Using Reps to Improve Your Showroom

It was 7:43 a.m. and I was maneuvering my car into the left lane of' I-95 south. The 495 split was coming up fast when my cell phone rang. My office was calling to deliver a few messages that had come in the previous evening. One customer had asked me to call him about a showroom issue and the other had questions about new displays. My mind raced forward; just the day before, I had jotted down showrooms and displays as a topic for my next column. The traffic was now slowing, but my thoughts were quickly gaining speed.

My messages were from two long-time customers who often consult with me, as their rep, on ways to improve their showrooms and displays. They look to me for new ideas and they value my insight into what they're doing compared to others in the industry. They recognize that my customer base is quite varied, ranging from one-person dealerships to distributors with hundreds of employees.

My customers' showrooms also vary widely, from those consisting of a laptop computer and door samples in the car trunk to showrooms that are several thousand square feet in size, with everything from full working kitchens to dog grooming stations. Through these, I am exposed to a vast diversity of ideas and business processes.
My thoughts were speeding along concerning all of the ways that I could assist these two customers while my car inched along passing the lane closure sign at Route 50. While my car was still moving forward my mind had been detoured by the thought of the dealers/distributors that don't utilize their reps in these endeavors.

That's not to say that reps are excluded from decisions concerning showrooms and displays. But often, the only question they're asked is, "How much of a display discount can I get?" Though that's an important point, there's so much more that a rep has to offer.

Scouting a Location
The first phone message was from Dan, with whom I had previously discussed his intentions to open a new showroom. He was now ready to choose a site. He wanted me to meet with him and look at a few places that he had scouted. I was very happy to do so, because his showroom's location will be key to his company's success and my sales are tied to his success.

Dan's company is in a large rural town and his business relies heavily on remodeling. Location could make or break his company. I have customers located in industrial parks, strip shopping centers, big buildings, small buildings, upstairs, downstairs, downtown, way outside of town and just about any other place imaginable. Each one of these locations can be perfect for that individual company but just because it works for one doesn't mean it will work for all. That's why a dealer/ distributor should gather as much input as possible.

Companies thrive or struggle in their locations for very specific reasons. Dan's business is based on remodeling, and he was looking for a new showroom to make it more convenient for his customers to meet him and view product options. He was seeking my help to have another perspective.

Was the site convenient and easy to find? Was the parking suitable? Did the area lend itself to his type of business? What aspects did I think would enhance his business and what would detract from it? The list could go on and on, but these are questions that would need to be considered. He was involving me in the hopes that I could help ensure that he did not create any unforeseen roadblocks for his business.

The second message was from Preston, and it concerned display questions. Preston's company works with the entire spectrum of kitchen and bath customers, but his main showroom is upscale and trendy. He relies on me as a source to keep him up-to-date on the trends in the industry. He and I share our thoughts often, to our mutual benefit.

One item I bring to the table is that my manufacturers keep me informed about sales trends. I have the numbers to demonstrate trends; for instance, oak has dropped from 59% of our business to 37% over the last five years. And how about maple or white doors? Are the new door styles selling well? Are sales trending more toward darker verses lighter stains? We can look at these and make intelligent observations and decisions because we have the numbers.

Using Photos
He and I also share ideas through photographs. At my office, we take digital images of everything and anything. We take pictures of new products at sales meetings. We record displays, molding treatments, door styles, glazes and design ideas. Any time we see something interesting, we try to get an image of it. We even capture images of defects and problem items. We have this as a resource to present ideas and options to our customers.

Preston helps me in this way, too, by giving me photos of the ideas that he would like to see incorporated in my line. I find that our pictures are often our best form of communication.

Preston and I also frequently talk about new ideas in the showroom. As a rep, I get to see quite a variety of showrooms. I see everything from sample bases and doors strewn about the room to showrooms that are developed by teams of industry experts. This knowledge can be a valuable resource for my customer. Are the new door displays effective? Are office, home entertainment and specialty displays leading the way in opening up additional markets for the cabinet dealers?

A rep has experienced all of these scenarios with other customers, so if you're considering making changes to your showroom, it makes sense to consult your rep. Why repeat the mistakes of others when your rep can help steer you toward more successful plans?

I dialed Preston, thinking about the new glazed product I had in mind for his showroom. I was ready to enjoy our usual conversation when he said, " Hey, thanks for calling. All I really need to know is what discount can I get on another display."
Well, as I said, that's part of my job, too.

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This article originally appeared in Kitchen and Bath Design News 7/2003

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