Floor Show

Jul 14, 2011

Our industry has gotten better about planning. I see a lot more architectural floor plans from clients than I used to. And that means that planning and forethought went into the overall concept of the project. However, we still have the issue of timing versus action on parts of the plan that matter greatly. In other words, it’s common for independent retailers to consider showroom design way too late in the game.

Here’s my tongue-in-cheek outline for a typical new store/remodel priority list:

1.    Obtain favorable financing
2.    Secure a building with shop and office
3.    Analyze staffing needs
4.    Analyze tool and equipment needs
5.    Secure product sources
6.    Replenish or obtain inventory and supplies
7.    Update or obtain inventory control system
8.    Update or obtain office equipment and computers
9.    Purchase forms and office supplies
10.  Update or obtain telephone system
11.   Update or create website
12.   Consider Yellow Pages or other ads
13.   Design outdoor sign
14.   Recharge battery on shop vehicle
15.   Plug in coffee maker
16.   Buy doughnuts
17.   Budget for new showroom design and fixtures

Yes, I know that doughnuts should be higher up on the list, but we should see showroom design up there, too. Like maybe right after tools and equipment.

Showroom adds that ‘sizzle to the steak’

As the restyling customer base grows, it has become far more diverse, sophisticated and intelligent. First impressions alone are enough reason to strongly consider what your customer first sees when crossing the threshold of your showroom. But aside from that, is what the customer remembers down the road. Your showroom is your first and sometimes last opportunity to impress your customer with your unique take on the business of customizing and personalizing their vehicle. That lasting impression is like a permanent business card with your name on it – so it better be good.

As competition for the aftermarket dollar increases, customers are treated to a veritable salad bar of ways to obtain the latest accessories: websites on the Internet, including Facebook and Twitter, mass merchants, auto and truck dealerships, magazine ads and, not to mention, your brick and mortar competitors are all trying to capture those specialty automotive sales that are your bread and butter. Great customer service, top-notch installers and competitive prices are all part of a winning formula, but in today’s complex world, “you’ve got to have the sizzle with the steak.”

So how do you add that sizzle? With a showroom or sales floor that gets attention sends a strong message about your abilities and creates a positive awareness.

If you are considering opening a new store, remodeling or adding on, then most likely you have earmarked an amount of capital to complete this task. The key is to adequately budget for new store fixtures, creative showroom design and the labor to put it all together.

When running a business that has to market and sell to the general public, you must plan how this is to be done. If the task requires that you actually have live people – customers – in your place of business, then it should be your goal to manage and cultivate this foot traffic.

While contemplating how best to handle customer flow and ergonomics, first, stop and ask yourself, What are customers worth to your business? No pun intended, but customers drive your business. Without customers, the best-equipped shop or office is merely superfluous. With that in mind, it’s time to re-think what you should spend on a part of your operation that has the ability to strongly influence customer buying decisions and future sales.

Invest in showroom wisely … and well

You can establish a general idea of these costs by doing a little homework. My estimation is that a good rule of thumb is to allocate approximately 20% of your project budget to fixtures and merchandising/design labor. So, if you plan to spend $100,000 on your expansion, and that includes everything from floor tile to structural changes, don’t touch that checkbook until you can fit around $20,000 for your showroom into the program.

If you plan it this way, no part of your operation comes up short, and you will have a well balanced offering for your customer base.

How you invest that part of your budget allocated to the showroom is another story. Some industrious store owners have been known to create their own islands and perimeter walls. While this is unique, it is not particularly practical for the short or long haul. First, it’s very time consuming and, second, the fixtures usually have limited versatility and portability. My recommendation is always go with commercially designed and crafted fixtures that are obtainable through reputable distributors and design groups. Factory-made fixtures always work with universal hardware such as hooks, brackets and shelves; plus you can add on to them easily as your business grows.

Prior to shopping for your fixtures, you need to decide what level of participation you want to commit yourself to. If during the remodel or expansion, the greatest share of running the daily business still sits firmly on your shoulders, you should consider getting some help. Some fixture distributors offer assistance on the design and creative front. Or you can hire a company that specializes in the ability to create a unique look for your business that is based on your automotive aftermarket specialty. Either way, the assistance can save you many hours of work, stress and struggling with decisions.

No matter what type of assistance you choose, all resellers of fixtures and merchandising devices will offer you quotes or estimates that you can place in your budget and financial plan. Just like any other fixed asset, the cost of your showroom can be amortized over a period of years. And just like any other business expense, you need to always consider the return on your investment.

Make your showroom memorable

If you are opening a new store, I can’t stress enough importance into the cost-effectiveness of a logical, time-managed plan for the showroom. Outlines, spreadsheets and floor plans are invaluable tools for scheduling, budgeting and fixture placement. There’s an old expression that are words to live by: “There’s never enough time to do it right, but always time to do it over.” And, by the way, nowhere does doing things over hurt more than in your wallet. Having a solid plan and budget will save you even more on a new store, because you will do it right – the first time.

Another item to consider is that a large segment of the aftermarket customer base now shops by smartphone. I get many calls daily from customers who have done their shopping by phone. While surfing the Internet with their smartphone, customers are drawn to image-driven websites that competently illustrate what they are looking for and label the images so that search engines “point” to them. What better way to get local clients’ attention than to feature “in demand” product, professionally displayed in an exciting showroom environment? Pictures of your showroom on the Internet get noticed and will help bring customers to your door.

Once they are through the door, don’t forget to tell them who you are. Budget the cost and space to mention your company’s name with signage and graphics. Say it boldly, and say it often.

There’s a lot more to building a well-planned and effective showroom than we have room to print, such as: considering the relationship between your service desk and the traffic flow; ceiling height and lighting; islands and perimeter walls; metal finishes versus wood or plastic; and, of course, what your showroom says about you and your operation. We’ll save those topics for another article.

So, remember: If you plan for it and budget for your investment, your showroom will say exactly what you want your customers to hear and remember: “Come back soon; this place is cool!”

Good selling!