A good deck display answers customers' questions by showing them how products will look in place. A great one touches their emotions by helping them imagine the possibilities.

Even a small display can accomplish this by including elements that will make customers want to linger. For instance, dealers agree that the railing is a deck's most important visual component, so use an interesting railing design. Avoid raw wood. "If a display has wood, it needs some sort of finish," says Dan Ivancic of Advantage Trim & Lumber in Buffalo, N.Y. "Most people have a tough time envisioning how raw wood will look finished."

Don't go crazy with finishes, though. "We used to mix and match three or four different colors on our displays," says Alan Nansel at The Deck Superstore in Denver. "That confused some customers and didn't help them visualize what the completed project would look like. Now we stick to two deck colors, and maybe use the railing to add a third."

If you're designing a walk-on display, you can include some surprises that also meet customer expectations. Keep in mind, for instance, that younger customers especially will have done research on the Internet. "Go to the websites where typical buyers go," advises Jon Davis, a Hutchinson, Kan., consultant who works with pro dealers. "If the photos show recurring themes, incorporate some of them." A search of 'deck design' will yield features like curves, steps, pergolas, and benches, so consider including one or more of those.

Story Image Even a small indoor area can be used to showcase decking and deck railing.

If you have designers on staff, this is a chance to show off their work. "A square deck with no variation in level or shape doesn't tell customers that you have people who can help them create an outdoor space where they will want to spend time," says Davis. "The more you can stoke their imagination, the better."

Dealers can do that by staging their displays with plants, benches, and patio furniture, especially if they sell those items. If the props include products a dealer doesn't sell, consider working out cross-display arrangements with other local businesses. For instance, a nearby store that sells high-end grills can loan one to the dealer for the yard's deck display with a sign that says, 'grill, courtesy of...' In turn, the dealer can supply the store with a small deck display with a similar sign.

When staging the display, pay attention to how customers will use the volume of space. "The human body wants things to start at 30 inches off the deck, which is waist level. And you don't want things higher than 72 inches, which is the reach of a 5-foot, 3-inch woman," says Jerry Birnbach, a store-planning consultant in Somers, N.Y. In other words, if you want to interest customers in your decorative outdoor lighting, don't place it high overhead.

Good signage can really earn its keep. Combine signs on individual products that describe features and benefits with signs directing customers to additional help, which is usually found in the reception area. If building and remodeling contractors send their customers to your showroom, the receptionist should have enough information to direct them to the right salesperson, depending on their contractor.

Story Image If you have the space, you can construct your deck display outside, like Marietta, Ga., dealer PMC Building Materials, did.

Getting this right requires a good lead referral system that makes it easy for the salesperson to quickly determine which options each customer's builder or remodeler offers, and at what price. If the customer wants something that exceeds the builder's allowance, the dealer's salesperson should be ready to quote and collect that difference.

If contractor referrals are a dealer's bread and butter, don't make the mistake of paying less attention to people who come in on their own. "If you ignore them, you can alienate them, so when they do get ready to buy, you've lost them," says Davis.

Don't forget inventory control. "If you don't have a product in stock or can't get it, don't show it," advises Birnbach. Otherwise you will just annoy customers and send them looking for someone who can sell them that product.

Finally, consider how customers are using technology. Birnbach suggests dealers take advantage of the fact that so many of their customers use smart phone and cell-enabled tablets, and tag their products with QR codes. Customers can use those codes to call up product information on their devices while they are browsing the showroom. Or, dealers might consider offering wireless Internet service. Customers might look up a competing website, but at least you keep them in the store. If they have to go home to look up the information, there's no guarantee that you will see them again.—Charles Wardell