Maximize returns on a showroom investment by drawing in new customers with promotional activities.

Let's assume you spent somewhere in the neighborhood of $250,000 to build your showroom. Your goal should be to maximize a return on that investment. In order to do that, you have to attract new clients to visit your showroom and then sell them your products and services at an attractive profit margin.

Sounds simple, doesn't it? Unfortunately, too many distributors don't do it this way. They invest the dollars doing the buildout, but then they don't follow through with the necessary advertising, promotion and public relations to bring prospective clients into the showroom. Why? I suspect the main reasons are:

1. Lack of knowledge, experience or expertise in how to do it;

2. The ill-founded (in my opinion) marketing strategy of selling only to the plumbing contractor, resulting in the perception that there is no need for advertising or promotions that might attract the consumer, builder or designer.

The most recent Supply House Times Distributor Showroom Survey indicates that only 62% of the businesses do any kind of advertising, promotion or public relations for their showrooms - and the survey doesn't ask what, how or how much was done in these important areas. This means 38% don't do anything.

You should know how many co-op dollars you will have available from your manufacturers, so figure this into your budget. Most manufacturers will have dollars available. When you show them a specific plan with a purpose, often you can "earn" extra co-op money. Advertising, promotions and public relations all serve the same intended purpose: To tell folks who you are, what you do, how you do it, and how and why you do it better than others. All three areas are intended to "tell your story" but they do it in different ways.

  • Advertising. Buying time or space in various media. This includes printed, visual, audio or combinations thereof.

  • Promotions. Events or "happenings" held at your place of business or offsite. These can be educational only or selling-oriented.

  • Public Relations.
Articles in newspapers or magazines usually published at no cost. They are more positive than advertising because of third-party credibility (someone else writes the article).

How to make showroom promotions work for you

Due to space constraints, we will only discuss promotions in this article. I will write more on advertising and public relations in future articles.

Promotions come in all types, shapes, sizes and costs. Some examples of promotions include: Home shows, trade shows, open houses, cook-outs, charitable events, industry events, educational seminars, sales, sporting events, product demonstrations and model homes.

The first things you have to do is determine:

  • What - Will the "event" be a sale, seminar, home show or what?

  • Why - Is the purpose to sell product, educate clients or tell your company story?

  • When - Select a time and date. Allow plenty of time to plan. Check on conflicts within the company and the community.

  • How - Decide if you will do it all or tie in with a manufacturer or organization.

  • How much - Consider the all-important cost factor. Don't forget co-op opportunities.

  • Where - Will it be at your showroom or offsite?

  • Who - Will only your sales staff work, or will you include manufacturers reps?

After you've answered these important questions you can proceed. Here are some details regarding several of your promotion options:

  • Home shows. These are a pain to do but effective. Building a display that tells your story, setting up/tearing down and "manning" the display - usually over a weekend - is tough. But if it's a good, well-promoted home show (10,000 people+) you will enjoy excellent exposure. Don't just stand in front of your display and smile. Hand out brochures on your company, do sign-ups to win something, accumulate names for follow-up. In other words, work the show!

  • Open houses. These are done at your place of business. Involve all your major vendors (for time and money). Have a theme or purpose (for example, new showroom or new product lines). The key to success is getting people to attend. Be creative and persistent.

  • Limo lunches/dinners. These should be done for trade professionals (plumbers, builders, interior designers, architects). Have a limo pick up the clients at their place of business and bring them to your showroom. If it's lunchtime, serve a box lunch. If it's dinner, serve heavy appetizers. Give a short "why you are the best" presentation with the main thrust being new products. Include a tour of the showroom. It's short, to the point and cost effective!

  • Educational seminars. "How to Remodel the Bath and/or Kitchen" or "What's New in Plumbing Fixtures" are great topics. Homeowners really don't know how to get started. The seminar should be at your showroom. Stick to the subject. If you're not comfortable with the subject, ask a remodeling contractor to speak. Serve light appetizers and soft drinks. Promote via direct-mail invitations, zip code mailings to higher-end neighborhoods or small ads in the local newspaper.

  • Industry-related events. Host the monthly meetings of the local PHCC, BIA, NARI, ASID or NKBA. Participate in the cost of food and beverage, give a short tour of your showroom, and talk about who you are and what you do. The purpose of these events is getting these folks into your place of business and having them see and hear what you are all about.

  • Sales. Selling is what the showroom is all about so do two or three sales each year. Put everything in the store on sale. Use good signage with 15%, 20%, 25% OFF posters. Create display tables of product for sale. It's a great way to sell obsolete and slow- moving items as well as to push good products. One extravaganza sale works well also. Do a "Parking Lot Sale" or "Tent Sale." Reduce inventory, get rid of junk and push selected high-profit items. Do it over a long weekend (Friday through Sunday) or for a whole week. Promote to the public with radio, newspaper and television ads. You may want to schedule a "trades-only" day the first day. Have balloons for the kids, hot dogs and soft drinks. Make it a happening. Be creative!

  • Charitable events. Be the host for a "kick-off" fundraiser or the starting point for a bike or run charity event. The purpose is to get people to visit your showroom.

Promotions can be a lot of work, but the return can and should be equally as big. Be sure that whatever you do is consistent with your image and niche in the marketplace. Be creative! Look outside the box for innovative things you can do to bring attention to your business.

Remember, you don't have to do it all by yourself. Solicit help - for time, creativity, planning and money. You want to earn the greatest return possible on your showroom investment. Promotions can and will help you to achieve this goal!