A Fresh Approach to Retail Showroom Design

By Nancy Busch

For many, retail showrooms are a challenging concept. It’s a huge investment of both time and money to create what’s deemed an ideal showroom for every kind of customer. When I hear of someone remodelling their showroom or updating displays, I wince a bit. They tell me they’re trying to create and support the latest trends, designs and displays — be everything to everyone. Keeping up with current offerings is one thing but a well-designed showroom can easily last for a decade or more. Often, assembling vignettes and displays is putting the cart before the horse.

Start with a Plan
To design the most effective showroom, give your business plan first consideration. Keep it top of mind and focus on creating the finest customer experience in a way that helps you close the sale.

Next, visualize your perfect target customer: What do they see when they first walk through the door? Are they greeted by a salesperson or left to wander on their own? How many flooring materials are offered? And how are they organized? Are items accessible or does the customer need to ask for help?

There are no right or wrong answers here. The best answers are the ones that fit your sales process and how you want to engage your customers.

Structure for Success
Imagine you’re the creator of a colouring book. You’ve predesigned the experience but the final work of art is in the hands of the colourist who brings the line drawing to life with strokes, textures and colour combinations.

A showroom is kind of like a colouring book. You want just enough framework and structure to guide the experience, but give breathing room and variation so that your customer engages in their own right — however they conceptualize it.

So, as you consider the design of your showroom, draw a landscape in which your customers can colour in the right direction. Then determine the tools to provide: What kinds of materials, colours and finishes do you offer? How big is the range? Are you displaying everything or only the materials that are well-suited to your business model? Which manufacturers have the best selection, stock and pricing? And which give you the best service? What materials perform the best and in which applications? What do your customers like? (Yes, now is the time to consider trends to some extent.)

Now, back to the colouring book. If Michelangelo walked through your door and asked for fresco paint, you’d probably find it and sell it to him even though it’s not in stock and you’ll face extra lead time and additional costs on this special order. It’s going to be pricey to process this one-off sale and maintaining your margin requires that you pass extra costs on to the customer. But for most artists, good old Crayola crayons will work just fine. They’re in abundance in every colour imaginable, tried and tested to be excellent performers, and they’re always in stock at a price point and margin your target customers expect. This is where you should focus your showroom strategy.


Because a physical showroom can’t possibly keep up with the latest trends and all the options on the market. But that’s the thing — it doesn’t have to. What’s more, it’s not in the best interest of creating a positive customer experience. And 73 per cent of people polled in a recent PwC survey said that experience was an essential driver of a purchasing decision.

Colour Cues
I once read that the average purchasing decision is made in just 90 seconds, and most of the time it’s based on colour. We all have a favourite colour we’ll gravitate toward and harnessing that emotional reaction to create an experience is compelling. So, it makes sense to use colour to pique interest and set your business and customers up for the success of a positive encounter.

Consider an architectural firm’s office. There’s not a single sample shown when a customer walks in the door. Once inside, they’re taken to a collaborative meeting space where the curated selections are presented. A colour board was created in advance of the customer’s design. They’ve customized the experience to serve only that customer. What you won’t see is a space called the resource library. This is a private area from which designers draw materials and concepts.

Strategically timing the reveal of colour and material selections is critical. It’s a way to take control of unhelpful distractions and create the perfect experience that doesn’t overwhelm your customers. It becomes easier for them to make a decision because you’ve narrowed the choices down to what you know they’ll like based on initial feedback.

This goes back to the question: What’s your favourite colour?

It’s about getting customers’ emotional attention first before they’re distracted by colour, and then listening and sourcing whatever fits that preference. Remember, there’s no wrong way to design your showroom but there is a right way for your business and customers.

Nancy Busch is executive director of the International Surface Fabricators Association, a globally recognized trade organization dedicated to the manufactured surface industry. Nancy has worked in the building materials sector for more than 20 years. She previously served as sales manager for Willis, a North American distributor of premium design materials, as well as an independent kitchen and bath designer.

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