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17 February 2012

How to attract the architect and designer market

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Oct Helen Fewster Kitcon 2011

Helen Fewster, co director of Suna Interior Design, explains what she's looking for from a KBB showroom and how retailers can attract this potentially lucrative clientele...

As specialist interior designers to housing developers, we find we are usually too time-pressed to visit showrooms, and when we do it is a bit of a luxury. Browsing online on showroom websites and ordering samples this way, to view within our workshop, is more convenient and the most effective way for us to select interior products.

Visiting trade fairs and exhibitions is another way we favour to find out about new products and designs, as we can view work by many different companies in one visit.

So it is imperative that a showroom has a strong online presence; an easy navigable website offering a timely online sampling and image service. For us their website and the ecommerce experience they provide is at least as important as their showroom. It goes without saying that to create this positive online experience there needs to be high quality images, with vital product information clearly labelled, laid out in defined categories, and easily searchable and selectable.  Another benefit we find with online browsing is the greater selection of products to view.

That said, we do think there is still a strong place for showrooms, because seeing a product in situ, for example being used in a kitchen layout, can greatly highlight the suitability and desirability of a product; it can seal the deal.

Showrooms are instrumental when showcasing material choices to clients, as they can get a real feel for the look and textures. It is an impressive way for them to experience the proposed materials, and it facilitates greater visualisation of what they can expect the end product to be like. The quality of materials, such as their textures, details and feel can only be truly appreciated in person. In this way we find the showroom experience can be invaluable, for the real edge it gives to our concepts.

Showrooms need to strike the balance between showing a good range of products, creating viable choice, and placing the products in situ, which obviously raises space issues. Depending on the budget of the showroom, an interactive digital display option where an interior designer could place different items together to create their own picture, supported by an experienced and informative member of staff could work well.  If you have to travel, you want the journey to be worthwhile, and this would be an innovative way of adding value.

With the more competitive environment in which to attract footfall into their shops, they need to ensure customer journeys are stimulating and logical, and the staff are knowledgeable. We don't necessarily feel they need to market themselves more aggressively, through for example social media, however forward looking ways of attracting customers is important for any business. These could include breakfast private views within office hours and discounts if purchases are made in the shop, for example. These would be pleasant incentives.

So while an appealing, functional and sticky website is absolutely vital, the unique selling point of showrooms is that in an ever increasing 'virtual reality' world they offer a real, tangible experience, and this they need to stand proud of and highlight the value of, to the industry.

By enriching the showroom experience and communicating this online we think this could attract more industry professionals.  
Names of showrooms who we have visited and would say are doing things well include Bulthaup, Boffi and Alternative Plans. Poor product layout, such as undefined areas, not enough products, and a generally unconsidered customer journey are all things that will leave us cold, and unlikely to return.

What do you think? Email the editor