By Phil Zaleon
You’ve begun the work day. You’re already lost in your
routine, when, suddenly, you hear the voice.
“If you build it, they will come.”
You turn, you look, and no one is there.
Again, you hear it: “If you build it, they will come.”
Now, with apologies to W.P. Kinsella and Phil Alden
Robinson, book author and screenplay writer,
respectively, for the 1989 film, “Field of Dreams,” the
decision to plow under your corn to build a baseball
diamond for dead ball players is a no-brainer – of
course you do it – it’s for baseball!
But, for you, the decision is all about a showroom. And
you can’t help but wonder, if you build it, will they
Perhaps you’re thinking about, or in the process of,
opening a new showroom. Or maybe you’re considering
changing locations to increase traffic or get a more
affluent clientele. Maybe you’ve been in a showroom for
years and want something more – more space, displays,
square footage for other-room displays, or a second
floor for bath displays.
Whatever the case, it’s true, “if you build it, they
will come” – but only if they know you’re out there, and
only when they’re ready.
Your challenge is to let potential clients know you
exist and to help them become ready to buy. It’s about
marketing to “extend your showroom” and generate
Showroom owners’ expectations and even desires for the
type and number of clients they hope to attract and sign
vary widely. Some want a steady stream of potential
clients pulling off the road to browse, while other
showrooms are closed to all but those who make
Determining where you fit is a business decision.
Staffing requirements, space needs and other variables
for the first scenario are very different from the
appointment-only showroom. In any case there are ways to
increase your showroom traffic.
When it comes to extending your showroom beyond its
physical space, your top priority should be your Web
site. At this stage of the game, everyone should have
some sort of Internet presence.
This is the quintessential extension of your showroom.
That’s because it’s open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week;
this valuable marketing tool is the salesperson that
Let your site tell your whole story. It should sell your
showroom and you as a professional, talk about your
experience, highlight the products you carry and show as
broad a portfolio of projects as possible.
Max Isley, CMKBD, owner of Hampton Kitchens, Inc., of
Raleigh, NC, was among the first dealers to develop an
Internet presence. “I use my [Web] site to tell our
story, and I support the information with photography.
As a result, our Web site is only one of two advertising
channels we [need to] use to market our firm.”
Marvin W. Towler, owner of Architectural Kitchenworks,
Inc. of Eatontown, NJ, recently opened a showroom. “I
made sure I included the design and development of a Web
site among my start-up costs,” he notes. “And, although
is not yet fully operational – I only have a live home
page with contact information right now – I know this is
the best way to communicate with my potential clients.
In fact, I am going to add a feature called Dezynepad
that will give me the capability to work online with my
Serious consumers are now often shopping online long
before they pick up a phone. According to the Web site
shop.org, a March 2005 study by Kelsey Group and ConStat
found that “70% of U.S. adults use the Internet as an
information source when shopping locally for products
and services – up from 60% in October 2003.
“These figures put the Internet on par with newspapers
as a local shopping information resource, and suggest
that the Internet is on track to surpass newspapers as a
consumer influencer in the very near future.”
David J. Mackowski, CGR, CAPS, president of Quality
Design and Construction, Inc. of Raleigh, NC, says, “We
originally had an unprofessional Web site and have since
hired someone who knows what they are doing. Our Web
designer provided expertise in design, as well as search placement. In many cases, our site has been the
reason we got the job over other firms.”
More kitchen dealers are seeing their clients following
the direct link from viewing a Web address (either
through an online search or from more traditional
marketing channels, such as visiting the site, calling
the dealer and making the appointment).
Michael Teipen, CMKBD, Allied Member ASID, owner of
Kitchens by Teipen, Inc. in Greenwood, IN, puts his
firm’s Web address on everything from its sign, business
cards and literature to our advertising. “Plus, we make
every attempt to have reciprocal links with our vendors
Of course Web sites are only the beginning. As a kitchen
and bath dealer or designer, you are an expert. So, how
do you take advantage of your own expertise to make
people realize how valuable your knowledge and skills
Consider offering educational seminars to the community.
