Showroom Design & Display: Making the right first impression
January 2nd, 2008

by Zoe Voigt

January-February 2008

No matter how lovely your products, or how professional your staff, if your client’s first impression is of a cluttered, dark space, you can bet they won’t feel like sticking around long enough to place an order. Successful tile retailers know that the showroom is the best opportunity to make an impression on potential clients.

More than ever, retailers need to keep it fresh and appeal to customers by showing bold and unique installations of tile in a beautiful setting—making a visit to the showroom an appealing sensory event.

Tile as a fashion industry

“Retailers are taking their cues from other industries such as high-end shoe and handbag boutiques,” says Patti Fasan of Professional Attention to Tile Installations. Fasan is a Certified Ceramic Tile Consultant from the Ceramic Tile Institute of America, and a consultant who predicts trends and regularly speaks on issues relevant to the tile industry.

“Retailers need to be creative and display tile in lifestyle settings with vignettes, installed floor pads, life-style images, mini-concept boards, image photo galleries or libraries from magazines,” says Fasan. “Retailers need to build boutique-like ambience into their showrooms to ensure they look more like a high end fashion house than a building construction warehouse.”

Less is more

It isn’t necessary to be all things to all people, or to show every kind of tile imaginable. “One trend in high-end showrooms is a less-is-more attitude regarding displays,” says Fasan. “Showrooms are more open, less cluttered, and individual tiles are showcased in jewel-box like settings. Lighting is crucial and dramatic when using this type of display.”

Alan Court, owner of Alan Court and Associates in East Hampton, Long Island, describes his take on what a showroom should aspire to. “A high-end tile showroom is typified by a vision. It will have only wonderful products that are well edited.”

“My philosophy is that a showroom should be fashionable and au courant rather than trendy,” says Court. “Good fashions are classics and still of the moment. Unlike that tumbled stone that says ‘March of 1996,’ people ask for it, (and I will get it for them if they really want it,) but its moment has come and gone. Tile should be more classic than that because it isn’t as easy to change your bath as the clothes in your closet.”

“When design professionals walk in and give compliments, then you have succeeded. There should be lots to look at without the feeling of already having seen it all,” says Court.

Involving the senses

It isn’t enough to simply put out pretty tiles, or tiles that one thinks will sell well. The purpose of the showroom is to engage the client on another level, creating an experience. According to Fasan, “Displays should be eye catching and even risky. Even though clients may purchase a neutral tile, they want to see and experience what is different.”

She suggests letting the client, “Connect with the emotional allure of ceramic tile.” For example, a showroom can incorporate, “The sights, sounds, smell, and language of the Mediterranean,” says Fasan. “Purchasing home décor items is usually based on emotion and then justified by logic.”

The idea is to sell more than just tile. The showroom should be selling a concept and a positive experience. The staff ‘s expertise in tile will make the client comfortable. Together, this builds confidence in your shop as a brand to be trusted. This will not only create sales today, but ultimately result in return sales as well.

There are many ways to achieve this and connect with the buyers’ senses. “Retailers need to add character, color and texture to their displays. Unique layout patterns featuring herringbone, European grid, multi-format modular patterns and stress their design capabilities,” says Fasan. “Single tiles on sample boards can be used to coordinate final finishes but are not engaging enough for initial selection of tile.”


As opposed to individual boards, having tiles installed gives the customer ideas about how the tile can be used. Barbara Warren, owner of The Tile Gallery, a specialty showroom in Chicago, prefers installed vignettes to tile boards and displays. Her showroom is expanding from 3,500 sq feet to 7,000 to accommodate more of these mini-rooms.

“Large format tiles can be challenging to sell, especially as wall cladding. The customer can’t imagine what they will look like and because they are large, they are hard to show. Installations take up more space, but of course, they are essential,” says Warren. “This is also true of tiles with large repeating patterns; the customer often cannot conceive what that will look like. They just don’t sell unless they are installed.”

“Generally, all tile sells better if you can get the installations up,” says Warren. “Of course, that is challenging to do. It can be messy and expensive. We just recently relocated and that gave us the opportunity to create all new vignettes and designs. Design clients especially like to see the new products. Also, it is good for our sales staff to see the tiles installed.”

According to Court, “Floors are valuable real estate, either they sell or they don’t sell. A floor could be passé and need to be pulled up. I have to make room for the really great stuff.”

Keeping up-to-date

Whether the showroom has installed floors, hanging concept boards, vignettes, racks, or all of the above, updating dispays is a tricky business because of the cost and time involved.

