Marilyn Monroe knew a thing or two about the ability of curves to attract attention.
Millard Lumber harnessed that same attractive form to entice and direct customers through its showroom, and packed those curves with an alluring array of products for the home. There are more than 150 different product lines represented over nine categories.
The showroom invites lingering, and its fully furnished and turned-out room displays make sure customers are happy doing so–while its many attractions ensure the customers' attentions are engaged.
The 12,500-square-foot showroom in Omaha, Neb., opened in June 2008. It is part and parcel of the 700,000-square-foot Millard facility, a family-owned LBM operation that also includes a hardware store, drive-through lumberyard, millwork shop, and warehouse. All the components of the lumberyard lay beneath one roof. That roof once sheltered part of the works of a Western Electric Plant, which the dealer bought for its new yard when the plant scaled back its operation. Millard's spacious new yard is less than a mile away from its former location.
From the get-go, Millard's executives had a clear idea of what they wanted in its design facility, says Don Rowe, vice president of sales and marketing. "We wanted a world-class showroom. We thought that's how we could compete with the big box stores. And by having excellent personnel, we knew we could compete with them on a project basis, like kitchens and decks."
With that goal in mind, the Millard team spent plenty of time gathering info on showroom design. "We looked at showrooms in a lot of locations," Rowe says, both in and out-of-state.
- Millard Lumber / Curves Ahead
- Boyce Lumber / Open House
- TW Perry / Visionaries
- Ferguson Enterprises / Sales Conductor
- Mathew Hall Lumber / From Dull to Dynamic
- American Lumber / Give 'Em What They Want
- Jackson Kitchen Designs / Simply Complicated
- Legacy Building Specialties / Variety Show
- ProBuild / Going All Out For Going Green
- Concord Lumber / Teach Them and They Will Come
- Hayward Lumber / T to 1,000
"There was a Kuiken Brothers [showroom] on the East Coast as well as some local places like Star Lumber in Wichita and Builders. in Kearney, Neb., and we consulted with them."
Rowe says the biggest thing that came out of those consults was the fact that "we needed space"–space so customers would be able to back away from a display and consider it. He likens that space to white space on a page, a print design trick that allows the eye to focus more clearly on what is there. The designers incorporated plenty of "white space" into the plan, which translated into enough room for customers to step back six or eight feet from a display or room vignette and visualize how a product or treatment might work in their own homes.
But it was the voluptuous curve–that most pleasing of all geometric forms–that drove the whole design.
Rowe credits consulting architect Bruce Caulfield with the concept of a winding path through the showroom. The actual working architect was Rick Simodynes of the local Omaha firm Reeder Simodynes and Associates, though Millard sought help on the initial layout from Caulfield, a Woodbury, Minn.-based architect.
"I wanted to get away from the typical grid and introduce a circulation system that is interesting, that makes you want to explore and that gives different views of the product as you move through the showroom," explains Caulfield, design principal of Caulfield Architectural Design.
The Millard team, which included president and CEO Rick Russell; vice president and COO Joel Russell; Rowe; and various showroom design specialists, was delighted with the result.
To make the winding path, which varies from 8 to 10 feet wide, contractors had to pour up to five inches of concrete, which was then polished.
"The cool thing is, at every turn you will see something new," Rowe says. Built-in displays showcase cabinetry, countertops, appliances, plumbing fixtures and bathroom furniture (there are five model bathrooms), doors and windows, hardware, mouldings, and more. From the time a customer is greeted at the reception area in the front of the showroom, customers are never far from help, should they need it. There are sales specialists stationed at work centers on the showroom floor for each product category.
In front of the showroom is a fully functional kitchen (one of seven kitchen displays), and "every Friday and Saturday we bake cookies," says Rowe. Coffee is always on offer.
