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It’s literally a shopper’s paradise when it comes to bath, kitchen and lighting products. But it’s easy for individuals to lose their way when confronted with the vast sea of choices available for their home renovation or new build.
As the largest distributors of kitchen and bath products, and one of the largest distributors of lighting products in the United States, Ferguson knows this fact all too well. The company offers homeowners and trade professionals access to more than 1 million products in its online and brick-and-mortar stores. But it is at the company’s Bath, Kitchen and Lighting Galleries that it sets itself apart. These locations offer clients a unique and trend-setting shopping experience to help them sift through the options and set a design aesthetic for their homes.
These high-end, visually appealing retail spaces serve as productive and efficient sales tools. They optimize retail sales via compelling product displays that give clients a solid feel of the products available, from the ultra-modern to the traditional.
“We know that our customers like to touch and feel products,” says Kate Bailey, national showroom director at Ferguson. “By bringing them into our showroom, we can demonstrate product options in a hands-on environment, which helps facilitate buying decisions.”
The company is constantly remodeling its showrooms across the country to keep them fresh. Its new showroom designs include a lighting lab, working kitchens and bathroom displays. In these spaces, customers can see how lighting impacts the way artwork looks on a wall, feel water coming out of a rain showerhead or taste dishes baked in a steam oven to see how specific products will fit into their lifestyles.
“The remodeling of our showrooms is a natural progression,” states Bailey, who points out that just as every home needs a facelift, so do a company’s retail spaces over time.
“Our showrooms need to be on trend. We always want to be sure we are presenting the latest and greatest of what’s available in an inspiring and relevant environment,” she explains. “With a network of more than 250 showrooms, we will always be remodeling. The blessing and curse of being a large company is that we cannot do all our showrooms at once. We have to implement the changes on a rolling basis.”
At any point in time, the company has 40 to 50 showrooms in various stages of planning, design, development and construction. Some of the completed ones are already capturing the industry’s attention. The Ferguson Bath, Kitchen & Lighting Gallery in Naples, Florida, recently received an Innovative Showroom Award at KBIS. Its Mesa, Arizona, showroom was also a 2018 Innovative Showroom Finalist. These awards judge showrooms on their innovative, unique and interactive designs.
“This is a real testament to our design team and the great work that they do,” says Bailey. “We are really proud that their work was recognized in this way.”
Successful visual merchandising begins with knowing your target customer and keeping them in mind throughout the design process. It should go beyond customer demographics, like age and income, and dig into things like buying preferences and behaviors.
Bailey explains the company operates both brick-and-mortar and online stores and relies on data from its online stores to determine how its physical stores should look. “There is a lot of science behind designing a showroom,” she says. “The online arm of our business helps us understand the driving factors behind purchase decisions. We’re able to combine the face-to-face interviews with the point-and-click metrics from our website to design a showroom that is intuitive and flows nicely to help with decision making.”
She provides an example of what this has meant within Ferguson’s showrooms. In the past, the company organized these spaces, which average 10,000 square feet, by brand. So, if a customer was looking at a Brand A faucet but wanted to see others like it from Brand B, they had to be led across the store to the other vendor’s offerings. “Customers ping-ponged across the store to see similar offerings by other vendors,” she says. “You can see how time consuming and inefficient that could be. Based on our research, we learned that a customer’s first deciding factor is style, not brand, so now we organize our faucets by style, so a customer can take in all the options and make a decision without bouncing back and forth.”
Likewise, studying online buying habits has helped the company pinpoint trends that are specific to a geographic location. Though all showrooms follow a general template of what is selling well nationally, the designers also use this information to mix in some local flavor. “There may be a few more surfboards in Florida or a few more rain jackets in Seattle, but we still work from a core assortment of products and then inject some local flavor,” she explains.
Though customer demographics have been incorporated into the design, Bailey stresses the showroom process begins and ends with the company’s associates, which serve as the backbone for everything Ferguson does. The company employs approximately 24,000 associates and provides a family atmosphere with opportunities for advancement, which has translated into associates that stay with Ferguson an average of eight years.
“We feel like our people are our secret sauce that keeps customer service high. The way we commit to our customers and the way we treat the marketplace is paramount for us,” she says.
Every customer’s showroom experience begins with the company’s strong, knowledgeable workforce. These associates have strong relationships with trade professionals, who have come to view Ferguson as an extension of their business. “These are the builders, remodelers, designers, architects and other contractors hired by the homeowners,” she explains. “But we also work directly with the public; the homeowners themselves.”
These two buckets of customers also set the tone for the showroom experience as they have similar but varied needs. Though a designer might seek a specific look and feel for a project, ultimately, it’s the homeowner making the final purchase decision. The showrooms need to balance these needs into one that works for both clients. “With every project, there is a homeowner who has already determined what they want in terms of design, or there is a target homeowner in mind,” she says. “We really have to focus on who is going to be using the home and what their styles and needs are.”
Associates work directly with these customers to understand preferences and styles to direct them to appropriate product selections. “The showrooms are the heart of where conversations are held, and decisions are made,” she explains. “We have structured our business in such a way that the customer comes to us to make selections in a showroom setting and it’s important to keep in mind who is going to be using these kitchens, bathrooms and living spaces so we’re able to direct them to just the right product for their home.”
Ferguson strives to help customers bring their lighting visions to life through a concierge-style shopping experience. Design consultations at the showrooms arm customers with information on lighting basics via time spent in a lighting lab.
