Sales & Management: Leverage Your Participation In A Show House
January 1st, 2006


by Jeffrey Steele

January-February 2006

Show your stuff! By participating in a show house, you get your name and your products in front of the public.

Every tile dealer, whether in a big city or smaller market, profits from increased publicity. Among the best ways to gain additional publicity is by participating in show houses.

Two types of show homes offer dealers opportunity for favorable public exposure, says Ola Lessard, spokeswoman for Keene, NH-based Trikeenan Tileworks. Trikeenan, a 15-year-old artisan tile maker that aggressively pursues opportunities for regional and national publicity, has benefitted from having its tile displayed in a variety of show home settings.

The first option is to team with a builder or developer of high-end single-family or condominium residences to have your tile incorporated into a model home. The other is to take part in a show house created as a means of raising funds for charitable organizations in your area.

To pursue the model home approach, contact builders in your area directly. Inquire whether they build this type of show home to promote their developments, and ask to meet with them to show them tile that might fit their home decor design palette, Lessard says.

“Builders also often contract out the design services to an interior designer,” she adds. “That’s another great entree. What’s great about interior designers is that many of them may already be coming into your showroom. So one thing we recommend is that you, as a tile dealer, talk to designers—particularly repeat customers—about the things they’re doing in the community. And just ask them: What are you up to? Are you involved in show houses?”

Trikeenan has discovered some interior designers aren’t fully aware of all the applications for tile. So if you meet designers working on show houses, encourage them to think beyond the obvious applications, like a backsplash or shower surround, Lessard urges. In short, suggest they consider tile as a possible component across their design palettes. Open a conversation about upcoming projects, and plant a seed for uses of tile of which they may not be aware.

How about a tile fireplace? Tile for an entryway floor? Tile in outside landscaping? “Excite them about all the possibilities and directions in which tile can go,” Lessard says.

Sweeten the Deal

As a dealer, you may be able to further encourage an interior designer’s use of your tile by offering an incentive. Designers working on show houses often approach Trikeenan directly or through one of the company’s dealers about the possibility of using its tile in the house.

It greatly benefits Trikeenan to have its tile chosen for that show house. And because it does, the company often donates product or offers a significant discount off its regular prices.

“The dealer can say, ‘Let me talk with my manufacturer and see if I can offer you a discount or even a donation of product, to assure it’s displayed in this very public forum,’” Lessard says. “It behooves us as a manufacturer to be the one supplying the tile for the backsplash, the foyer, the fireplace or bathroom. We want show house visitors to see our tile.”

This is where tile dealers can gain a tremendous advantage, she adds. Not only are they helping facilitate the show home’s creation, but they are also working to cement a relationship with the designer. The next time the designer has a similar project, he or she is likely to come back to the same dealer and ask, ‘Can you help us with this one too?’”

Trikeenan likes several things to happen when it donates tile to a show house, Lessard says. First, if there are ads generated by the show house, Trikeenan wants to be in them. Second, if the dealer is running in-store promotions about the show house, Trikeenan appreciates its name in those promos. Third, if the room featuring the tile is professionally photographed, Trikeenan seeks rights to use the photos for its own advertising or editorial outreach efforts.

These photos are prized, Lessard says. “It’s really hard to get into people’s homes and get great photos of the tile on display in their living room or kitchen,” she observes. “But when there is a show home, we know the tile is being used in a very beautiful manner. And if someone is going to come in and shoot that tile, that for a manufacturer is like gold. You know it will be done in an exquisite manner. I can’t think of any manufacturer who wouldn’t want that.”

The dealer can also gain from those photos. Lessard urges dealers participating in show houses that have been professionally photographed to also seek rights to the photos. Those photos can be used for their own in-store display efforts during the period the show house is open, and after it closes.

Show Homes That Raise Funds

As mentioned at the outset, show homes created as fundraisers serve up another rich opportunity for tile dealers. In these instances, the homes are generally privately or publicly-owned historic or vintage houses, or simply homes people of the community want to tour. In many cases, interior designers are enlisted to participate by designing the rooms. A small admission price is charged, and funds raised benefit a charitable cause.

One such show house from which Trikeenan gained enormous publicity was a fundraiser in an historic property in the Boston Naval Yard, to benefit the Boston Junior League. Among the designers to work on the house was Kathy Marshall, a Boston-area interior designer, and owner of her own design firm,

She and another designer were invited to design the kitchen. They gutted the existing kitchen, installed new appliances, and chose Trikeenan tile for the backsplash. “The project came out beautifully, and it got a lot of press on its own,” Lessard recalls.

“And when Kathy Marshall entered the kitchen in the Luxury Living Award competition, it was selected as a finalist. She has also submitted it to several magazines.

“So whenever this kitchen appears, people are seeing Trikeenan tile.”

Dealers should actively seek such fundraising show house opportunities, Lessard believes. They might approach a fundraising organization in their community and suggest a show house, or link up with a charitable group that already stages an annual show house fundraiser. Offer not only discounted or donated tile, but expertise in using the tile in new and interesting ways.

“It goes back to talking with your designers, asking them about projects they have coming up, and planting the seed you would like to be involved,” Lessard reports. “And sometimes one project will lead to lots of opportunities for exposure.”

Leverage Your Investment

Once you are participating in show houses, make sure you capitalize on the exposure to the maximum extent possible. First, make sure you gain rights to any professional photography shot within the house. Next, send out press releases announcing your association with the project. The releases should go to the local media, especially the design section of your local newspaper, and any state design publication that may exist. Follow up your news releases with phone calls to editors to suggest angles on stories about how the tile is being used in the home.

And don’t neglect promotional opportunities within your own showroom, Lessard urges. Let every customer who enters your store know you’re part of this beautiful show house. If the show house is for a fundraising organization, promote that organization’s cause. If it’s a builder show house, install an in-showroom display demonstrating how the tile is used in the house.

Not only give designers and other customers ideas, but make clear that you are a source of tile expertise, both willing and able to work with them to show how to create the same look.

“The message is, get involved in these projects, but don’t stop there,” Lessard says. “Leverage that exposure into profits for your dealership.”

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