Envisioning the Future of the Showroom
authors Sarah Reep | November 5, 2019
I’ve been working in the kitchen and bath industry long enough to see great changes over many years. Reflecting on the past can assist us in identifying what might be next with regard to showroom design. Predicting and making recommendations for tomorrow’s showrooms is just one of my many favorite trend-spotting activities.
Years ago, showrooms were generally either a place to buy kitchen cabinets or a boutique kitchen showroom. Displays for boutique kitchen showrooms were just big enough to focus on kitchen features and benefits. They were well-appointed with leading faucets, countertops and layouts that fit homes of the era.
Showrooms were well-lit, with an inviting feel. It was common to have the showroom lead with remodeling, using higher-priced, well-made, branded products rather than the lower-priced imports we see today. Back then, lower-priced products were sold quietly out the back door as needed for business diversification instead of being intermingled with the better offerings. Homeowners valued seeing a full kitchen with beautiful selections. Layout and display features were equally important in their final decisions and the quality of the products meant as much as the style they selected. Sound familiar?
These days, homeowners shop and buy kitchens instead of just buying some cabinets to fill a wall. Kitchens are still valuable to homeowners, even if not as much as before the Recession. Kitchens and baths still make a home sell, and sell for more. However, remodeling can greatly hurt the value of the home if not done well enough or in a relatable style to prospective buyers.
Today’s showrooms tend to display a much wider range of price points. This makes selling and closing a project harder for a designer with too many product lines to master – especially if they are newer to our industry or still learning.
At the same time, today’s showrooms are getting smaller by design. There are many reasons for this, including the following:
- Higher Priced Retail Locations — In the past, many showrooms were tucked away in industrial areas. When showrooms are located near where shoppers live and shop, the rent is potentially higher.
- Internet Access to Anything and Everything — Internet access to social media ideas, visuals, manufacturers’ websites, designers’ projects and Pinterest all come together to educate prospects more fully than we could do years ago just using magazines.
- Project Installation Labor Sources Are Scarce to Fragmented — Many of today’s showrooms are offering installation services to differentiate their firms. Many experienced designers are retiring, and their replacements are new to the industry or don’t have the breadth of experience their predecessors had.
In the future, kitchen and bath showrooms will likely have smaller, more open and more flexible footprints. Displays will be smaller to simplify and speed up refreshing and updating. Samples will still be needed and plentiful.
Designers who reflect millennials’ shopping tastes will ensure the sustainability of our industry because people buy from those whom they like and relate to. Even with increasing online sales, kitchen and bath showrooms will remain relevant – if the showroom services are meaningful and relate to homeowners’ needs.
The appearance and upkeep of showrooms cannot be ignored. There are far too many showrooms with out-of-date product offerings that are poorly lighted and make it difficult to make product selections.
Displays that are not current or that showcase products that are no longer available take up valuable floor space and lessen the amount of square footage available to productively drive sales. However, in the last five years, many businesses improved their showrooms at just the right time, while many design-minded millennials also started and will continue forming households. These consumers expect showrooms to be visually related to what they see, watch on TV and find online. Out-of-date offerings will not inspire or drive these design-minded shoppers to purchase from you, unless the price is very attractive.
All showrooms will need to be updated faster with full display change-outs of refreshed colors and styles. Showrooms need to relate to what shopping homeowners see and tag online. Designers also openly share that businesses that lag behind with technology tools and equipment are unappealing to work for. It affects their image as designers when they want to be seen as on-trend, aware and competitive in the market.
Designers may grow less loyal to showrooms that are not a reflection of how they see themselves. Younger people may be driven to open their own showrooms. They might first become free agents, driving their own business by using the showroom as an on-call need, rather than working within the showroom.
A professional I know has predicted that the designer’s role will evolve to become more independent from a showroom – consider the “free agency” of sports carrying over to designer talent. And, when millennial designers need more flexibility with their family time, they may want to be free agents in order to work independently.
Could this separation of employee and employer work well for our industry? The showroom person on the floor would be more of a guide without needing to know product details. Creating the design and compiling the order could be driven off site by more highly skilled designers who work under flexible conditions. Could this work with operational models in place today?
Showrooms with large, full display vignettes will be less important. For example, instead of eight full vignettes, there might be one larger leading full kitchen, even a working display, and several satellite sections to explain style and function simultaneously. These satellite sections could be updated, sold off and/or refreshed more easily, more quickly and at lower expense.
Showroom marketing will need to evolve because the consumer is doing more preparation online. By using social media – Houzz, Pinterest, Facebook, etc. – potential customers can become engaged with the business and showroom before walking into the building. Additionally, hardworking, feature-rich displays will encourage your customers to use your business to partner with their ideas and make their dreams become a reality!
It’s an exciting time right now in our industry. Established kitchen and bath pros are making way for younger people to drive the future in an industry that has been slow to change. There are many steps involved in selling, designing and managing a kitchen and bath project. Find your place in the industry by making sure your showroom is designed for flexibility and easy updating. ▪