On Millard's fact-finding showroom tour, Rowe says the design team saw a playroom in one facility, discussed its practicality, and decided to add one in its new showroom. If a soccer mom dashes in for a consult, bored teenagers in tow, the showroom can accommodate that scenario as well. "We've got televisions everywhere. We can stick teens in one of the family rooms, hand them a remote and tell 'em to go for it," he says.
What Millard believes to set it apart from the competition is the breadth and depth of its product lines and the extras the design center offers, like the fully featured gazebo built on the showroom floor, replete with ipe decking, columns and cedar shakes on the roof. There are examples of different ceiling treatments and a section devoted to stairway components, built by trim carpenters using a variety of stairs, handrails, newels and baluster designs from Fitts, Millard's stair parts vendor. The hardware area alone has seven 10x10-foot alcoves displaying specialty hardware.
As an Andersen Circle of Excellence Showroom dealer, Millard highlights its extensive line of Andersen window and door designs, including the vendor's art glass collection.
Rowe estimates the showroom has about 35 doors on display (lines include Therma-Tru and Masonite) in different sizes, wood species and finishes. Opposite the door room are 50 more doors in slide-out racks. The so-called "maple room" in the window display area is a conference room for client consults that is paneled with maple, trimmed in walnut and glazed all the way round to give customers a three-dimensional look at how various windows might appear in their own homes.
There are half a dozen fireplace displays–each showcased in a model room and featuring a different style mantel and trimwork–and a custom millwork area exhibiting various mouldings and trim pieces.
The room vignettes are the places where Millard's showroom designers put it all together and pulled out all the stops. "We wanted our own folks to do it, so we could show our clients that this is the level of work you can expect from us," says Rowe. From the paint color on the walls to the finish on the cabinetry, Millard designers put their stamp on the showroom.
Rowe remembers walking the showroom with former kitchen designer Sherri Jemson during the construction phase, going from one area to the next and calling out paint colors. "We also hired someone to do some faux finishes. It was fun," he says. "It was our painter who went crazy."
The most impressive space is called "the cherry room" for the most obvious of reasons: The walls and ceiling are completely paneled in cherry, lending the room the ambience of a library or den in an exclusive club. While giving customers a great example of paneling and trimwork, the space also functions as a spot where sales associates can meet privately with clients.
All the room displays feature multiple products and aim to give customers an idea of what these products would look like in their own homes, says Rowe. "This especially appeals to visual shoppers, and those that like to touch and feel before they buy," Millard wrote in its contest entry. "It turns the sales process into an experience rather than a chore. Our customers tell us, 'We love that we can do everything in one place rather than running all over town.'" Adds Rowe: "I've always been of the opinion that you wow them with the showroom. People are shopping and we have to compete with that."
Rowe says some builders bring their clients in to discuss mouldings and various trim packages. Millard is also making an effort to attract remodeling business. "We neglected them when new construction was so strong, but going forward, we know we need remodelers, and we want them to use this as their showroom," he says.
"We had a remodelers meeting a while ago, and a bunch of them stayed afterwards and and watched the Final Four in the family room," says Rowe. "We had six or eight contractors and three or four employees. And they weren't drinking just soda," he says with a laugh.
Rowe offers the showroom as a meeting spot for other select groups, like home builders or the Women's Council monthly meeting. "After their meeting, they can can hang out and wander around. And subliminally, they are thinking, 'Okay this is where I can go for my cabinets,'" he says. "We intend to do more of that."
Showroom coordinator Michelle Welchert says the showroom's design definitely drives sales. "We get a lot of lingerers, who come in for one thing and then walk the different vignettes, and stand back and say, 'Oh, I didn't think about using two different kinds of woods in my kitchen cabinetry,'" she says. "Some wanderings can provide add-on sales, like jewelry drawers in closet organizers."
To keep things interesting, Welchert is constantly tweaking displays. "We'll change the hardware boards, and we also feature a hardware line of the month. I get together with co-workers and we decide what to push, say, if a line has something new," she explains.
"We can accommodate any price point," she says. "We can give you an unbelievable look at an affordable price. It's a one-stop shop."