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One of the major elements that will drive interactions in a post-pandemic world will be design. It is not a matter of opinion, but one of fact as our perspectives have changed over the past year. Showrooms across the country understood the need to provide clients — be they professionals, homeowners or renters — with retail spaces that both simplify the selection process and support shoppers’ psychological needs.
People will be looking for refreshed, clean and easy-to-navigate spaces that not only provide reassurance but also are in a safe, hygienic place and reflect a vision of a positive, flourishing future. The spaces in which people shop directly influence their mood, desire to update their homes, and ultimately, their willingness to purchase.
It is up to individual showrooms to tap into great design and product merchandising that will drive clients to continue working on their homes.
Design is the way in — and by design, I mean a showroom that takes every element of the showroom space into account to present a cohesive, organized and aesthetically on-point showroom inspired by the needs and wants of their local market. The design trend to follow is not necessarily the latest and most fashionable use of shapes, colors or branding, but a trend of organization and functionality.
The ways design can impact a showroom experience will vary according to the size and shape of the retail space. Of course, showrooms come in all shapes and sizes, from multilevel spaces selling everything needed for the home interior to boutique showrooms displaying a curated selection of top products.
Layout and the flow of product selection are unique to each space, so there is never a one-size-fits-all approach to designing a showroom. One can take lessons from the other, but a showroom’s role in a client’s journey is the starting point for how the space should be laid out and how merchandise should be displayed.
For example, in a large-scale showroom, offering everything from faucets to appliances to outdoor living spaces, there are a few ways to optimize the flow of product selection.
As clients often visit larger showrooms to complete entire projects without going to multiple stores, the goal is to make the experience as easy and seamless as possible. For someone working on a kitchen, bathroom or entire house, ideally you would not want to send them or your sales staff running from one end of the showroom to another. This is a challenge in large spaces and takes thought and planning.
While products can be grouped by type (faucets, hardware, accessories, lighting, etc.) in a large space, the optimal arrangement is to group products by room or in-home space. Going this route also allows for the strategic use of vignettes or mini-suites to highlight new product lines as well as style inspiration that help clients make better selections.
In smaller, boutique settings, showrooms can risk trying to fit too many products into a small space. The latest boutique-style showrooms are moving away from packing products from floor to ceiling in favor of a gallery approach.
In this design mode, top products, new lines and luxury items are displayed as showpieces and vignettes are kept small. One option in a smaller setting is to put the focus on a larger item, such as a tub, and place faucet, accessory or hardware walls close by.
In small spaces, using the walls is essential. Products can be displayed vertically to allow for more variety; in the case of faucets and accessories, this is a common practice. Recently, the same vertical merchandising practice was applied to sinks and even toilets, with displays engineered to stack these products against the wall versus traditional floor displays. The goal is to showcase more while taking up less space.
Using both high and low displays strategically is key. For example, place tubs and vanities in the center, with faucets, accessories, and hardware on the walls. It allows for easy pairings and provides many options without being overwhelming.
The relationship between consumer and product is different in a kitchen and bath showroom. Overall, showroom merchandising does not encourage grab-and-go shopping. While you want to show off products in a simple and organized way, you also need to encourage customers to stop and engage with the merchandise. It’s about offering an experience, not a shopping trip — they can go to a big-box store for that.
Customers are shopping for centerpieces for their homes. It’s not simply a bathtub, it’s the focus of their bathroom. A faucet can be simple or it can tie the entire design of a kitchen together. Shoppers who put so much time and effort into their choices want to truly engage with the products to ensure they are the right product for their homes.
Plumbing fixtures are some of the largest investments homeowners will undertake, so making the journey both exciting and unique helps them feel comfortable making these major purchases.
Product placement, modern displays, layout and flow through the showroom are critical elements to have in place when creating this experience for customers. Open, organized spaces create an instantly comforting first impression; knowing they won’t be overwhelmed by options and will not need to run from one end of the showroom to another to find what they need puts people at ease.
Another reason to focus on organization and flow is that it allows your sales staff to confidently guide customers through the selection process with fewer disruptions, less confusion and better knowledge about what is on display. A strategic layout isn’t just for customers. It is designed to make it easier for the sales staff to keep track of products and orient clients to make the right choices.
In this sense, design supports communication between the showroom, the staff and the clients. For a retail-focused showroom, an open floor plan with a less-is-more approach is a subtle reminder that the business is transparent about what it offers, not to mention knowledgeable and willing to share that knowledge with clients.
A sense of transparency and honest communication is key in this transitional period and can be further reinforced by encouraging sales staff to be open about issues such as price changes, supply chain delays, delivery times and product availability.
When we hear the word design, our minds go straight to thinking about styles, colors, branding and trends. It’s fun to play with these elements to give a showroom a unique character, often one that speaks to a showroom’s main clientele. You can take an entirely different approach by designing an aspirational space influenced by European design, something that is usually a few years ahead.
Since this level of design is on the surface and based on things that can easily shift (market and style trends), it’s more likely the “look” of the showroom will change more frequently. That could mean lifestyle graphics, logos and branding, colors and consumer-facing technology.
What’s harder and more costly to change over the long-term — and therefore worth more thought, time and energy at the outset — are the design elements contributing to merchandise organization, functionality, layout and flow.
Rethinking Lifestyle Graphics
Words, quotes, history and storytelling can be implemented into design, as millennials find this very attractive.
We’re moving away from large-scale lifestyle graphics and going with subtle touches of lettering and quotes on walls or more unexpected places.
Lifestyle graphics — those large images of happy families in kitchens or a woman enjoying a spa-like bubble bath — can and should be achieved through the design of the showroom itself. When the space is warm, cozy and welcoming, it creates the same feeling as looking at a photograph and is, in fact, even more powerful.
Once that desire is sparked, the customer is encouraged to make purchases that will let her carry the feelings home. Again, it’s not about the product — it’s about the experience.
Another important trend: Showrooms looking to attract younger customers should include multifunctional areas for classes and community or customer-oriented events.
Signs are still important to shoppers and valuable tools for a showroom. Instead of basic signage that simply indicates the name and price of an item, incorporate informational signage. A sign offering in-store product recommendations, use-case examples and call-to-action messaging might be a more effective approach. Instead of aiming to grab attention, informational signage will drive product interactions.
Inspiration for style, color and design can be found almost anywhere, but the top places to search are popular design accounts on Instagram, design websites and Pinterest. It’s great for seeing what’s popular with clients. However, when searching for retail and showroom inspiration, it’s a good idea to see what’s going on in trendy hotels and restaurants.
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