Be sure they are not sales pitches, but rather set them
up to provide useful information to the potential client
– and invite the press. You will soon become the
community expert, increasing your notoriety and sales.
R.B. Davis, president of Signature Kitchens in Ft.
Mitchell, KY, provides this advice for putting together
a seminar: “Don Boico [of Classic Kitchen & Bath, in
Roslyn, NY] once told me that ‘your first seminar is
always full,’ which means plan a seminar, pick a date to
give that seminar, but also pick an earlier date with no
intention of giving the seminar. Advertise both dates
and when the prospects call to pre-register, tell them
the first date is already full, creating a greater sense
of value and urgency to register immediately.”
Max Isley, CMKBD, also recommends conducting seminars as
a way to build your brand, increase your visibility and
enhance your professional reputation.
“Seminars are an excellent way to generate leads, as
well as increase word-of-mouth recognition for my firm.
I advertise them in the free calendar listings offered
by the local newspapers. The investment is low and the
potential is great,” says Isley.
But, as with any marketing venture, you may find that
seminars bring in prospects, but not the “right kind.”
As Teipen says, “We tried seminars a few years ago, but
I didn’t feel they were effective for us. We put up
signs at the local library and bought some space in the
local newspaper. We had close to a dozen participants,
but it didn’t generate any sales for us.”
However, just because a seminar doesn’t bring in
clients, that doesn’t mean it isn’t still paying off in
other ways. Seminars tend to have a ripple effect,
increasing your visibility and creating a buzz about you
that can get you press coverage and referrals for months
However, if the people who attend your design seminars
aren’t the upscale clientele you’re looking to find, try
adding a different type of seminar such as cooking
classes or cooking seminars.
These offer a great excuse to make use of your working
displays. Plus, they can create additional avenues for
finding potential clients.
As Rodger A. Kaufman, owner of Kitchen & Bath Design
Center, Inc. in Ashland, OH says, “We hold cooking
classes in our showroom. They are only ‘somewhat
effective,’ but I like the way they keep us in the mind
of the consumer.”
Towler agrees: “I am committed to using our new showroom
for seminars. We’re planning to have cooking classes, as
well as a series of kitchen design seminars. I want the
community to consider us a resource, as well as a
premier design showroom.
So, think about tailoring the events in your showroom to
the type of clients you hope to get. For instance, some
showrooms feature art exhibits (see related story, Page
68), charity events or silent auctions that draw a more
Davis also recommends giving away a free gift at
seminars to help boost attendance. The price doesn’t
have to be high, but the gesture will create a sense of
good will that can pay off down the road. “Give away a
free gallon of ice cream. It is very unlikely your
prospect will spend the afternoon visiting other
showrooms after leaving yours with ice cream!” he
A staple of the industry for many designers is the home
show. These can be expensive, but they’re an excellent
way to literally take a part of your showroom to the
consumer – particularly if you can creatively and
memorably differentiate your business from others
attending the event.
Teipen believes “home shows are an excellent source of
leads for us. We rent space, pass out brochures and take
the names of ‘qualified’ leads. We strive to have the
best booth to set us apart.”
Of course, sometimes, differentiating yourself could
just mean paying attention. As Teipen explains: “I sold
my first $100,000 kitchen to a young couple walking
through the show at 2 p.m. during the middle of the
week. No one else they had talked to would take them
seriously. I did. It works. And, although a lot of
people at the show are not in our ‘target market,’ many
Towler agrees: “Home shows can be an excellent source of
leads. We have already participated in two this year,
and will likely take part in two more. The cost for the
booth, the space and the collaterals, when amortized
over the course of four or more home shows a year, is
quite affordable. And when you consider the income, it
is a great marketing venue for us.”
Pat Ryan, CKD, owner of Kitchen Concepts, Inc. in
Cincinnati, OH, creates a “value-add” to the typical
home show booth – invitations to a showroom open house.
