Showroom Trends: Looking at your showroom from a customer’s point of view.
November 1st, 2005


By Janet Arden & Kate Pancero

November-December 2005

Your showroom is critical. In the best of all possible worlds, it can draw in the buyer, encourage her to shop and eventually choose something she’ll enjoy in her home—in fact, she’ll enjoy it so much she’ll tell admiring friends that she bought it from you.

As industry professionals, we’re comfortable with the array of products, textures, colors, and sizes available in today’s showroom. But the customer, who may have never bought tile before or who may have only done so occasionally, is easily overwhelmed by what’s available. Your job—and that of your showroom—is to engage the customer and make shopping a positive experience.

Recent tile and display trends have been developed to meet changing needs and customer expectations.

The basics

Kathy Webster, Director of Marketing for Miller Multiplex Displays, points out that the goal of any display system is to show off the product—in this case tile—rather than the rack. Floor and wall racks have long been the staples of tile display. Traditionally they have been designed to minimize floor space, maximize display and remain otherwise unobtrusive.

Swinging panels are perhaps one of the oldest but, says Webster, most successful concepts for display because they allow the dealer to mount a lot of samples in a small footprint. They can also be combined with wall racks by hanging the swing rack above wall-mounted shelves which may have removable products on them. The customer can stand in one place and view a number of products. Another familiar option is a free-standing rack designed to accommodate samples vertically rather than horizontally.

The “big” trend

It’s no secret that one of the biggest trends in the industry has been just that—big. Large tiles have become increasingly popular throughout the US. One difficulty with showcasing the large tiles is figuring out where to put them.

Larger tiles mean heavier product and a need for sturdier displays. “As the product gets heavier, we have to be in tune to the total weight that the fixture is going to have to handle,” said Stan Kennough, Vice President of Sales at J. H. Best Display. One of the challenges for display manufacturers is ensuring that display boards can not only handle the weight of the product, but also maintain an aesthetically pleasing design.

Patricia Chavez is a Sales Consultant with Diversified Display Systems. The company is introducing a new, three-tier rack to hold 45 large format tiles in the same format as its familiar existing rack. The company is also ready to customize displays to suit particular materials.

Webster says large format—which continues to get larger—increasingly requires custom display pieces. She says slider systems are a good solution to managing the size and weight of larger materials while still maximizing floor space.

Vignettes offer experience

If shopping for tile is potentially overwhelming for the typical customer, then walking into a showroom with several tile vignettes allows customers to see a concept right in front of them. One of the benefits of using showroom vignettes is that they give the customer a sense of the environment a tile could provide in their home.

“People walk into the showroom and see it looks the same and walk back out,” said Michael Kowalczyk, General Manager and Founder of Display Ideas. Instead of simply providing customers with the usual concept boards, configurations mounted on small boards, and swatches of various tile combinations to illustrate design ideas, many tile showrooms are giving their clients more options with showroom vignettes. These mini-rooms offer a “slice” of a kitchen, bath, entry or other room to illustrate tile installations on the walls, floor and even countertops. Vignettes often incorporate bath or kitchen fixtures or even furniture to develop the look further. This is a trend that has been on the rise in luxury tile showrooms for several years. Not surprisingly, its success and the growing sophistication of many customers have led more and more dealers to incorporate vignettes into their showrooms.

A combination of well-done vignettes and traditional displays allows the customer to view different materials in different settings. She can get a true feel of what she does and does not like. Some dealers suggested that clients often pick out the same material in different formats and finishes. This way, the sales person will get an accurate sense of what their customer likes, cutting the choosing process down from 3,000 different tile options to 100.

Kowalczyk believes display materials make a difference. Custom display boards are becoming more popular in the tile industry, especially those made of wood. “Wood is warm and inviting, while metal displays are cold and industrial looking,” he said.

One dealer compared tile showrooms to couture on a New York runway. The client may not wear the totally trendy dress, but the same concepts are applied to the ready to wear, practical clothing seen in the department store. A tile showroom designer may choose to display the outlandish in order to give the client an inspirational idea for their own design project.

Webster says Multiplex designs vignettes for dealers based on the design needs of a specific client. They are, essentially, all custom designs.

How tall is your tile?

Dealers always face the same display dilemma: show the most amount of material using the least amount of space while maintaining the display’s user-friendliness. Some dealers have been tempted to build up. Unfortunately, the taller the display, the more difficult it is for the average customer to have access to the product. Understanding who the average decision making customer is, is also important. According to Kowalczyk, “80 percent of design decisions are made by the woman.” He believes keeping the woman in mind is vital when designing a showroom. In the United States , the average female is 5′ 4″, while the average American male is 5′ 9″. “Large tiles in the footing of metal display, makes the average woman unable to reach or it would be too difficult to reach up there and bring the tile down without breaking it,” said Kowalczyk.

With the large tile trend, wood displays are becoming more useful because they are shorter than metal. “Wood displays are set up to be never over four feet tall,” said Kowalczyk, “the line of sight is never broken.”

Focus on the line of sight does not just involve accessibility. Lighting can make a world of difference in a showroom. It ensures what the client sees is what the client is going to get, said Kennough. Make sure the showroom is well lit so customers can appreciate the natural nuances and shade variations of the tiles. Lighting is the key to ensuring that the client understands exactly what they are going to install into their home. Be it a combination of natural, halogen and/or fluorescent lighting showrooms need to be well lit so you can see all the nuances of the different products. “The characterization of the lighting is natural so that when it gets taken home, it presents the product well,” said Kennough.

Trends come and go in the tile industry. In keeping with these trends, dealers are challenged to effectively display new products so the customer sees their full potential. The in-house dealer design team needs to be creative with installations, by playing with different possibilities during the planning process to see what works best for your showroom.

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