Merchandising: The real ‘science’ behind showroom design

Home Inside FCNews Merchandising: The real ‘science’ behind showroom design

January 22/29, 2018: Volume 33, Issue 16

By Nicole Murray


On one hand, you can say showroom design isn’t exactly “rocket science.” However, proper merchandising and store layout does require a strategic, calculated understanding of concepts such as product placement, traffic patterns and even lighting. It’s all about making the most of your showroom floor space—regardless of the overall square footage—in order to make customers feel welcomed and comfortable as part of the total retail experience.

Keep it simple, clean
Suzanne Winn, owner and flooring design consultant, Carpet Distributors, Laguna Hills, Calif., believes the most effective analogy to employ when designing a welcoming environment for the consumer is to compare your showroom to—believe it or not—a wardrobe closet. It must be well organized and show a variety of selections.

“The trends customers are looking for are comfort and accessibility,” Winn said. “People want to shop in the same types of spaces they could also picture being in their home.”

In general, retailers say the entrance to the store should always be kept open so customers are able to venture farther into the store without feeling bombarded with too much product. Put another way, creating an environment that encourages browsing can help the customer relax. “Nothing should be within the first 20 feet of the entrance,” said Adam Joss, vice president of The Vertical Connection Carpet One, Columbia, Md. “This way consumers can have a moment to breathe and take in the entire environment.”

Dealers say it’s also helpful to incorporate some elements of the average consumer’s home into the retail showroom. “We hope they walk in our front door feeling like guests in our home,” said Lauren Voit, president, Great Western Flooring, Naperville, Ill. She also recommends a portion of the space be utilized for couches, tables and other comforting elements for a homier feel and for customers to use while making final decisions. Then there are the little things. “Don’t be afraid to go the extra mile with scented candles or tasty treats so they are comfortable and enjoy their time with you,” she added.

‘Right-size’ and refresh
When sorting through displays, products and samples for the showroom floor, less is always more, experts say. An open, easy-to-navigate showroom is conducive to product selection and decision making.

“Everything on your showroom floor needs to earn its right to be there,” said Brian DeOliveira, founder and president, Diablo Flooring, Walnut Creek, Calif. “Simple and clean is the most effective method; otherwise, the customer becomes that much more overwhelmed.”

In order to maintain a spacious yet appealing showroom, retailers shouldn’t be hesitant to replace outdated or ineffective displays. “More is not always better because feeling crammed is uncomfortable,” Winn explained. “Balance space vs. product. Calculate a year’s analysis of your profits; if a product has not sold within the last year, then get rid of it.”

That’s the mindset of dealers like The Vertical Connection’s Joss, who makes it a point to toss a display if he plans on installing another. This approach, he said, helps avoid clutter on the showroom floor. “We are not scared of the open space because it forces us to keep our product variety clean and concise. This rule will keep our showroom exciting and keep the customers relaxed and satisfied.”

This strategy is especially important with respect to popular categories. In other words, instead of stocking every brand in a particular category under the sun, dealers say products categories should be determined by several key suppliers. “Duplicates are a big mistake and add stress to the customer in an already stressful situation,” Joss added. “Have your best of the best for wood and tile along with every other category you want in your store.”

Look above and below
Employing adequate signage can also help customers find their way through the store. On the surface it might seem rudimentary, but it’s a technique that has been very effective in general retail settings. “All of our displays, especially the newer samples, have signage on them so the customer can navigate and have an easier time finding something they are specifically looking for,” said Dave Proctor, owner, Dave Carpet, Greenville, Mich.

Winn agrees, adding: “If you hang up signage near products with high sustainability, for example—something that has become an important issue in our business—consumers will immediately be drawn to it because it crosses one of their needs off their checklist.”

Experts also say installing product underfoot and along the pathways throughout the store is a great way to help customers envision what their floors will look like at home. There are also additional benefits to this approach. “Doing this also provides proof of how well products hold up against wear and tear,” Proctor explained.

Leaving enough space on the floor or on tables for customers to compare samples can also be helpful. “People like to lay products out side by side or actually see it on the floor so they can picture how it will look inside their homes,” Diablo Flooring’s DeOliveira said.

Utilize vignettes
Nothing helps homeowners better crystalize how a new floor—or related accessories, for that matter—might look in her home better than installing an actual vignette on the showroom floor. Experts like Winn advise putting the newer products in scaled-down room scenes that serve as focal points. “People are relying on your guidance to help decide what they should be buying to put in their homes. Vignettes can give design ideas because it can contain so many different groupings of products and can constantly be evolved as the trends change.”

Create unobstructed sight lines
Have you ever arrived in the parking lot of a flooring store that faces a major highway, only to find you can’t see through the front windows due to a gauntlet of displays that are blocking your view? Retail merchandising experts say consumers should be able to see throughout the entire store no matter where they are standing.

“Anyone should be able to pan the store and see from wall to wall,” Carpet Distributors’ Winn said. “More importantly, displays should never block the front windows because you are looking to lure customers in with what they initially see from outside.”

A commonly used tactic is to place the higher displays strategically. “Tall displays should be up against the wall because otherwise they usually block other major displays surrounding them,” Winn added.

Define pathways
Helping customers find their way across your showroom requires some pre-planning. Some retailers use signage to define pathways; others use flooring to move shoppers along a certain direction (think IKEA). The specific technique applied depends on the layout of the showroom, the number of products being showcased as well as other considerations such as ceiling height and lighting placement.

“Grouping products by category allows for a more helpful shopping experience and gives us the opportunity to educate end users on each component individually as opposed to throwing a massive amount of information their way at once,” Great Western Flooring’s Voit explained. “Each separate product category should be married together with work islands, sofas or coffee tables so transitions feel easy and comfortable for the shopper.”

At Diablo Flooring, consumers are subliminally encouraged to browse by strategic placement of the different product categories. Specifically, the store intentionally mixes the different categories along the perimeter so customers instinctively roam throughout the store.

As DeOliveira explains: “We have wood on one side of the showroom and hard surfaces on the other and a mixture in the middle so transitioning from different product categories is easy and comfortable. The more people see, the more likely they are to stumble upon a product that they would have never thought to even originally try.”


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