Follow this checklist to improve your showroom business.

Recently I was asked to give a talk at this year’s Decorative Plumbing and Hardware Association’s annual conference in Boston Oct. 5-7. I’ve been asked to talk about how to do a great job merchandising a showroom. Well now, from years ago in college and a Masters Degree in Business and Marketing, I learned a little about “merchandising” - and I always believed I did a pretty good job merchandising my showrooms when I owned them. But it’s been awhile, so I decided to do some research.

One evening I “Googled” the term “merchandising” and spent an hour at Borders. Sure, there was some good information, but nothing that really applied to our great products. Almost everything was directed at the big department stores, big boxes and the fashion industry.

So first thing the next morning I started listing everything I could think of that would fall under the term “merchandising” for a showroom of decorative plumbing and hardware products. Wow, the list just kept growing. Check the following list of things you need to do - and do well - to be considered a good merchandiser.

Allow me to start with a definition of the term merchandising:

1: The planning involved in marketing the right merchandise or service at the right price, at the right time, in the right quantities and at the right price.

2:The retail selling effort that is the principal task of in-store sales personnel through the use of promotions designed by a manufacturer or distributor - such as unique displays, giveaways, or discount and premium offers. In this case, merchandising is the act of managing and arranging the merchandise on display in a store in order to promote its sale.

Yes, merchandising is mainly considered to be a part of retailing - and I know I’m writing to predominately a wholesaler audience. But if you have a showroom operation, it needs to look, feel and be treated as a retail-type business. Even if you are one of the diminishing few that sell only to the plumbing contractor, isn’t it a fact that it’s the homeowner and designer who are doing the major portion of the selection of the product? This being the fact, then you have to learn and exercise the very best retailing and merchandising techniques possible.

Think about your favorite higher end retail store. In fact, don’t just think about them - go visit them. Study them! Learn from them! Some of my favorites are Crate and Barrel, Williams-Sonoma, The Pottery Barn, Nordstrom and Tiffany. What really makes these folks better, different and more unique?

Here is my list of things that I believe are important merchandising elements that when done well - better than your competition - can and will put you out in front. Due to space limitations I have listed them in bullet point form with just a few words of explanation. It’s probably a subject that needs to be expanded upon. Join DPHA and attend the conference in October. I’ll be talking on this subject for a couple of hours.

  • Store location: Is it easily accessible? Is it in a higher end retail-oriented complex or part of town?


  • Parking: Is there plenty of parking close to the entrance? Are there several slots dedicated to showroom only?


  • The building: Is it a really good-looking, well-maintained building?


  • Landscaping: Is it well maintained and well designed?


  • The front windows: If you have front windows are the displays really first class? Are the windows clean?


  • The entrance doors: Are they clearly visible? Are they clean? The only thing on the doors should be professional signage of your hours of operation.


  • Parking lot lighting: This is really important for early morning and evening hours.


  • Outside signage: The more visible the better! Lighted at night is good. Professionally designed is preferable.


  • Front entrance: Is it clean - every day? Is there a nice receptacle for candy wrappers, gum and cigarettes?


  • First step through the front doors: It’s not fair, but your clients will judge your showroom within 30 seconds of the first step through the front door. What will their first impression be of your showroom?


  • Reception area: This is an important location to meet, greet, welcome, sign-in, and ask who are you, why are you here.


  • Initial meeting and greeting: How quickly and how well this is done is very important.


  • Showroom layout and flow: Is it easy to get around? Is there a logical, friendly plan to how products are displayed? Is it ADA-friendly?


  • Lighting: Is the total showroom well lit? Are individual display products well lit?


  • Salespeople: Do they look, act and talk professionally? Do they have great selling skills and product knowledge? Do they do a good job at follow-up and follow-through?


  • Wow displays: Are there a few really “knock-out” great-looking displays? Are there some displays that will make the client say “wow”?


  • Working displays: Clients like to see, hear, touch and feel. Getting these senses working for you helps you sell!


