Here's some advice on maximizing the impact of bath and kitchen displays.

With a little effort and advance planning, it's possible to turn a ho-hum showroom into an exciting and profitable selling tool. Two certified designers - Morton Block of Morton Block Associates in Elkins Park, Pa., and Sara Reep of StarMark in Northwood, Iowa - shared their ideas for showrooms at workshops during this year's National Kitchen & Bath conference in Orlando, Fla.

  • First impressions are critical. The entryway, including signage, represents the image of who you are and what your business is, Reep says. "Make it a focal point. Does it have a spotlight on it?"

    "Image is a critical factor," Block says. "What do you want people to think about this place when they walk through the door? Good, better or best? You need something dynamite right up front, such as a drop-dead kitchen. Customers will either stay and find out more or leave."

    However, showing the most beautiful and high-end displays at the front may lead to sticker shock for some potential customers, Block says. Showing a combination of products at different price points will demonstrate flexibility.

    "Include steps and choices," he adds. "Offer good, better and best."

  • Use lighting for ambiance in the displays. Be lavish with lighting: Install lights under wall cabinets and alongside mirrors. Provide separate lighting for each display. Use dimmers for effect.

    "You can't have enough lighting," Reep says. "Don't make just the top (of the display) the bright spot. If you show a bathroom with a decorative mirror, add wall sconces in a complementary color. Lighting gives your display greater impact."

    Show fixtures that sell, Block says. Also, showroom windows can be used as an after-hours selling tool if the interior is illuminated. Use timers or sensors so the showroom will light up inside when people walk by.

  • Put a real working kitchen in your showroom. A cooking area can be the focal point of a showroom.

    Block suggests staging cooking demonstrations in the showroom with local chefs. Half-hour cooking demonstrations conducted in his showroom by the chef of a local five-star French restaurant resulted in four good leads, two of which led to sales, he says.

    "It's a great way to show off product," Reep says.

  • Accessorize displays. The judicious use of moldings can jazz up a display. Install different-colored moldings next to each other. Put them high up on the wall of the display for maximum visibility.

    Great props for displays can be found at antique stores or flea markets, Reep says. "You don't need a whole set of something. Clay pots are a fun prop idea. Add a chair or a basket of fake fruit. A couple of small mirrors add depth and interest."

    Another option is to hang a painting on the wall, Reep says. "Manufacturers have artwork you can incorporate into displays."

    Accent displays with border paper or a grouping of inexpensive picture frames, she says. Border paper doesn't always have to be near the ceiling. If it is placed at the backsplash level, the colors and patterns will be seen instantly. Use the back splash as a design element.

    If you want the look of tile walls without the investment, paint tile shapes on the wall of the display with sponges, Reep says.

    "Tie in decorative hardware," she adds. "Use different doorknobs on a single display if they complement each other."

    Just as a furnished home is easier to sell, showroom products displayed with furnishings or in a vignette-like setting will attract more customer interest, Block says. To accessorize these displays, look for consignment deals, visit gift centers or buy some fine china at a china warehouse.

    However, don't let accessories overpower the display, Block says. It should not be necessary for customers to move a prop out of the way to see the featured product. Also, if the showroom is in a high-traffic area, make sure the accessories don't disappear, he says. Use a product like Velcro to attach them to the display.

    Use props with character and style to enhance the design, Reep says. Have enough of interest to look at so customers won't be bored.

    "I would rather have one huge prop than lots of little ones," Reep says. "Take risks. Have the courage to show bright red walls in a display. Even consumers who don't like it will be drawn in to the display."

    This extends to wallpaper used in the display. Use a nontraditional pattern or design that people may not consider for their homes, she says. The goal is to build punch and impact into the display to create excitement.

    "Remember the basic design principles: Balance, continuity and emphasis," Block says. "Give your displays the same treatment you would in a customer's home."

  • Make the customer feel comfortable. When designing a showroom display, allow for about 6 inches of wall space between displays, Reep says. Don't overwhelm customers with information.

    "People need a resting zone, especially at the higher end of price points," she explains. "Let the product be the hero. Give it air and space."

    Make shopping easy and relaxing, Block says. "Simplify decision-making for customers, but let them feel in control. Carry well-known dependable brands. Be ready to answer questions like, 'Why is this the best?'"

  • Help is available. For design ideas, Reep recommends home fashion magazines and manufacturers' product brochures.

    Vendors can tell you which of their products are selling best in your area to get help in choosing your product mix, Block says.

    Create a picture display of finished products as a service for your customers, Block adds. Include recently completed projects and referral letters.

    "You can take a picture out of a brochure and emulate parts of it," Reep says. "Consult with colorists. There are many people in the industry and in related industries who can help you. Call them for advice. You don't have to know everything."

Sidebar: When to change a showroom display

The time to change a showroom display is when it quits selling, says Morton Block of Morton Block Associates.

"Stay with the winners," he says. "If you get tired of looking at a display, don't change it just to have something different."

Block suggests doing a display analysis and tracking the sales of each display. A sample formula using return on investment to help with decision-making might be: Say the typical display is 10 ft. x 10 ft., or 100 sq. ft., and it costs $6,500, or $65 per sq. ft. The overhead factor is $30 per sq. ft. The total display cost including overhead is $95. The gross profit on sales off the display is $3,500 or $350 per sq. ft. Subtract the total display cost of $95 per sq. ft. The ROI for that display is $255 per sq. ft.

This type of analysis will help in deciding whether to expand the display, move it or change it, Block says.

Sidebar: A step-by-step business plan for creating a showroom

Morton Block of Morton Block Associates suggests following a business plan in creating a showroom. "Reinforce your long-term goals on a daily basis," he says. Here are some of Block's ideas:

  • Decide between a high-traffic or destination location for the showroom. Showrooms in malls and strip centers are likely to attract larger numbers of visitors, but a destination location may provide more serious customers, given that these types of products usually are not purchased on impulse.
  • Study the demographics of the area. Interview owners of other local businesses and talk to realtors.
  • Check the zoning codes. If spray painting will be done on the premises, are there restrictions?
  • Confirm the availability of parking.
  • Calculate how much space you need on a square-foot basis for a display area and office space. You may want room for a warehouse and/or loading dock, too.
  • Decide between buying or renting. The advantages of ownership include tax benefits and having a fixed asset. Renters are likely to face built-in increases.
  • Plan for downtown if a showroom is being relocated. Delegate or plan to divide time between helping customers and working on the showroom.
  • Create the basic layout for the showroom and plot the traffic flow. The ideal is to have one or two central corridors with displays branching off. Make the aisles wide enough for wheelchairs.
  • Shop competitors, but no more than twice per year. This knowledge not only protects your business, it also helps with product and display decisions. If you don't have time to do it, hire someone.
  • Establish a timeline for each display. Try to plan ahead for ease of change in displays. This is a fashion industry, so change is inevitable.