authors Janice Costa
The digital age has impacted society on every level, and the kitchen and bath showroom is no exception. While most agree that the “see and touch” aspects of a live showroom will never be replaced by digital-age substitutions, technology is definitely transforming the traditional showroom, giving a boost to business as it impacts everything from software to displays to marketing tools.
Additionally, many dealers are rethinking their showrooms to accommodate a changing client base, whether giving greater play to Gen X clients, Baby Boomers, higher income homeowners or budget-conscious consumers – and this more careful targeting is helping to grow business.
Showrooms are also evolving in terms of product mixes and types and numbers of displays, as well as the type of experience consumers have in the showroom. That’s according to a new study conducted by the Research Institute for Kitchen & Cooking Intelligence (RICKI) in conjunction with Kitchen & Bath Design News, which polled 243 kitchen/bath dealers and designers who currently have a showroom.
The study looked at how showrooms are evolving in terms of size, display types, product lines, technology, marketing and more.
Technology is clearly a driving factor in today’s evolving showroom, with technology being increasingly used by showroom personnel and on the showroom floor. Nearly half (47%) of those polled said they had either added new technology to their showroom in the past two years or planned to add it to their showroom in the next 12 months (see Graph 1).
Interestingly, the survey showed that respondents with either a large or small showroom were significantly more likely to have added or be planning to add new technology compared to those with mid-sized showrooms.
When asked what technology tools they were currently using, 91% cited smartphones, 83% said they were using desktop computers, 83% noted CAD software, 78% cited product ordering software and 74% pointed to laptop computers as important to their business. Another 67% said they use a tablet or iPad, 65% use kitchen- or bath-related apps, 50% incorporate TV projection and 48% rely on Web-based presentations (see Graph 2).
Over the past four years, showroom sizes have remained stable, with the median square footage for kitchen and bath showrooms among those polled being 2,419 square feet (see Graph 3), compared to 2,362 in 2011. However, 16% said they will be expanding their showroom space in the coming year, with that number holding constant regardless of current showroom size.
But, while showroom sizes don’t seem to be changing much, there are definitely changes going on with regard to the feel of the space, and how the showroom experience is evolving.
As one dealer noted, “I see [the showroom] changing to be more of a spa-like experience. We are designing our showroom to enhance the experience the client has when they work with us. People are busy, and planning is a big part of their remodeling project. They appreciate meeting with designers and having the ability to see renderings and beautiful elements pulled together. We are planning our space to enhance that ‘reveal’ with product samples in a private space.”
Another survey respondent stated, “We will diminish any display-oriented selling in a showroom setting and continue more with a ‘studio’ space that is more engaging and try to get away from promoting a ‘shopping experience.’ Concierge service is becoming more of what our clients expect from us. It reduces confusion and keeps clients and the sales process on track.”
While showroom sizes are remaining stable, display additions are in the works for many dealers, with nearly a third (31%) planning to add bath displays and 45% planning to add kitchen displays (see Graph 4). Specifically, in the next 12 months, one out of four expect to add bath vanities, countertops, cabinet hardware, specialty lighting, kitchen cabinets and storage.
As far as the composition of today’s showroom, kitchen products are given the lion’s share of space, with 67% of product space showcasing kitchen products, 22% devoted to bath products and 11% used for all other products. Small and mid-size showrooms devote even more space to kitchen products, the survey showed.
Survey respondents had a median of 2.3 full kitchen displays and 3.7 partial kitchen vignettes/displays.
Interestingly, one in four showrooms don’t have any full kitchen displays. An even greater number – three in five – don’t have any full bath displays, with those polled citing a median of 0.4 full bath displays and 2.5 partial bath vignettes/displays.
While the world may be changing rapidly, showroom displays aren’t changed out that often, according to the survey. Indeed, the majority of those polled change their displays every one to three years or less, and one in eight showrooms say they have never changed their displays.
Three in five respondents have live displays, and nearly one-third plan to add live displays (or increase the number of existing live displays) in order to enhance their showroom’s appeal.
As for product mix, the vast majority carry kitchen cabinets (95%), cabinet hardware (92%), countertop surfacing materials (91%), bath vanities (88%) and other-room cabinetry (80%), while 76% offer kitchen sinks and faucets, 71% sell interior cabinet fittings/storage aids/closet systems, 66% carry bath sinks, lavs and faucets, 55% offer specialty lighting, 53% carry bath hardware and accessories and 51% sell kitchen accessories and flooring (see Graph 5).
Showrooms of those polled offered an average of 10 lines of kitchen and bath products combined.
And, while the majority are not planning to increase their showroom space, many are considering product line changes, with 61% planning to add or change cabinet lines, 54% planning to add or change bath vanity lines, 53% planning to add or change countertop lines, 44% planning to add or change cabinet hardware lines and 37% expecting to add or change kitchen sink/faucet lines.
Interestingly, more than half of those polled said they have changed their showrooms to accommodate a changing demographic, with 55% focusing more on Gen X clients, 49% adapting to a growing Boomer clientele, 39% making changes to accommodate more higher-income customers and 38% focusing more on the growing number of homeowners with smaller budgets.
Technology continues to have a major impact on how showrooms market themselves, with six of the top seven most popular marketing tools all being techno-driven (see Graph 6). Web sites were the number one marketing tool, cited by 96% of those polled, followed by Houzz (81%), Facebook (79%), print ads (69%), LinkedIn (69%), texting (61%) and online ads (47%).
Less popular marketing tools included enewsletters (28%), TV Ads (25%), YouTube (25%) and Twitter (25%).
While the changing economy continues to present challenges for kitchen and bath professionals, survey respondents were quite optimistic for the future. In fact, more than two-thirds (68%) said they anticipate business improving over the next 12 months. By contrast, only 2% believe business will be worse, while 27% see it remaining about the same.
Dealers surveyed also talked about their vision of the future of showrooms. Below are a few of their responses:
“With so many older homeowners deciding to stay where they are, accessible features are becoming a ‘must have’ instead of a wish item.”
“Showrooms will get smaller and take advantage of digital tools and marketing.”
“I see the tactile experience continuing to be a way in which folks decide which products come home with them. Online research goes pretty far, but items for the home need the ‘in-person’ experience and perhaps a good salesperson relationship to confirm what they’re finding online – to feel confidence in narrowing down what all the online reviews are saying.”
“Kitchen design will become more personalized. Design-driven sales will become less reliant on showrooms. High-end customers will continue to visit design center showrooms for the ambiance and to see the latest features. Mid-range sales will continue to be a mix based on whether a customer is more interested in design or price. Price-driven sales will likely go to home centers and IKEA.”
“Showrooms are going to have to balance keeping up with technology trends, while at the same time accentuating the personal customer service that sets them apart from the host of on-line retailers and ‘design yourself’ options.”