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Showing Off

A brochure or PowerPoint presentation often cannot do justice to a lighting scheme or all that can be automated under one interface. Thats what often inspires ambitious electronics systems contractors to build a showroom hoping that it will play a pivotal role in his companys sales success. There are, however, common pitfalls associated with showroom projects that sometimes only put disaster on display.

Branding a Business
While advertising and websites are important, the space where customers are greeted offers the opportunity to extend the essence of a company by introducing multi-dimensional branding. The showroom or experience center helps legitimize an operation, said Richard Stoerger, vice president and COO for Audio Design Associates (ADA), the high-end distributed audio manufacturer.

David Bruce, the eastern region sales manager for IS&C (Installation Systems and Control) for Square D Clipsal, concurred. He said that when an installer or manufacturer builds a showroom, it creates the perception of being the expert. It offers the ability to take the prospective clients into your environment and not only sell them on the product but educate them on the benefits, he said.

While they may not close that sale right on the spot, a lasting impression was left with a customer after a proper showroom demonstration. When he is ready to buy, he will feel comfortable coming back. The return on investment in terms of branding a company in the marketplace is immediate, said Bob Hana, vice president of worldwide sales and marketing for Runco, Vidikron, and Planar. It shows that they are not like the big-box companies.

Hana said that the most successful of the Runco, Vidikron, and Planar dealers are those that are not focused on the individual hardware experience, but rather on the lifestyle experience. They will say, We really dont sell projectors or plasmas, but if you have five minutes Ill show you what we really do sell. Then theyll bring them into a showroom and show them what lighting control can do, Hana explained.

Cosmopolitan Entertainment Systems (CES) showroom in New York City, for example, is brand-neutral with a goal to expose people to new experiences and offer a new awareness. They come in expecting plasmas and speakers, said Kevin Berman, principal at (CES). We show them the plasma, but then show them the Crestron control panel and they say, Whats that?

Finding A Niche
While the wow factor always requires something new, it is important for the design of the showroom to remain on a consistent track. It is a process, said Steve Tackitt of Wireless Home, in Naples, Florida. Its important to do it slowly and stay focused on your identity and where you want to be in the market. For Wireless Home it was simple. The niche was alternative solutions to situations when you cant wire anything.

ADAs Stoerger pointed out the difficulty of selling better and more profitable products when a demonstration facility stops short of presenting the value of their performance. Create a demonstration system featuring the best you offer along with a more modest system or two, he said. Anyone coming into your facility is already interested in buying something. Your job is to make the potential customer aspire to buy the best they can afford.

Avoiding Pitfalls and Debt
As with many projects, it is important to anticipate that everything will cost more than what is budgeted. Ideally, the funds for the facility are already sitting in the bank.

Whenever I hear of a dealer contemplating their Taj Mahal, as a manufacturer I get chills, Stoerger said. I want them to consider as much of my product for their demonstration systems as possible, but the other side of me is more cautionary. I have seen several companies dissolve not too long after building the ultimate facility. Stoerger suggested taking a structured loan for the build-out versus moving in-coming cash around to pay for a showroom. This way a company can factor a fixed monthly cost into general overhead. Make sure you know exactly what your budget is, agreed Square Ds Bruce.

Keeping a showroom up to date with the latest technologies is also a challenge. Keep in mind its an ongoing expense to maintain. Its not a one-time investment, Bruce added. Like any other selling process or any other merchandising, you must invest in keeping it fresh and the products updated.

Location, Location
The showrooms location needs to be appropriate for the companys niche. You dont want to put it in the back of an industrial park, Bruce said. It makes sense to be near other companies that are trying to achieve the same thing with other products. So you can feed off that traffic. Whether its tile or a high-end furniture place.

CES has a new showroom in New York Citys D&D (Design and Decoration) building. CES Berman uses his affiliation with Robert Allen/Beacon Hilla leading fabric supplieras a point of access with the other trades in the building.

Top designers in the city have showrooms in the D&D building also. A majority of clients doing a remodel or redesign are putting in some technology, Berman said. If theyre hiring a designer, theyre a high-end customer. When a dcor designer realizes the customer wants a TV, they engage us.

For lighting control manufacturer, Lutron, the companys Experience Centers are showrooms where accounts can bring their customers, whether they are architects, interior designers, builders, or homeowners. Located in three strategic locations around the country, these facilities offer training and demonstration facilities under one roof. Were getting a lot of exposure to a lot of different sales influencers that we wouldnt have had before, said Jeff Zemanek, Lutrons director of residential systems providers. With this approach, Lutron is also able to educate and make a lot more people aware of the benefits of lighting controls.

Knowing Your Audience
Along with staying true to a niche, flexibility and awareness of an audience is important when inviting guests to a showroom. You have to be very focused on knowing the audience and what their hot buttons are, Bruce said. Well show the installer the aesthetic benefits and all that we would show a homeowner, but we have a separate area thats dedicated to showing the back end of the system.

Showing Off Windows Media Center
For Steve Tackitts Wireless Home showroom in Naples, the simplicity of Exceptional Innovations Life-ware made it the right solution for his company. Were all about simplicity, he said. People have to be able to use these systems at home. Those platforms are user friendly.

Exceptional Innovations Life-ware uses Microsofts Media Center PC as the backbone technology to control AV and media in the home (as opposed to a system like Crestron or AMX). For John Prince of Atlantic Home Technologies in Jacksonville, Florida, the technology from a giant like Microsoft was something to be wary of at first. Im definitely not an early adopter, Prince said. Im an early majority guy.

When Life-wares rep firm approached Prince, he was hesitant, but eventually made the technology a feature of his new showroom. I wanted to see the company get some traction, get some installs, and be a stayer, Prince said. Now, I like Life-ware because its open. If something happened to Life-ware and they didnt continue long term, its more or less an overlay of control subsystems.

Getting It Built
Actually building a showroom can be a huge challenge, but one made easier through proper connections. Call in your favors from the trades that you work with, Bruce said. Whether its an HVAC guy you know or a trim carpenter. Strike an agreement with them that you will advertise their name and business in your design center showroom in exchange for reduced rates or concessions.

Shawn Hansson, CEO and founder of Logic Integration, in Englewood, Colorado, has found that most vendors are helpful with discounts and flexible payment plans when a company is building a new showroom. They are excited to have their products placed in a showroom setting, he said.

Joy Zaccaria is a freelance writer in New York City.