showroom kitchen

Shrewd showrooms

In a competitive marketplace what’s the value of a showroom? HOUSING talks to builder businesses about why they think this tangible service resonates with their customers.

Author

Laura Valic

As many businesses understand, knowing your customer – their behaviours, needs and desires – is a big part of sales conversion. Although a business may initially have a product that seizes someone’s interest, there’s plenty that can affect whether or not they complete a transaction. 

When it comes to interpreting and leveraging off customer psychology, there are few who have had more success than flat-pack giant IKEA. Its concept stores are specifically designed with an S-bend layout and one-way system that generates mystery around every corner and draws shoppers into its labyrinth of products. Part store and part showroom, the retailer simultaneously ensures its customers can visualise how a product could look in their own home as well as physically interact with it – the latter being what some studies argue helps to generate a psychological sense of ownership. 

This interactive aspect of the showroom has long been intrinsic with certain industries (car dealerships for one). However, the sales model is becoming more popular with select online retailers – suggesting the tactile experience is still a valuable one with today’s consumer – while some volume residential builders now see it as a crucial part of their customer strategy and a way to deepen relationships with prospective homeowners.

One-on-one is not only for fun

‘It’s not just about [clients] coming into the showroom and picking out colours and fixtures,’ says Vicki Gillingham, Henley design manager. ‘It’s about building a relationship with them – and them with us. We take the time to get to know our clients and discover what is going to best suit their lifestyle to make the right suggestions; for example, if they’ve got pets or kids, we make sure they pick the right flooring, and paint finishes on the wall.

‘At the end of the day if the client feels comfortable with the consultant, then they’re going to be more comfortable throughout the entire process and happier with the end result.’ 

At different points of the sales process Henley focuses on offering a personalised experience during showroom appointments. The first is an information session and tour for small groups on weekends, and the second is a six-hour follow-up colour appointment focused on product selection. 

‘The first appointment is [at the stage] the clients have put down an initial deposit but are still deciding which house they want to build with us,’ Vicki explains. ‘We show them all the standard options and upgrades, and let them browse for as long as like, answering any of their questions. If they’re happy with us, the sales consultants then finalise all their quotes and they return for their colour appointment.’

Vicki adds that while other builders may have different specialists for various zones of the home, such as externals, flooring or windows, Henley makes sure there’s one main point of contact during the crucial period of product selection.

‘We look after the client through the whole six hours, so it’s one consultant to the [prospective homeowners]. Team members are often re-quested by particular clients because they’ve already met them on the weekends and they’ve started to build a good relationship. I’m forever shuffling things around so clients can have their preferred consultant!’

showroom booth seating
At different points of the sales process Henley focuses on offering a personalised experience during showroom appointments.
Photo courtesy Henley
showroom bathroom basins mixers showerheads
Henley makes sure there’s one main point of contact during the crucial period of product selection.
Photo courtesy Henley

For Dennis Family Homes in Victoria, its new – and upsized – showroom in Notting Hill, opened in November last year, was designed in a way that offers an intimate experience, with custom designed areas for making selections.

‘Even when the showroom is fully booked it feels like our customers are the only ones there, giving a very one-on-one experience,’ says Kristalla Capra, colour showroom manager. ‘This is the fun part of the build process, and we want to give our customers an experience they will never forget.’

Kristalla adds that it’s important not to rush clients through the selections process since building a home is ‘without a doubt one of the most significant, expensive milestones in a customer’s life’.

‘We understand how important it is to make sure every customer knows how excited and privileged we are to be trusted with their dream – and make sure they get the absolute most of out their colour selection experience,’ she says. 

‘That’s why there are no set allocation times. We never make our customers feel like they are taking too long, or try and push them to make a decision before they are ready. We believe this personalised experience makes all the difference.’

showroom kitchen
‘Even when the showroom is fully booked it feels like our customers are the only ones there, giving a very one-on-one experience’
Photo courtesy Dennis Family Homes
Showroom basins
The Dennis Family Homes showroom was designed to take clients on a ‘journey’ as they make their selections.
Photo courtesy Dennis Family Homes

Make your layout count

First impressions are emotionally concentrated events that can linger long after the encounter so a positive first impression is an important facet of building positive relationships with customers. This is what Dennis Family Homes hoped to achieve when opting to integrate its more than 750-square metre showroom with the reception area of its head office.

‘When a customer enters our building, they are immediately drawn to the space and it’s an effective visual device in showcasing our commitment to quality and design,’ Kristalla explains. ‘We were aiming for the “wow” factor when we redesigned the space. The height of the ceilings, and the grandeur that it gives, is one of the most impactful elements when you first enter.’

