The showrooms at Maryland-area integration company Gramophone are hard to pin down, not just because of their number, but also because they are perpetually being upgraded.
“We have a total of seven separate locations — five that are customer-facing,” says company CEO Andrew Davis. “We have a 30,000-square-foot showroom under renovation that we hope to open in November in Timonium. Our Gaithersburg/Metro DC and Columbia showrooms were just updated. We’re currently doubling the size of our design showroom in Hunt Valley. So pretty much every single one of our showrooms is under some sort of renovation.”
That’s a lot of showrooms, or another way of looking at it is one enormous showroom that is divided by short rides. At least that’s how it is designed product-wise: “When we’re looking at our showrooms — and because we have multiple locations within driving distance of one another — we try to keep them unique in what product lines we’re showing,” says Davis. “Most of our showrooms have the same brands but different flavors of products. We find that our salespeople prefer to have a destination for a variety of SKUs, and they can always take a customer to a different location if they want to audition something specific.”
Keeping It Interesting
Updating a showroom is never easy — it can get expensive in terms of both products and manpower — but, to Davis, the benefits of an updated room far outweigh the hassles in getting it done. “I recently went out furniture shopping, and I realized just how bad retail has gotten since Covid — how bland and dull the experience has become,” he says. “I saw a lot of businesses that I hold in high regard look like they’re going out of business because they fail to update their spaces and make them exciting.
“We’re constantly renovating our spaces so that we give customers a reason to come back. Plus, your staff gets bored showing off the same products over and over. By always having something new to show in an updated area of the store, it gives you a feature that you can take a customer over to and say, ‘Hey, let me show you something really cool and new.’ That’s really the driving force of why we’re always updating our spaces.”
Making it slightly easier for Gramophone to handle all the updates is that the company has been built to do so. “We have a whole design-build team on staff — carpenters, electricians, and other trades,” explains Davis. “We take care of our customers first, and then, when there are gaps in the schedule, we have a queue of our own projects that are thought out. The challenge lately is that we’re so busy with clients that getting these updates done is very difficult. There’s a very long list of what we want to do, and I wish we could do it quicker and faster, but we don’t want to jeopardize quality. Our showrooms are a place where customers can look at the fit and finish down to the paint job to get an understanding of what the experience will be in their home.”
Showroom Spotlight — Elliston Systems & Design
Recent updates to Gramophone’s DC Metro-area showroom are a good example of the company’s philosophies in action. When visitors first step into the space, they are greeted by familiar sites — mid-size flat televisions and soundbars to the right and a headphone listening station, with turntables and amplifiers, as well as vinyl, on the left.
“Having headphones and soundbars at the front counter is welcoming,” says Davis. “It doesn’t immediately overwhelm someone with a $50,000 audio system. Headphones are something that we believe in because the audience base wants a better experience. Here, you can buy headphones from $99 to $10,000, as well as McIntosh amplifiers all the way down to a pocket amplifier. We use that space to get customers excited about audio.”
From there, a walk down the hallway brings visitors to rooms that get progressively more complicated, from a family room to a high-end listening space to a dedicated home theater. The family room is designed to show off disguised audio in an open space. Currently, the room features an 83-inch Sony LED television and a 100-inch dropdown motorized screen with a Future Automation lift and a Sony laser projector. The main system tied to the 83-inch TV has Sonus faber floorstanding surround speakers, and the hidden theater uses Sonus faber in-wall speakers. The room also includes controlled lighting and shading from Lutron and automation through Control4.
The high-end listening space features speakers from Golden Ear, Bowers & Wilkins, Totem Acoustic, and others, including bookshelf models all the way up to high-end 2-channel loudspeakers. Gramophone also has many speakers hidden out of sight that can be pulled into place and set up at the client’s request.
The dedicated home theater setup includes a Bower & Wilkins CT Series system, a Trinnov Audio processor, and a Sony laser projector, along with JL Audio in-wall subs and a Stewart Filmscreen multi-masking screen. There is a Lutron drapery track across the back wall, and the whole thing is accessed through Control4.
“We keep the back of the theater open with a drapery track to show that this could be just one area of your basement,” adds Davis. “It doesn’t need to just be a theater room — but if you want it to be a closed-off theater room, we can do that, too.”
The interior space also includes a lighting lab, conference room, and outdoor AV space, with landscape speakers and lighting on the exterior, greeting the customers as soon as they step into the parking lot.
Working With Sales
With customer experience at any of its showrooms a priority, Gramophone has created a special sales position, called a concierge, whose role it is to greet each person that walks through the door, find out what brought them to the store, and give them an intriguing tour of the space.
“If it’s a simple flat panel, furniture, soundbar, or speaker purchase, the concierge can assist with it,” says Davis. “If it’s something more complex, the concierge will tee it up for a seasoned salesperson that understands the custom installation process to help get the customer what he or she needs.
“We care about every customer that comes through the door. It is very expensive to acquire new customers, and you have to take care of them. If you do not show them the attention they deserve and expect, you could shut down a major opportunity right out of the gate. So, this recipe that we’ve created is working very well — having the concierge up front and then the salespeople helping their own clients and then working on the floor when they’re able.”
The concierge is also responsible for making sure the space looks clean — inside and out. “The concierge is required to walk the space from the front of the parking lot into the store to make sure there isn’t trash in the flower beds or any debris outside,” says Davis. “That’s a reflection of who we are from the outside in, so our showroom starts in the parking lot with a landscape speaker system and lighting. You’re not going to have a great demo if the landscape is littered with trash.”
Related: 2022 Showroom Showcase Gallery
Davis also lets his sales team have a say in the products that are placed in the showrooms. “I make sure that our sales team has input on what’s on display because they need to be able to show what they want to sell,” he says. “If what I choose to put out there doesn’t match what they’re suggesting to our customers, then it’s a waste of money and space. I encourage a lot of team involvement in what we need to show because if we’re showing soundbar A and they’re selling soundbar B, shame on us.
“Let’s make sure that the displays are working to our advantage, not against us.”