on the inside as well as the outside. Light up the drawers and even cabinets that do not have open or glass doors. Show how you incorporate; outlets, lighting, i-pad charging, and Bluetooth connectivity into your cabinets. Create “intelligent” comparative props that can be used to show the best way to handle a product. An example, LED lighting, degrees kelvin and the color of the kitchen surfaces makes for a mind numbing conversation that everyone tries to avoid. LED technology can be a high dollar sale when you show customers how choosing the right LED lighting for their kitchen based on the colors and materials they have chosen, has been taken into consideration.”

Kirk agrees that it’s important to pay attention to all of the senses, including sights, scents and sounds, but also warns, “Above all, don’t overwhelm them. People today want simplicity, not clutter. Show less and show it better; think of it from the customer’s viewpoint.”


Bailey says, “We believe that striking a balance is the key to success when it comes to product mix. The consumer should feel like they have unlimited options but not be overwhelmed with decision-making. Organizing products in an intuitive way to facilitate easy decision-making also makes for a very customer friendly showroom experience.

When it comes to product mix, Geragi believes, “The 80/20 rule is usually the best route to take. Most designer businesses will sell repeatedly from one or two of the lines offered 80 percent of the time. While you need to be well rounded and understand the breadth of your customer base, a study of the time invested, learning curve for employees and the products sold usually bears this out.” He notes that, “Larger staffs, and a wider range of customer demographics and regional influence are more successful with multiple lines.”

With a relatively small showroom, Dugan doesn’t try to show an overwhelming amount of products. Rather, she says, “We have two [cabinet] lines, and show four options for each line, but within those, I have  all the bells and whistles, so in the office cabinetry, I have three awning style cabinets, but they all have different opening mechanisms so people can see what each is like. I showed a u sink drawer, pull-out and lighted interior doors, lots of organizational things so people can see what you can do from a feature and functionality standpoint. In Marin Country, your storage has to be really, really dialed in, so this is important.


It’s impossible to have a discussion about the showroom without talking about the role of an experienced and knowledgeable designer in making the showroom a true resource for consumers. As Barbara states, “A designer’s knowledge and design sense is very important in creating a great showroom.”

Heiner adds, “With all that is available on the Internet, one of the reasons shoppers come to a brick and mortar building is to connect with industry experts to help guide them in their selections. According to a recent study conducted by Time Trade, 90 percent of consumers are more likely to buy when helped by a knowledgeable associate.” He says, “Your design staff’s knowledge and experience is what builds the trust factor with a customer,” which is why staff expertise is so critical to the showroom experience.

At the Neil Kelly showroom in Bend, OR, Kathleen Donohue, CMKBD cites a survey that said a third of those planning a remodel drop out early in the process because they’re overwhelmed by too many choices and too many decisions to make. She says, “With the Internet and Houzz and the flood of ‘stuff’ that comes at them, they look to us to edit things down for them.”

Gilmer agrees: “The designer has to understand the showroom and what’s in it, and when talking with the client, get a feel for which direction to direct them in, so you can take them to the areas that show what they like. It’s like when I take my clients to a tile store, it’s overwhelming because there’s so much there and they don’t know where to start. That’s why I go with my clients – because I know what price range they’re looking at and what their taste is and I can direct them accordingly.”

Bailey calls Ferguson’s product experts “the secret sauce,” and says, “Both trade professionals and homeowners alike rely on a knowledgeable and experienced product experts to make their project a success.” She concludes, “A beautiful, innovative, and/or interactive showroom is nothing without great people to facilitate a world class customer experience. 

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