“We switch lines out when they are discontinued, and if the floor next to it is not selling that well, then that gives us the opportunity to change that one as well,” says Warren. “The wall vignettes get changed every year or two but the floors are harder and aren’t changed as often. We have eight floors, so if we change two every year, each floor has a potential life span of four years. Of course ideally, we would change them out even more than that.”

Staying organized can be difficult. “The vendors supply all these handheld boards. One of the biggest challenges to me is what to do with them. If you have too many, they just junk up the showroom,” says Warren.

“Concept boards can be tricky, finding room for them when we don’t have a gigantic space,” says Court. “The more you show, the more you sell, so you want to maximize your space. However the trick is to do that and not have it looked cluttered.”

Boards and other displays have their place, since there are only so many vignettes that will fit in a showroom. “You can sell it if you show it,” says Court. “I can sell from a catalogue, but it is a lot harder.”

Fasan recommends that retailers display tile in settings other than just kitchens and baths. “In order to expand ceramic tile’s market in the retail sector, they need to show ceramic tile headboards, ceramic tile wainscoting, fireplaces, feature walls, exterior fountains, exterior façade treatments, etc. “

Know your buyers

“Retailers need to identify their market, understand the demographic, and purchase programs that directly align with their target markets price, size of tile, color preferences, textural preferences, and interior style,” says Fasan. “Spending more time knowing your niche or local market and less time being everything to everyone is gratifying and profitable.”

Alan Court’s showroom is geared toward designers. He says, “There should be new things every time a client comes in. It is important that the showroom be oriented so that designers can come in and create something unique for their clients. I don’t believe in setting it up like Geranimals, where everything is ready to mix-and-match. I try to give them new things with new twists—the tools to create something special.”

“High-end does not preclude inexpensive tile. In my showroom, we have all price ranges,” says Court. “Even a client with a gigantic budget won’t have the same budget on every single bathroom. A client with means won’t buy the same tile for a maid’s bathroom as for the master bath. A person on a conservative budget may just want an incredible detail, so she’ll buy a few pricey pieces and a simple field. It is important that we have things that are appropriate for all price ranges.”

Court says, “We try to differentiate from other showrooms, so that it is not banal and boring. It is really essential to keep up with the newest and best products. I have a network of friends all over the country and we share information about great distributors and manufacturers.”


One way to show a lot of tile without using up a lot of valuable real estate on the showroom floor is to use displays in floor or wall racks. There are a plethora of options for showrooms of all kinds. The choices include wing-racks, shelving, sliding display units, tabletop units, freestanding towers, and wall-mounted sample board holders, among others. Depending on weight issues, these displays can be constructed in many different materials such as steel, wood, and plastic.

Nick Willard, president of NS Converters, which manufactures merchandising aids like display panels and sample boards says, “The retail flooring industry is unique in its needs and challenges for displaying the product. You can’t just have individual items on shelves down aisles, like you would in a store for just about any other product. You can’t have all those loose tiles. Samples can be mounted on boards, or put into architectural folders, binders or on swatch cards in boxes or open trays. You need good display and identification of the product.”

“The onus is on the distributors to find the right combination of aids to please the retailers. We mainly sell to distributors who then in turn sell to retailers. Of course, the individual retailers may have their own lines and racks, so they have more control over how their showrooms look.”

Custom options

Fasan explains a new trend in tile display, “It is much more common to find integrated custom display units in showrooms where floor and wall tile are installed on concealed panels that can be individually opened and presented by showroom personnel.”

“Manufacturers offer a wide array of showroom display units and will often work with individual distributors and retailers to custom design a showroom. Specialty furniture companies in Europe have display packages that can unify the entire showroom regardless of the number of different tile manufacturers a retailer may deal with,” says Fasan.

McColl Display Solutions specializes in designing and manufacturing custom showroom displays and sample boards. President Fred McColl says, “Italian and Spanish manufacturers are becoming big players in the US market. Their displays are more wood and traditional looking. They are always custom designed. As a trend, I would say they are having an influence on the US showrooms.”

As for other new products, McColl adds, “Our company sells custom and stock displays and we are getting orders for displays that will hold the larger format tiles. We have stock displays for tiles up to 24″ x 24″ inches, but we can also design custom displays for even larger tiles. We have recently developed a stock wing rack that would hold any sized boards and we’ve gotten a great response to that.”

Ultimately, the showroom manger and owner will have to decide how best to meet the needs of their clientele by setting up the showroom floor to maximize sales. This process is a never-ending one, with new products coming in and old ones going out.

These days it isn’t just about having great tile. It is crucial to stay abreast of the latest looks and most appealing showroom designs to appeal to customers and stay ahead of the competition.

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