“The home show environment is not always conducive to
answering questions and certainly not ‘closing the
sale,’ so we plan an open house at our showroom a couple
weeks later and pass out invitations at our booth. This
gives serious consumers an invitation to visit us after
they’ve had time to recuperate from the home show
frenzy,” Ryan explains.
Your relationship with past clients and allied
professionals in your area is another way to extend your
showroom. Each one of these individuals is a potential
salesperson for your business. But they are only
effective representatives if you maintain a connection
Whether you send eNewsletters, regular-mail newsletters,
letters, birthday cards, coupons or magazine
subscriptions – or even if you simply call from time to
time – you must keep your name in front of these
potential salespeople in order to reap the benefit of
the good will you’ve built through your dealings with
This can work both with past clients and other allied
professionals with whom you may have worked successfully
in the past – or even those with whom you have not
worked, but with whom you feel you could benefit from a
Gretchen Cutsler, director of marketing for Kitchen
Design Center, Inc. in Beaufort, SC is a strong
proponent of building and developing relationships. “We
regularly send out electronic newsletters called ‘Ask
the CKD.’ These are e-mailed to architects, builders,
interior designers and sales professionals. Company
president Barry Cutsler, CKD, answers questions these
allied professionals have asked him.”
Cutsler insists that she “never hears ‘no’ when asking
allied professionals for their business. Keep probing
with questions such as, ‘Are you happy with your current
cabinet company?’ and ‘Why?’ Eventually they will ask
you to quote on a job.”
Some dealers have established incentive programs for
past clients, allied professionals and realtors to
encourage relationships. You may decide it’s worth a
percentage of the job to establish your firm as the key
referral for kitchen and bath projects.
Becoming “partners” is another marketing opportunity.
For example, you may give entertainment center cabinetry
to an HDTV dealer for his showroom, while in exchange
you get an HDTV for yours. Each of you place signage in
the other’s showroom. You may also consider similar
relationships with appliance, tile or flooring dealers.
According to Teipen, “I think partnering is one of the
best things a kitchen and bath professional can do. We
are all very small firms, and the more we can team with
another business or two, the bigger we look to the
public. We also gain credibility. If a client sees us on
the showroom floor of a well-known firm [in a
complementary area], the ‘approval by association’
really works. We just sold a job that was right at
$100,000. The client lives 35 miles away and came to the
appliance store near me. The appliance salesperson
recommended me and the rest is history.”
IF YOU BUILD IT
These four ideas are just the beginning. As with any
business, in any industry (with the possible exception
of baseball), “if you build it, they will not come” –
not until they are told why they should. Extending your
showroom means marketing it, and giving them myriad
reasons to come.
of the most common responses to the question “Do you
market your showroom?” is “No, I don’t need to. All my
business comes from referrals.”
However, even referrals need to be reminded that you’re
out there waiting patiently for them to come to you.
If your business is successful simply by sitting back
and letting the referrals come to you, imagine how much
more successful it could be if you spent time actively
marketing – even if it’s just to those past clients who
are doling out referrals for you.
“We are in a small mom-and-pop industry,” believes
Teipen. “However, people need to invest funds in
marketing. It’s something most of us have no experience
doing. I would advise every business owner to interview
someone who can help them establish a marketing program
that will [specifically] work for them.”
Towler advises: “Do some brand development for your
firm. Design your showroom to meet your target market.
Don’t try to be everything to everybody – create a niche
for yourself and tie your marketing into branding that
Regardless of your firm’s budget or its location, or
even the size of your showroom, marketing should be an
integral part of your firm’s overall business plan. And,
remember, a good marketing plan is an integral key to
your firm’s success.
Philip D. Zaleon is founder and president of Chapel
Hill-based Z promotion & design – a full service
integrated marketing and creative agency focusing on the
kitchen and bath industry.
Prior to founding Z promotion & design in 1996,
Phil held the position of v.p./research &
development for a new technology-based communications
He can be reached at Z promotion & design, P.O.
Box 17291, Chapel Hill, NC 27516; Telephone:
919-932-4600; Fax: 919-932-4447;
Web site: www.kitchenmarketing.com
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