Showroom Seminar: The Design Center
April 2nd, 2009

One-stop-shopping, ample amenities draw residential & commercial tile customers

Second Quarter, 2009

By Kathleen Furore

Imagine upscale vignettes of kitchens and baths, all featuring luxury tile and other home accessories. Now imagine those vignettes all under one roof, in a single room where the general public, as well as interior designers, architects and custom builders, can explore the latest design trends, then buy the materials they need to complete their residential and commercial projects.

That’s the scene at The Design Resource Center (DRC), an area that houses more than 6,000 square feet of kitchen, bath and building products in Suite 163 of The Merchandise Mart in downtown Chicago. The DRC is part of the Mart’s 100,000-sq. ft. LuxeHome venue, a collection of 30 luxury boutiques that debuted five years ago. And it’s a place companies including the Chicago Tile Institute (which represents five distributors including Mid-America Tile and over 100 manufacturers) rely on to display and promote their product lines.

“The DRC boasts beautiful vignettes featuring hundreds of specialty and custom products from six world class tenants— the Chicago Tile Institute, Closet Works, CBD Glass Studios, Katonah Architectural Hardware, Lefroy Brooks and ShowHouse by Moen—all within a comprehensive retail environment,” explains Kate Flaherty, vice president, building products and special projects for Merchandise Mart Properties, Inc. (MMPI). The DRC isn’t a new concept, she notes, but an updated, redesigned space that moved to its new location in the historic building last fall.

What Flaherty dubs a “one-stop-shop concept” also beckons shoppers with its luxury lounge area; Wi-Fi access; dedicated computer stations that let customers access LuxeHome boutiques, products and The Merchandise Mart; a LuxeHome Concierge; and a Courtesy Espresso bar.

“Our new showroom is like an art gallery with its beauty and presentation,” Peggy Batus, the Chicago Tile Institute’s showroom manager, says. “We do not sell tile, we sell design.”

How it works

According to Batus, each participating distributor and manufacturer rents their respective areas at the DRC and takes responsibility for the areas they rent.

“All of the product centers in the DRC are separate, with four of the six tenants manned by a full-time sales associate,” Flaherty explains. “We hand-picked premier companies that are unique and have varied product offerings. For instance, Katonah Architectural Hardware is the premium source for the world’s finest hardware. CBD Glass Studios specializes in one-of-a-kind contemporary and traditional classic designs in glass.”

But designing the vignettes in which their product lines are shown is a collaborative process.

“When we moved to our new location we had Bleyer Schneider, interior designer, design the whole concept of the space. He also helped to design all of the floors with the assistance of Donna Triolo, Mid-America’s design studio manager, and me,” Batus says.

If changes are in order, Triolo and the manufacturer discuss what must be done. “Donna then draws up the changes and we proceed to order material and retain a union tile installer,” Batus explains. The Chicago Tile Institute is the only showroom that partners with the Union Chicago Tile Contractors, she notes.

“Our space is limited, so we have designated the areas by manufacturer, showing the latest [tile] products such as porcelain, glass, natural stone, and metal. We call it eye candy! The right product selection is key,” Triolo says.

Although space is limited, plans for the future are not. Preparing the showroom with new products in time for the Coverings show coming to town April 21 through 24 is the task at hand. Future goals include boosting designer and architect traffic, and hosting many continuing education units (CEUs), Batus says.

Whatever the future holds, the distributors and manufacturers with whom Batus works are happy to be part of the DRC and LuxeHome—so happy, in fact, that “there is a waiting list of those who want to show in the space because it is a proven fact that this is where we should be in the marketplace,” Batus notes.

“My tenants like being here because they can utilize the space for sales meetings, trade breakfasts and lunches. Plus, if they would like to host a party, they can do that right here without having to rent additional space,” she continues. “Chicago Tile Institute has been in the building since 1975 and we have a good trade following. Plus, we can handle both the needs of commercial as well as residential [customers]. The leads we get here in the DRC are passed on to their architectural representatives and they can follow up on projects that they are working on. In addition, we can supply the union tile contractors that would complete the job.”

Mid-America Tile is one of those happy showroom tenants. ”We have been with the DRC for about six years and are pleased with the recent new location,” Triolo reports. “Having the opportunity to show product in the Chicago Merchandise Mart is great for reaching the customer who will not always travel to our Elk Grove or Romeoville Design Studio locations. Even though the economy has been on a downslide, the space still attracts the designers, architects and the homeowners. We trust this will continue to create more traffic and more business,” she concludes.

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