Over the past five decades, showrooms have grown from necessary nuances to contributing profit centers. They have both helped and benefited from the story slowly leaking out that plumbing fixtures can be as elegant as Vladimir Kagan furniture creations. This attracted the design trades, builders and design enthusiasts who all worked together to convince the residential plumbing trade that these products must be embraced and installed.

I would say many plumbing showrooms are not sufficiently engaging to delight Millennial and Generation Z customers. Yes, it is time to update the business and merchandising models. It is time to build a “gutsier” original composition.

Breaking the supply house tradition

Today, most plumbing showroom business models follow a successful supply house anthem — if our customers want it, we can get it, and in most cases, we have it in stock. From tubs to anti-siphon valves, plumbing supply houses know about it, how to get it and will deliver it to your job tomorrow. This supply house strategy has created showroom palaces that are large and packed with countless frigid manufacturer displays. If our customer wants Brand X, we have it on display at the best price in town and will deliver it to your job the day you need it. Excluding delivery, this is the same model that Macy’s and countless other brick and mortar brands have deployed since the Roaring 20s with great success. Today, this model is floundering.

The combination of aggressive internet campaigns and too much retail has diluted the market, and many are struggling to make a good profit. Bright lights and endless offerings are no longer a model for success in the premium and luxury markets. Yes, I fully understand we are in the midst of record sales in these unique times, but the market trends take a while to reach installed home products. I suggest now is time to start crafting your new go-to market action strategy; your program to differentiate your showroom model from all the competition, your plan to show your client base you are not one of many decorative plumbing showroom warehouses, but you are the showroom for elegant plumbing fixtures.

Showrooms of the future

As noted above, for years, magnificent local department stores practiced this same merchandising concept. By the turn of the century, these mega department store brands had effectively washed away the local stores’ uniqueness, all in the name of efficiency. It is time to add a personal touch to your showrooms. Sterile factory displays that present more than 20 faucets sprinkled with showers no longer delight the incoming crowd. Beautiful plumbing fixtures are no longer a novelty.

People know they can have an elegant bathroom. The question is why should they visit your showroom when it has the same products as all the others in the market? Slick flooring, good lighting and working faucets are no longer differentiators. Your showroom needs to dance to its own unique personality.

Successful showrooms of the future will present unique products, supported by curated selections from popular, must-have brands with a few fully suited partner-brand presentations. These brand-partners will be vendors that maintain a limited distribution network while offering your showroom an opportunity to collect a strong profit. In total, these partner-brands will allow you to offer a complete plumbing schedule for any project. Your showroom’s brand story will be supported by smart looking products that will delight your customers and leverage the talent of your knowledgeable showroom sales team.

This call also goes out to vendors. Is your distribution policy to work directly with any nice showroom? Does your merchandising concept consist of mounting a faucet on an acrylic mount and setting it on shelf surrounded by your brand’s logo and color scheme? How will that merchandising concept entice the eye of a popular discerning designer or engaged homeowner? Does your product not simply blend into all the other acrylic faucet displays sitting on shelves?

The days of distributors relying on vendors to develop off-the-shelf effective merchandising solutions have passed. It is time for supply houses and vendors to decide who they want to partner with and build a market presence that will delight the tiara crowd, thereby creating an enviable word-of-mouth buzz.

Today’s showrooms deliver profit and have survived the great recessions, and let’s hope the pandemic. But the retail world is constantly moving forward, and it is time to rethink the wholesale-distributor showroom concept. It is time to get some professional help; it will take some investment and guts.

Get the right help

There are countless talented design houses and creative market agencies that have dedicated retail merchandise teams that will work with you. The first step is to identify your target market and then develop your brand’s concept to address that market. This is a vital step. The showrooms that partner with a designer and forget this step build out beautiful showrooms that look great, but do not speak effectively to its customer base.

These showrooms are often designed in-house or by a talented residential designer that is a good and loyal customer. Designing for a home is one talent, designing a retail store requires another talent set. The current showroom model has had a great run for five decades, but it is tired. Let’s be proud of our history and move on to the next big showroom ideas.