The company began its lighting lab concept as a pilot program to see if this setting would help customers make lighting decisions. Bailey explains, “The decisions clients have to make regarding architectural lighting can be very difficult because it’s not a tangible thing, like looking at a decorative light fixture.”
When the pilot ended, positive customer feedback about the labs prompted Ferguson to incorporate them into every major remodel.
The resulting lighting labs are dual-purpose rooms that first and foremost serve as a demonstration area for recessed lighting, color temperatures, light layering and more. The areas, typically the size of a conference room, allow the company’s product specialists to demonstrate architectural lighting concepts in a dark room. “This demonstration can show customers how a light fixture or a light temperature can change the way a room or a piece of art or a wall looks,” she says.
She explains the lighting labs are intended to help customers select non-decorative pieces, such as built-in recessed lighting or hidden fixtures, while the rest of the showroom supplements lighting decisions by helping customers select decorative pieces, such as a chandelier, pendant light or a foyer light. “The lighting specialist makes sure that both lighting types work in harmony, but the lab is intended to select the architectural pieces while the showroom is meant to help customers select the decorative ones,” she adds.
The labs accomplish this task by offering eight areas, in the form of 12-inch by 24-inch cubbies, that hold a similar object, like a flower or an apple. These areas are lit by recessed lighting options with different temperature lamps to help customers understand how light output and color can impact a room.
“Every person sees light differently. The lighting that I think is most beautiful, may be very different than what someone else sees as beautiful,” Bailey explains. “Some people like bright, clean, white light, while others like an amber, more ambient, soft light, which is a concept that can be very hard to explain. But, if we are lighting your home, we want to be sure we select the lighting that is most pleasing to you. The lab helps us specify the lamps that you find beautiful.”
The labs also showcase true art lighting with a painting on a wall and a protruding light fixture that shines a beam on that piece. The customers can see several versions of this as well. In addition, the labs are equipped with a smart TV, which allows associates to do presentations and pull up websites to review lighting fixtures or technical drawings with clients.
“By default, we have a nice space that can also be used as a conference room to hold trainings, meetings or bring clients in for a private meeting,” she says.
While the lighting lab helps narrow selections, the showroom is another step toward picking products with specific features for an individual customer’s home. Ferguson showrooms focus on three major product categories: Plumbing, lighting and appliances.
“Customers are going to see the full gamut of offerings in all three categories,” says Bailey. “From a plumbing perspective, they are going to see everything from tubs and toilets to sinks, faucets and showers. From a lighting perspective, they are going to see everything from a single vanity to a flush-mount light fixture, to big wow pieces like a chandelier. From an appliance perspective, they are going to see dishwashers, refrigerators, cooking surfaces, ranges and wall ovens.”
At the heart of every Ferguson showroom is a focus on inspiration. The goal is to show customers what is possible in a way that is not overwhelming. The company groups products by trend and then by type, which allows sales specialists to direct clients to the products that appeal to them. For instance, the plumbing area offers vignettes that mimic a bathroom or a kitchen to set the scene. Customers look at these vignettes to decide what trend appeals to them before diving into specific product selection.
The lighting area groups products by style so that similar products are together by trend. Bailey explains, “You will see all the crystal together, and all the modern pieces together. A client’s home will typically represent a specific trend, and this way we can direct them to the pieces that would work in their environment,” she says. Realigning products in this way throughout the store simplifies product selections and aids customers with their purchase decisions.
While appliances are also grouped by vignette, here they are grouped by brand. This aligns with how clients purchase these products for their homes. The vignettes show what a full kitchen suite by a specific vendor would look like, she says. Some kitchen vignettes are fully operational as well.
All areas are aesthetically appealing places designed to make customers feel at home. They offer clients an experience for all five senses, from the music playing in the background, to the smell of fresh baked cookies, to the visually appealing lighting on products that they can touch and feel.
Bailey stresses the lighting is especially key. “We say lighting is the jewelry of the home, but it’s also what makes our showroom sparkle,” she says. “We are able to merchandise our products with some really beautiful lights that make the showroom very inviting.”
She notes that though most of the lighting hangs from the ceiling, there are some fixtures showcased at eye level to draw attention to the lighting design. The company also offers hands on and working products and has elected to have a working kitchen in every showroom where the appliances are fully functional, so they can demonstrate how the burners work on a cooktop, for example, or how a touch faucet functions versus a sensor faucet. “We can demonstrate these options side by side, and that can be really impactful for a homeowner,” she says.
And, rather than have product literature scattered throughout the space, Ferguson showrooms have designated areas for brochures, as well as small areas for homeowners to meet with their designers or architects. “We view ourselves as an extension of their businesses and as a resource center for them, which is an important piece of the puzzle,” she says.
This environment is capped off with a coordinator’s desk, where every visitor is greeted by a friendly person showing interest in them and their project. There are also comfortable lounge areas where clients can rest their feet and wait, while enjoying a hot cup of coffee and a fresh baked cookie. These areas even have televisions, which Bailey jokes allow the “non-interested spouse to sit back and enjoy the game, while the other spouse makes product selections.”
Though Bailey says she cannot isolate sales in a way that allows the company to attribute them to the new showrooms, she can say the remodeled showrooms help them retain its status as a premier lighting, bath and kitchen company. “Remodeling the showrooms just reflects our overall philosophy of constant improvement. While we do look for the ROI in our investments, our true motivators are to make sure we are staying best in class, maintaining our relevance and providing the best possible customer service.”