There are plenty of “theatrics” involved in creating a beautiful, well- planned and effectively laid- out showroom.


I’m on an airplane winging my way from Boston to the “left” coast. I was in Boston to do a three-hour talk on “Merchandising” at the Decorative Plumbing and Hardware Association’s annual conference. There were 500 folks in attendance - and I’m relieved to say I believe my talk was well received. Allow me to give you a bit of background.

When the executive director of DPHA called me six months ago and asked me to do this talk, I said, “No problem. I know quite a bit about the subject so it should be fairly easy.” Oh my, how wrong I was!

I started by Googling the definition of “merchandising” and gathering other information available from the Internet. I began to sense that maybe I didn’t know as much as I thought I did. So I bought a couple of books on the subject. Then I called the Dallas Design Mart and got some great information there. I followed this by visiting some of the country’s best merchandisers: Crate and Barrel, Pottery Barn, Restoration Hardware, Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, Harley Davidson and Tiffany’s. I even got the okay from several to take pictures. Finally, I called a dozen friends who own some of the best-merchandised decorative plumbing and hardware showrooms in the U.S. They sent me pictures of various parts of their showrooms. The end result: Wow, what a great learning experience! It just proves an old dog can learn new tricks!

It also underlined the fact in my mind that very few plumbing wholesalers know what good merchandising is - or for that matter, even know what the term means. I visit 50 or so showrooms each year. Multiply that times the past 10 years and you’ll see I have a pretty good idea of what’s out there. And for the most part, it isn’t very good. That’s the bad news. The good news is, there’s a lot of room for improvement!

Because of the amount of information I want to share on the subject of merchandising, I’m going to break it into three articles. That’s how important I believe this subject is. I want to begin with some general information.

The style and theme of your merchandising will vary dramatically - depending on who your target customer is, the demographics of your marketplace and the product/price point niche that you have selected. Showrooms in New York and San Francisco will be very different from showrooms in Santa Fe, NM, and Cheyenne, WY.

One commonality is that most of you are selling higher end products to higher end clientele - therefore your showrooms and sales staff must look and feel high-end also, all the time!

My purpose here is to challenge you to step back and take a good, hard look at your showrooms and how you merchandise them. The better job you do, the more clients you will attract and the more sales opportunities you’ll have.

It’s pretty easy to buy those great-looking products from the manufacturers. It’s also easy to use those manufacturers’ display boxes and boards. But this may not (probably won’t) allow you to do the best job of merchandising.

It’s hard to learn how to display products in a way that tells their story - and your story - and still makes the client feel good about what you’re selling and your environment.

Most of you know there’s an art to creating a successful business. This is particularly true in your showrooms, where the business itself focuses on creating art. Perhaps nowhere is the art of kitchen and bath design more challenging than in the area of showroom layout and design.

As owners you must take a variety of products, materials, designs, styles, colors, finishes and design ideas and turn them into a unified, inviting showplace that supports the sales forecast as well as the gross profit margin targets of the company.

I am convinced there is no one “right way” to design and layout showrooms. But I do know it’s essential to create a complete showroom environment rather than just assembling a collection of products in one space. And, respectfully, that’s what most showrooms do. You need to begin with a theme, a plan, a strategy. You can’t simply take a space and start to fill it with a potpourri of displays. That approach gives the appearance of too much “stuff” crammed into a space and it does more harm than good in the presentation of products.

The owners of the great merchandising businesses know that just like in show business there are plenty of “theatrics” involved in creating a beautiful, well planned and effectively laid out showroom. That means innovation everywhere.

As retailers (and if you operate a showroom, that’s what you are) it is your job to present products in the most innovative, eye-catching way possible. It helps customers in their buying decisions, which ultimately affects your bottom line. Equally important, how your showrooms are merchandised helps set the mood and tone for your whole operation.

Your displays tell your customers whether or not they belong in your store. They educate your customers and reinforce your chosen image. Your displays communicate whether you are sophisticated, conservative, elegant, trendy or funky.

Conversely, if your displays are not well done, they are likely to create a negative image. You may not even get the opportunity to tell how wonderful your company, staff, products or services are if prospects walk out because your showroom doesn’t “feel good.”

Merchandising is part of marketing - just like advertising, promotions, public relations, branding and sales. Each one of these terms has its own definition. Let me share Darlington’s definition of each:

  • Marketing: This includes identifying who your target customer will be; selecting the products and price point that you will offer; using various means of communication to get the word out on who you are, where you are located, what you do - and why you do it better (all designed to drive prospects into your showroom); making the sale; rendering great customer service; and doing good after-the-sale follow-through (which helps you get referrals, which brings in new prospects and starts the cycle all over again).


  • Advertising: This is a program of paid messages via all sorts of advertising media. It’s designed to inform and educate large numbers of prospective consumers on your company, products, services, features and benefits.


  • Promotions:This includes trade shows, open houses, sales events, learning seminars, hosting trade associations, etc., with the purpose of informing potential customers about your company, products and services - and to influence them to purchase what you’re selling.


  • Public Relations: This is the art of keeping your name in front of the public in a positive way other than through paid advertising and promotions. Good public relations are the best and most economical way to get the word out about your company.


  • Sales (Selling): The use of various means of persuasion (talking, advertising, promotions, public relations and merchandising) to move products and services from your business to your customers.


  • Brand:This is something that lives in your head. Whether words, images, emotions or any combination of the three, brands are mental associations that get stirred up when you think about or hear about a particular product, service, company or even person. What image comes to your mind when you see the names Rolex, Porsche, Bud, Paris (as in Hilton)? A logo or name is what you see. A brand is what you think!


  • And finally, the core of this article, Merchandising: This is the process of increasing the market share of a product in retail outlets using displays, stocking and sales promotion techniques.
    • It is the method used to communicate product information, promotions and special events and to reinforce advertising messages through non-media communication vehicles.

      It is a way to make a written or visual statement about your company with or without one-on-one personal communication.

    • Merchandising includes brochures, sell sheets, product displays, video presentation, banners, posters, shelf talkers, table tents and other non-media vehicles that can be used to communicate product attributes, positioning, pricing and promotional information.
    • It’s how your showroom is laid out and organized.
    • It’s how your showroom looks and feels.
    • It’s your showroom telling your product story before a sales consultant even says hello.
    • It’s a big part of your brand and image.
    • Merchandising is an opportunity for you to set your showroom apart from all of your competitors - even when most of you are showing and selling many of the same products.

    Now, that has to be the biggest lead-in I’ve ever done on any subject I’ve talked about in all these articles I’ve been privileged to write for Supply House Times. Next month I’ll get specific. This is a very important subject. I hope you take it seriously. It could very well mean the difference between being very good and only mediocre.