  • Products on display: The correct mix of manufacturers and products can make or break you. This is a huge part of showroom selling and merchandising.


  • How the products are displayed: Are like products grouped together? Are like styles (traditional, contemporary, etc.) grouped together?


  • Your boards and boxes: Do you use your own professionally done boards and boxes or what the manufacturer gives you? Do they create a consistent look throughout the showroom?


  • Diversity of product: Do you show only the traditional wholesaler products or have you diversified? Do you display only plumbing products or have you diversified? Customers today want as much “one-stop shopping” as they can possibly get.


  • Price point: What price point products are on display? What niche have you selected? Trying to be “all things to all people” doesn’t work anymore.


  • Pricing: How do you price your products? Realizing you have several different customer types (plumbers, builders and homeowners), you still have to make an average gross profit margin of 35% or more (40%+ is better).


  • No “Holes”: Every box, board, sink and tub must have all the holes filled all the time.


  • Tags and labels: Make sure that all the tags and labels that manufacturers put on the products disappear.


  • Floor covering: This must look and feel first class.


  • Cleanliness: The entire showroom, inside and out, has to be 100% clean all the time.


  • Color theme: This has to be well done and up-to-date.


  • Rotation of display products: Styles, colors and finishes are continually changing. Consequently you have to maintain current popular products on display.


  • Model numbers and prices on display product: To be really customer-friendly, this has to be done. But, only use YOUR model numbers and YOUR prices.


  • Showroom hours: These have to be customer-friendly. That means staying open on Saturdays and one or two evenings. Remember, you’re a retailer - even though you’re a wholesaler.


  • Public restrooms: These have to be very well done - showing off your products. They must be maintained extremely well.


  • Kid’s area: A television, CDs and big bean bags are all you need.


  • Closing area: Having a place to lay out plans, talk price and close the sale is very desirable.


  • Brochures: The fewer, the better. Why give away the names of products and model numbers?


  • Flat screen monitors: There should be several of them in the showroom running DVDs on your business, projects you’ve done, and manufacturers’ educational videos.


  • Your quotes: The format and timeliness of completing a quote in less than 72 hours is what’s important here.


  • Spec packages: Do you provide spec packages for plumbers and builders after you’ve gotten the order? This should be for larger jobs only.


  • The telephone: How you answer it, what your message says, message on hold and common telephone courtesies are very important. It’s part of your first impression.


  • Your logo: Is it descriptive, good-looking and up-to-date?


  • All your paperwork: Letterheads, invoices, quotes, delivery receipts, business cards, etc., have to be professionally done and up-to-date.


  • Advertising: Your advertising has to be consistent with your image.


  • Promotions: These should be well done, creative and fun - all designed to drive clients into your showroom.


  • Public relations: You need to get articles, stories and pictures about you in all the various media.

    Your brand: It is important that you develop your very own brand. Don’t count on your manufacturers and their brands.


  • Refreshments: Do you serve quality coffee, teas, sodas and water to your clients in china cups using your napkins?


  • Value points: Spelling out the main five to eight value points that make you better and unique are important. Brag about yourself!


  • Spell out features and benefits: When you sell these and your value points, price becomes less important.

    Accessorizing the showroom: Do you have towels on towel bars, robes on hooks, etc.? Make your displays feel like home!


  • Workstations: Are they well located, accessible, clean and neat - all the time?


  • Software: Is your software employee- and customer-friendly? Is it geared to showroom selling?


  • Trucks and drivers: Are they clean and neat, well-spoken and courteous and consistent with the overall image of your business?


  • RGAs and customer credits: Are they done in a fair and timely manner?

    Nobody said the showroom business was easy. It certainly is a whole lot different than operating a wholesale business. If you operate a showroom, I would encourage you and your team to become students of retail and merchandising. I for one loved this end of the business. I also figured out pretty quickly that if I did all or most of the above items better than my competition, we would be winners.

    Please feel free to e-mail if you have any questions or comments.