She adds that the showroom was designed to take clients on a ‘journey’ as they make their selections.

‘A showroom gives the client the opportunity to touch and feel the products that are being used to build their home. The layout of our space also gives them the opportunity to customise their home to suit their needs and taste, with the guidance and experience of a qualified interior designer.’

Working kitchens, showers and other elements also mean a customer gets the full experience of how the products they choose will work in their home.

‘The way our showroom is presented, and the level of service offered by our team shows [the client] the investment we are putting into making their journey a memorable one,’ Kristalla says. ‘We believe it would be hard to see the showroom and not want to build with Dennis Family Homes.’

showroom outdoor alfresco

‘The way our showroom is presented, and the level of service offered by our team shows the investment we are putting into making their journey a memorable one’

Image/video supplied: Dennis Family Homes

Henley also understands the importance of balancing a visually impressive space with a functional layout when drawing in prospective homeowners. Its 1100-square metre showroom is connected to its head office in Mt Waverley, Victoria, and consists of internal and external selection areas, including an alfresco courtyard.

‘The big theme for the showroom when we were designing and building it was we wanted clients to come in and feel at home; warmed and welcomed,’ Vicki says. ‘We’ve used beautiful light greys, Scandi wood tones and soft greens for a light and fresh feel.’

The space displays built forms of kitchens and bathrooms that are replicas of Henley homes so ‘clients can step into those zones and feel what it would be like to live in it’. From tapware, appliances, front doors or window furnishings to bricks, garage doors, flooring or roofing, the showroom contains a variety of choices for each and every product needed in the build process.

‘We tried to make it simple for clients; there’s not so much on display that they don’t know where to look, but we’re also not restricted in what options we can show them,’ Vicki says. ‘The showroom itself is a big loop which you can follow around clockwise or anti-clockwise. [So far] feedback has been great, with people saying it’s not overwhelming but easy to navigate and browse.’

She adds that a showroom in a central location is an advantage for the modern consumer.

‘My parents built 20 years ago and I remember as kids we had to run around and pick the tiles from the tile factory, and go to the brickyard to pick the bricks – every weekend we were going somewhere to choose a different element for the house,’ Vicki says.

‘So being able to do it all in one space – in a lot less time – avoids the client having to run around to appointments in different locations. The clients then know that everything is done when they leave and they literally just watch it all come to life.’
showroom henley
Henley understands the importance of balancing a visually impressive space with a functional layout.
Photo courtesy Henley
showroom bathroom
A showroom gives the client the opportunity to touch and feel the products that are being used to build their home. 
Photo courtesy Henley

Immeasurable immersion

The companies experimenting with the showroom concept realise that consumers respond to experience. Kitchen and appliance brands in particular now offer cooking demonstration events to showcase the functionality of certain products.

In a similar vein, Dennis Family Homes delved into the immersive experience, after investing in an exclusive software solution that involves real-time visualisation of a client’s selections. 

‘This means that during their appointment, not only do our customers see their selections in real life, they also see them on screen in their actual chosen room – making sure they are confident of the final colour schemes and products they choose,’ Kristalla says. ‘At the end of the appointment the client is invited to view their home on our 4.5m x 3.5m 4k screen, as a finale to their once in a lifetime experience choosing the elements that make up their new home.’

An indication that Dennis Family Homes’ customers enjoy the full suite of services was provided by their first client after making selections in the new facility. 

‘[He] actually cried at the end of the appointment [because] he thought it was the most amazing experience he had ever had!’ Kristalla says.

Showrooms designed and operated as spaces that champion the customer’s lifestyle vision will go a long way in connecting with people, and the showrooms that serve up customised experiences will only solidify and strengthen that connection. Even success stories such as IKEA – who introduced an in-store virtual reality application allowing customers to playfully co-create room interiors – understand the importance of rolling with the times and adapting accordingly. 

Butlers pantry

Online vs bricks and mortar

Henley design manager Vicki Gillingham says there’s no getting away from the impact of online research, browsing and transactions that people conduct today but showrooms can work in tandem. She says online research can help customers to make their decisions but nothing beats seeing the products in person.

‘We always make sure our clients come in to see us for information or colour appointments; we never do it over the phone or by email because colouring in samples can look completely different online than it does when it’s sitting in front of you.’

Vicki says while it may be simple to send back certain products bought online if customers are not entirely satisfied, that’s not usually an option in the construction industry, and a physical showroom to view samples and products in person is invaluable for the build experience.

Photo courtesy Henley

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