What’s Trending in Showrooms

by Autumn McGarr

Is your business based on clicks, bricks or both? If you have a physical showroom, you may find that keeping up with trends on optimizing that space is as much of a job as the actual design work you do within it. Here are four pros generously sharing their thoughts on what’s happening in the retail realm:

  • Kymberly Weiner, director of marketing and sales at the Decorative Plumbing + Hardware Association;
  • Diane Steves, co-owner of Decorative Plumbing Supply in San Carlos, CA
    and winner of DPHA’s 2019 Showroom
    of the Year;
  • Sam Walker, North American director of retail for global cabinetry brand Poggenpohl;
  • Bridget Bueche, chef and experiential consultant for kitchen showrooms through her Cook’s Perspective programs.

This past DPHA Showroom of the Year winner makes its tubs look ready for a delicious soak.
Photo: Decorative Plumbing + Hardware Association/Pierce Hardware

Management trends

One of the major trends facing showrooms today is staff retention challenges. “Great talent is getting increasingly hard to find and retain due in part to the low unemployment rate,” observes Weiner. “Our members are focusing on continuously training their staff to be elite representatives in each of their markets.”

Steves adds, “The best way to keep our employees knowledgeable is regular training with our manufacturers’ reps to keep us up to date on new trends and products.” Steves and her husband, who founded the company in the early ’90s, also send their workers to manufacturer programs. “We find it very beneficial to our sales associates who get excited to come back and share what they learned.”

Bueche is both a booster and an asset for training. “When a customer feels understood and trusts a salesperson, the salesperson is no longer ‘selling.’ The two form a unique bond and work as a team to achieve a common goal. Sales are increased through this process and from referrals,” the chef notes.

Owners and managers are also studying what works in other industries, Weiner observes. “In busier markets with a lot of foot traffic, showrooms are taking notes from retail and utilizing greeters to engage customers as soon as they enter the building to make a more personalized experience and separate the browsers from surefire clients,” she says. Bottom lines count, too, the association executive adds: “We have also seen DPHA showrooms make their compensation plans more appealing to entice new talent and increase retention.”

Lessons from Pirch

Before venturing out on her own, Bueche was part of the founding management team of Pirch (back in 2009 when it was a single showroom called Fixtures Living). Members of local design associations were frequently treated to Bueche’s skills in the retailer’s original San Diego showroom at chapter meetings, and design enthusiasts throughout the region could drop in, shop and dine at weekly Friday lunches. That was before the company moved to an upscale mall and exploded in the luxury sphere across the country.

“We pushed the envelope from a traditional appliance store to a store that transformed the consumer’s experience through in-store demonstrations, an environment of excitement and fun and a safe place for consumers to experience and feel at home. This gave consumers a vision of what their own kitchen could be,” Bueche recalls.

This small Boston Poggenpohl showroom lives large in its space.
Photo: Poggenpohl

“Pirch focused on customer experience before it was even a catch phrase, and everyone loved the coffee bars and test kitchens,” Weiner shares. “It was a strikingly different shopping experience than going to any other existing decorative plumbing and hardware showroom. Unfortunately, it seems like the customer experience didn’t translate into sales, thus causing them to close all but four of their locations. I think our members now look at customer experience a bit more critically, focusing on how to turn the experience into more sales.”

Bueche has a slightly different take, blaming an over-ambitious expansion plan, rather than the customer experience model: “In retrospect, controlled growth would have been the preferred business model,” she reflects. That can look like focused employee and customer training, the chef asserts, rather than a massive footprint. “Having created the Pirch experience, what we recognized was that to succeed today, we need to better understand our customers.” This could be tapping into their lifestyle needs, wellness goals, kitchen aptitude or budget, she suggests.

Creating the luxury retail experience

Poggenpohl certainly has success to share in the luxury retail market. The 128-year-old German kitchen manufacturer has 12 corporate design studios and about 30 dealers in the U.S. As you read this, the company will be in the process of launching a flagship showroom in New York’s Soho neighborhood, scheduled to open in 1Q2020, Walker says. “Experience is the key concept or trend that is driving retail today,” he asserts.

