In the months before Memorial Day, 2003, employees of Dial One Window Replacement Specialists in Santa Ana, Calif., worked night and day to prepare the company's new showroom for its holiday weekend opening.
The location, a former furniture store of 6,500 square feet, anchors a recently remodeled shopping center at a major intersection a half-mile from the highway.
Careful attention was paid to both product presentation and retail atmosphere at the showroom. Window vignettes were trimmed out to exactly resemble home exteriors and interiors. High-quality carpeting and flooring completed the feel of comfort and authenticity.
The result? Customer response exceeded Dial One's high expectations. “There were times on a Saturday when we had 12 to 15 couples in the showroom, and we couldn't wait on them fast enough,” says company owner and president Charlie Gindele.
“For the first 30 to 45 days, we were understaffed to handle the people,” Gindele says. So the company hired a greeter to help point visitors in the right direction and offer them coffee. Dial One also hired three new salespeople who worked both in the showroom and outside.
“Business increased almost overnight,” Gindele says: From the day the showroom opened through the end of the year, sales at the home improvement company were up 40% over pre-opening levels.
Today, roughly 80% of the people who buy from Dial One have visited the showroom first, according to Gindele. Such visits by homeowners remove any doubts they may have about the company's trustworthiness and reliability, he points out, and the experience serves to reinforce the company's brand position.
TOTAL CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE When Renewal by Andersen of Colorado opened its new showroom last November, co-owner Randy Shepherd focused on customer expectations from the get-go. In fact, the 9,000-square-foot building at the second-busiest intersection in Denver was designed to counter what Shepherd sees as one of the big failures in the home improvement industry: setting homeowner expectations.
“We go into the home, and we bring in the window and go over the benefits using heat lamps and freeze-in-a-can to show energy efficiency. But how does that homeowner know how the job will go and what it will look like at the end?” he asks.
That's why the showroom features Renewal by Andersen products installed in walls of everything from brick to clapboard to stone, with finished interior settings that demonstrate all the options. A plasma TV in a living room area runs a 10-minute video explaining the installation process, and people who stop by on weekends can nibble on cookies and sip coffee, soft drinks, or water as they learn.
A lab offers the chance to make technically detailed hands-on comparisons with competitors' products; a children's area offers little ones such distractions as drawing and DVDs.
Using a showroom as much more than a glorified storage area works well for the company. “The closing percentage almost doubles if we get them into the showroom,” Shepherd says.
THE WHOLE DEAL Based on TrueNorth Home Systems' more than 10 years of experience with a showroom, sales manager Brad McCrum says the venue offers a real advantage.
The Kennebunk, Maine-based contractor renovated the building, located just south of Portland on the much-traveled Maine coastal highway, to look like a home. While many showrooms offer only product cross-sections, this 4,000-square-foot space is large enough that salespeople can demonstrate what the product looks like in themed rooms designed to show off windows, sunrooms, and finished basements. —Diane Kittower is a freelance writer in Rockville, Md.