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Intelligent merchandising in the floor covering showroom

In a ceramic tile and stone showroom the two biggest challenges for customers are visualizing how the tile or combination of tiles will look installed in the home and determining which tiles are suitable for their intended application. Figuring out how to address these two challenges should be a priority for every showroom.

Along with that, conveying the features, benefits and limitations of the products is the next challenge. And perhaps the most important piece of the showroom puzzle, is to train sales people so they are knowledgeable and competent showroom consultants (I wrote about this previously on the blog in, How Training and E-learning Can Improve ROI).

Years ago, when I was an importer and distributor with several showrooms I coined the term Intelligent Merchandising to represent the approach we developed to help our customers make selections and our sales people more effective in assisting our customers during the selection process. The challenges we faced back then are the same challenges many of you face today.

Then, ceramic tile and stone was relatively new to consumers. They had lots of questions and tended to be possessive of the showroom consultants assisting them. The consultants would sometimes get frustrated by customers who insisted on undivided attention since it became difficult to help new showroom visitors.

Example of intelligent merchandising

As most retailers know, showrooms tend to run hot and cold – sometimes empty and other times loaded with customers – but you can only have so many sales consultants working at one time. We made a point to teach our consultants to manage busy conditions so customers were never ignored. We taught our consultants that anyone who stepped through our door represented a potential large sale because people don’t tend to visit tile and stone showrooms unless they are in the market for the product. We spent considerable advertising dollars to bring those people into the showroom and we didn’t want any of them to walk away.

Training new sales consultants in a busy showroom is a challenge. Typically, we couldn’t find experienced tile and stone salespeople so we trained them ourselves. Often, trainees had to look to experienced showroom consultants for help to answer customers questions. This took productive time away from the more knowledgeable employees, slowed downed customer service and subjected our valuable clients to frustrating delays.

Implementing Intelligent Merchandising in all of our showrooms was my way of responding to the challenges I’ve described above.

Intelligent Merchandising involved creating displays with at least one full-size tile sample and small sample chips of all the colors in the line. All the trim and accessories available for any given product were shown in the display. There was a list of recommended uses for each product as well as its features, benefits and limitations. We also displayed a photograph of an actual installation where the product was used to help customers visualize a finished room. If decorative tiles or accents or other finishes were available we may have also included them for the benefit of the customer to further visualize their options. Retail price lists and product availability were included. In addition to this, we created “vignettes” or mockup rooms in our showrooms featuring popular installation applications. We also had binders full of photographs indexed by application type to further help our clients visualize how to use ceramic tile, glass tile, and stone products in their home.

Intelligent Merchandising solved several problems. It was a more complete display so clients could help themselves visualize the rooms or locations they were going to tile, and they could immediately get answers to all of their typical questions (kind of like today’s FAQs page on a website). It was a great sales aid for trainees too, because they could use the displays to quickly find answers to customers’ questions without interrupting another showroom consultant. Furthermore, the display helped teach the trainee more effectively by providing easy access and repeated reinforcing of the information, and it gave the trainee more credibility in the eyes of the customer because they could simply read the information from the display.

Intelligent Merchandising was an intelligent solution for helping our showroom clients in a more effective and timely way. This avoided the scenario of frustrated customers walking out due to lack of attention. It helped the clients visualize and understand the kind of design options they had which often led to larger purchases. Clear, straight-forward information also led clients to purchase better quality products (and more profitable for us), which was essentially a result of them up-selling themselves!

Today showrooms have the benefit of technology, which is a great asset, especially when it comes to helping the customer visualize a completed room. Inventories can be tracked faster and generally there is quicker access to key information. However, nothing can replicate the “touchy-feely” experience for customers who can handle the actual product, see the color and texture up close and help themselves when a showroom consultant isn’t readily available.

Thank you for reading,
Donato Pompo
Visit the CTaSC website for more information.

Donato Pompo is founder of two well-known flooring industry companies focused on improving everything about ceramic tile and stone flooring and the businesses that produce and sell them. They are Ceramic Tile and Stone Consultants (CTaSC) and the University of Ceramic Tile and Stone (UofCTS).