“We have areas where consumers can relax and learn about the brand, work areas where they can sit with a designer and play with samples as well as inspiration centers to show what is possible, or get hands-on with cooking demonstrations.”

Plumbing retailer Steves agrees with Walker’s premise about customer experience, but has different challenges selling about 100 brands; perhaps your business shares these challenges. “It’s important for the manufacturers to create a tailored experience that romanticizes their products to the consumer,” she advises. “Display aesthetic and interaction are key.” That helps the companies differentiate their offerings and not get lost in the space, she explains.

“It’s always a balancing act to show [the] latest finishes, technologies, trends – while also giving space for exploration and experience,” points out Walker. “Poggenpohl is constantly remodeling our showrooms and we believe we are at the forefront of reinventing the retail experience for kitchen showrooms in general. We have a talented design team here in the U.S. and in Germany that collaborate to deliver exceptional showroom environments.”

Decorative Plumbing Supply probably doesn’t have a global design team, but still created a national award-winning showroom. When considering how and why her business won that honor, Steves shares, “We have a beautiful, 7,000-sq.-ft. showroom that creates a wonderful, comfortable experience for our customers. We truly hang our hat on customer service and the way we treat our customers like they’re our family. This what we are known for.”

It’s not always easy, she confides. “We still come across manufacturers who don’t look out for small showrooms like ours. Many of our manufacturers instill pricing policies for their products sold online so that we can still be competitive with the customers that walk through our showroom, but there are some that have yet to do that, or ignore our frustrations when it comes to this issue.”

Marketing your showroom

As any experienced retailer knows, it’s not enough to have great customer service, experiential events and competitive pricing. You have to get specifiers and homeowners through your doors. That’s where marketing plays a role. “I believe social media is the most effective way to market our showroom,” Steves says. “We’ve concentrated our efforts in the last year to put more focus on our online presence via social media and we have noticed it being much more lucrative and effective than [the] traditional print media that we have done in the past.”

DPHA’s Weiner sees the value in that. “With designers using Instagram as a means to gain inspiration and view new products, showrooms are becoming more active on this platform to interact with these clients earlier on in their design process. Design-conscious consumers are also using Instagram and can help direct their business within the showroom doors. The biggest key phrase in retail right now is ‘customer experience,’ and this is affecting how our members are looking at their showrooms, as well.” She points to DPS’ steam shower demonstration area as a way to show customers how that technology works.

Poggenpohl’s Walker comments, “You have to have events for luxury customers and designers. You have to engage in social media. You have to go out into the community and participate, as well. You can’t sit in the showroom and wait for people to come to you.”

Bueche observes that experiential marketing deepens consumer loyalty and trust when making large purchases like appliances. “For showrooms on a limited budget, it’s recommended to have at least one ‘live-appliance’ combination convection steam oven or induction cooktop. Live appliances change the consumer’s experience on the showroom floor from a hard-core sales experience – i.e. pressure – to an educational conversation that builds a trusting relationship between the consumer and a knowledgeable appliance advisor.” Picture your team members discussing individual attendees’ wellness concerns one-on-one after a demonstration that can lead to additional sales.

Technology’s role

“The internet is full of articles one must sift through and identify which authors have
worthy advice,” cautions Bueche. “Consumers have more information readily available to them on brands, specs and pricing at their fingertips, which never in history has occurred before.” It can support customer relations, but it’s not a substitute for real interactions.

Walker’s company is also using technology to help in marketing, merchandising and client communications. “Poggenpohl has apps that help price a kitchen and select different options so it makes it easy to get an idea of what the kitchen costs and how it will look. Technology also helps customers visualize their spaces with new furniture and configurations in real time and with 3D views,” he shares.

Last words

“The price of a total kitchen is still a mystery and many customers have no budget in mind,” Walker shares. Marketing gets them to your site and your showroom. A well-trained staff gets them engaged. Technology supports both efforts. But when it comes to a large investment in their homes and lives, people still buy mostly from people they trust. ▪

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