Show Time

Dec 3, 2009

You can run but you can’t hide from your showroom. Customers form opinions just by walking to your counter. But try to think of making the showroom your opportunity to showcase what you do.

We asked several shops about their showroom design theories. Dave Dennis of Customizing Connections in Gaithersburg, Md., says, “With the intentions of selling my business in the future, with the support and physical help of my fiancée, Vickie Daza, and close friends, we started with painting from ceiling to floor.”

“I wanted the entire shop/showroom to look bigger and brighter. . .I wanted to take advantage of the tall ceilings, so we installed 8′ partition walls to divide the office, the detail bay, the window tint bay, the showroom and the installation shop. I needed the shop to appear bigger than our last shop, so I designed a lot of interior with tempered safety glass in all the walls. We encourage our customers to watch if they like. I love sports and all kinds of auto racing, so my theme on the four outside walls was to do a NASCAR/Top Fuel racing theme (with) logo hoods accompanied by a full-scale NASCAR body hanging from the ceiling. On the adjoining wall we did asports theme. Both of these themes carry through the entire shop.”

The comfort zone

Tim Walbridge is the CEO of 503 Motoring in Beaverton, Ore., and says, “We just redesigned the showroom over the course of the last year. Our only thoughts were customer comfort and a clean, uncluttered atmosphere.”

Will Williams of Car FX in Tulsa, Okla., says, “We designed the showroom in 2004 with the idea in mind for an American Muscle Car theme. Our showroom begins in the parking area in front of the store. We make sure customers see the impressive projects prior to entering the building. In turn, our interior showroom is an extension of what they see out front.”

We asked if these restylers if their showrooms had changed from their original or previous look. John and Terri Rush operate John’s 4×4 Centers in Boulder and Fort Collins, Colo. The Rushes say, “No, our basic design has been the same for the past seven to eight years. We change the displays and colors from time to time.”

Williams of Car FX says, “We have made numerous improvements on our showroom over the past few years. We have added on an extra room with a large window so customers could watch their cars in progress while they wait.”

“To showcase the work we have done, we now have a large computer monitor that has pictures of every car we have made improvements on. This lets the customers look for new ideas and to see the products we offer on cars so they can get a better idea of what the final product will look like. Most often, they can find several cars of the same color and find what they like and dislike. This also gives us a chance to let the customer design exactly what they like by picking out the pictures of what they want.”

Dennis from Customizing Connections says, “We have always had an awesome response on our shop and showroom. Customers make statements like, ‘This place makes me want to spend money.’ I think we relate with our clientele by making it a cool and modern shop to hang out and come to.”

Challenge

We asked about the biggest challenges in designing a showroom. Rush from John’s 4×4 Centers says, “In our Boulder location we purchased our building and then moved into a space that was vacated by a machine shop. We had to remodel the interior to make it work for what we needed. I visited accessory stores around the country before coming up with my own design. Once I had an idea of what we needed we started drawing it out on paper.”

Dennis used a focal spot for his design: “The install shop was designed around my toolbox. It’s 14′ long, so I needed it to be accessible and practical to work around. One of the hardest things was coming from a 6,000-sq.-ft. shop to a 3,500-sq.-ft. shop. So we needed to use every inch wisely.”

Williams says, “Our biggest challenge is we do not have enough room for all of our products. To overcome this, we change up our showroom very often. We will move products around to create more room on a certain wall and showcase different products at a time.”

With an eye to the customer

What creates a good showroom experience for customers? Williams says, “You need to have products and information about the company set up in a way that they can easily browse and learn about what you do at the same time. It is valuable to be able to separate your customers while entertaining them all at the same time. We have four different sections of our showroom that let us accomplish this. We can let a customer browse at exactly what they want and still have a conversation with another customer without too much downtime. When a customer gets bored, that’s when you lose the sale.”

Dennis talks logistics and says, “Low displays keep the area looking bigger and are great for customer eye-to-eye communication. Open areas, bright colors, modern displays and the newest products and POP displays.”

503’s Walbridge says, “Take your customers needs into consideration first. If you don’t have customers waiting for vehicles on a regular basis, then utilize the space for more products. If a customer waiting area is needed, then make sure that it is well lit, comfortable and is not blocked off from the rest of the atmosphere.”

