If you're wondering why your showroom isn't drawing the kind of walk-in traffic it used to, join the crowd. Companies that once counted on showroom walk-ins for some portion of their leads have seen that traffic die away in the last five to 10 years. The reason is simple: Showrooms were always a great way to gain advantage over the competitor who could only bring product samples or a portfolio of pictures into the home. In a digital age, people can go to virtual showrooms to see what products look like before and after installation. The ability to visualize is now at their fingertips.

That doesn't change the fact that showrooms are a significant overhead expense. There's rent or a mortgage payment, insurance, utilities. There's also staffing, plus interior and exterior maintenance. If you don't keep your facility well-maintained, prospects will assume that the cracked concrete or the flower boxes with weeds sprouting from them represent the way you treat a jobsite. Your showroom overhead burden is going to be far greater if you don't use that asset. You have the space, so why not put it to work?

GET A PROGRAM Do that by using the space for events your company designs, directs, and controls; events that generate high-quality leads and that put you in contact with homeowners who are at or are close to making a purchase. These events could be either informational or entertaining. In either case, it takes a plan. One of the biggest mistakes I see people make is organizing a One Time Only event in their showroom. Results don't meet expectations, so they never bother doing it again.

What works is a regular monthly calendar of events that you can promote. When I say monthly, that's what I mean. Typically, holding events once or twice a year isn't enough. Although I'm sure there are companies that have successful once-a-year events at their locations, even quarterly events typically won't do it. The key to success is consistency because consistency sets an expectation with the public, and that helps boost the public's awareness of your company and its events.

To get the best use of showroom space, hold a monthly event at around the same time of the month each month. Saturday is the day when your potential customer is most available for showroom events.

HOT TOPICS Putting together a program of events (how to come up with a dozen topics hot enough to draw a crowd?) and getting people to them might sound daunting. But when you start to think about it, you'll find no end of topics relevant to your business. If you're a window replacement company, why not have an interior designer come and talk about window treatments? If you do bathrooms, bath liners or walk-in tubs are good subjects, and aging in place is super-hot right now. Make an ongoing list.

Also, these don't all have to be your events — they're only taking place under your roof. Among other things, you can bring in outside experts who are happy to have an audience. Sometimes they might even be willing to co-promote the event, or to pay for some portion of the expense involved. For instance, at Creative Wood, a deck and sunroom company in central Michigan that I owned for many years, we used our showroom to, among other things, bring the senior loan officer of a local bank in to talk about how to get a home improvement loan. We invited a building inspector to talk about how to get your house ready for sale. Of the 12 events you would hold annually, maybe three or four would be your own promotional events. The important thing, in planning a calendar, is that each event has its own theme and that each event offers information or entertainment people actually want. Monthly events get people in your area trained to expect something from you. Varying the mix raises their curiosity level.

MISSION: FILL CHAIRS Start with a budget. Come up with a figure that represents what you can afford to spend on in-house events. If funds are tight, make six of the 12 events co-promoted or shared events where the speaker is picking up some or all of the cost of promoting.

If you're really having trouble finding the money, divert some funds from more traditional marketing forms that are less successful and spend them this way. Expenses here fall directly in the category of marketing. And, by the way, it's your marketing staff or marketing person who should be in charge. He, she, or they should develop a program and coordinate and manage the events your company sponsors under its roof, and they should follow up with attendees to see that some portion of them become prospects.

Once you've developed a year-long calendar of events, post it on your website. That way anyone who arrives there sees it. Make sure you include some way for people to sign up in advance to attend. Ask for contact information and don't be afraid to call and confirm attendance immediately before the event itself.