Rush went down the list: “Clean and well lighted, no clutter or used items, must have a female-friendly atmosphere and clean bathroom. Flooring does not matter as long as it’s clean and you accent it with the right displays. I see many showrooms where more money is spent on flooring than on inventory.”

Moreover, says Rush, “We have counters in our facilities where we wait on customers -” my next goal is to remove them so we have more one-on-one with the customer. The counter is a barrier, in my opinion. If there is one it should only be a short one with room all around it.”

Rush continues: “I hate catalogs; they create clutter and take up counter space. We are in the process of creating our own database for vendors where we will have shortcuts to all manufacturers’ websites, along with the WDs, for ordering.”

“I also think there should be some separation from the shop area -”not to keep customers from the shop, but rather to keep the noise and smells out of the showroom. Everyone’s showroom should use POPs and display items that the manufacturers spend a ton of money on.. .After all of this is done you need employees that know their products and also have great customer service skills. The customer does not care how much you know until you show them how much you care. This is something that is dying in our world today. Good customer service skills are hard to come by.”

What’s the attraction?

What did they do to make the showroom appealing? Rush says, “We do our best to keep the most current items in stock so they can touch and feel products.” He also says he tries to make the showroom feel “open and welcoming. We have waiting areas that are stocked with coffee and refreshments.”

Walbridge says he added “a 65″ Sharp LCD with surround sound, PS3 game system and wireless Internet, large leather couches and a host of magazines from different genres to cover the customer base.”

Williams goes for the Mustang lover in particular and says, “The entry to our showroom is open and there is a complete wall, top to bottom, with ‘In The News’ boards of our cover cars and top projects we have done. This enables us to grab their attention of what we have the ability to do for them. As the customer walks further into the store after viewing the media wall, they have the option of a few different vendor walls of products. All of our products are geared towards the 2005 and newer Ford Mustangs so, in short, they are like a kid in a candy store.”

How important is a showroom for grabbing customers’ attention? “Very!” Walbridge says emphatically. “We constantly get compliments on how comfortable the space is and how nice and clean the showroom is. I fully believe that your space is a good indication of the quality of your work you provide.”

Williams says that catching customer’s eyes “is by far one of the most important parts of our equation. When they realize you have everything they want for their car in one place, you have their attention. When you get their attention you can help them select the right product and package for them and let them customize it themselves.”

Rush nails it, saying, “It’s the thing that will bring them back or send them away for good.”

As for the interaction of the showroom and staff, Dennis stresses that he maintains “very open areas to show displays, and keeps a 110%clean showroom and shop.”

Walbridge says, “The layout is clean and simple, so my guys can easily transition from product to product and get all the areas covered.”

Williams says that “instead of explaining how a part works or what it looks like, we can walk right over to it, take it out of the box and let them play with it. It is much easier to sell a product your customer can put their hands on than a part you have to order in and cannot physically see.”

“Along with having our showroom,” Williams adds, “we also test out all the parts we sell on our own cars. This allows us to walk the customer out to one of the cars and let them see it installed on a car similar to their own.”

Rush agrees with Williams’ assessment: “It gives our salesman the opportunity to ‘show and tell.'”

Are you satisfied, yet?

What would they do differently in their current showroom? Dennis says that he would use more POP displays instead of actual merchandise. “This would allow more items to be displayed since we do deal with warehouses that deliver every day.”

Walbridge says he “would like to have taller ceilings for display purposes as well as some touch-screen information centers to better assist when we have multiple customers in the space.”

Adds Williams: “More space would be the best thing. We get new parts in weekly and are rapidly running out of room.”

Finally, we asked for advice on redesigning a showroom. Dennis says restyler retailers should “use every inch wisely -” smaller displays for smaller showrooms. We were able to make display racks on top of the 8′-high divider walls to give more floor space.”  Walbridge reminds his fellow retailers to “take your customers’ views personal. Ask them what they would like to see. Then mold the displays and environment around that feedback.”

Williams sums it up: “Think about the type of customer you want and have, and design towards them. Lighting would be priority one-”the more a display is lit, the more the product is touched. You want it to be welcoming, as well. And the biggest thing would be the ability to let the customer interact with the product.”

Showroom design -”it’s a full-time gig.