Many showrooms in the industry have beautiful products and creative layouts. The Factory Builder Stores’ Austin, Texas, showroom has both, but that’s not what makes it special. Modern technology and an effort to get clients engaged in the shopping process combine to create a truly unique—and effective—retail space.
Houston-based Factory Builder Stores, a division of Kodiak Building Partners founded in 1988, opened its newly revamped 22,000-square-foot Austin facility in April 2014. About 16,000 feet is warehouse space; the rest is a showroom showcasing kitchen appliances, cabinetry, and spa bathtubs, the firm’s main sales items. Forty-three appliance brands, six cabinetry brands, and two spa bathtub brands are on display.
Upgrades to the Austin showroom, one of the company’s seven locations throughout Texas, were an approximately $1.5 million investment for the firm, which grossed over $80 million in 2014. Eighty percent of that came from sales to pro customers.
The ProSales Excellence Award–winning showroom gives visitors a full sensory experience, drawing them in without relying on high-pressure sales techniques.
- Customers enter and are greeted by reception, where they’re signed in using a digital system that also alerts salespeople to their arrival through an email or text message. Depending on the client’s request, a salesperson may come right out to assist them or simply remain available on the show floor until they’re needed. If their salesperson isn’t there that day, the digital record ensures they’ll receive follow up when the consultant returns to the store.
- The front desk attendant offers refreshments from the café bar as customers start their walk-through. With freshly brewed coffee drinks in hand, visitors can have a seat in the lounge, which houses a 50-inch television and several magazines. The lounge and tables next to it are surrounded by kitchen vignettes in different styles, including contemporary, transitional, traditional, and rustic Hill Country.
- Tablets are provided to allow customers to quietly browse and access product options and other information without talking to a salesperson. Each tablet has product catalogs, applications to find pictures or videos of products that aren’t displayed, instructions for use, and cooking tips. This more laid-back sales method makes customers who initially might not want to be approached more likely to stay and interact with products.
- Customers are also encouraged to try out products on the 15 live vignettes by bringing their own recipes or using the ones provided in the showroom. Unlike many showrooms, several cooking and refrigeration appliances are fully functional.
- Those central vignettes are used for cooking demonstrations, which can include visits from professional chefs. Observing the products live in action, along with a recommendation from a professional, is a powerful promotional tool.
- At the back of the showroom, customers can find neatly organized rows of products that aren’t displayed in other main areas.
As a whole, the showroom is designed to have a flow that leads people through in a leisurely way that doesn’t overwhelm them. The showroom is also designed to appeal to several senses: In addition to seeing the products on display, customers can smell coffee, cookies, and other dishes that may have been recently prepared, and can touch and operate the appliances themselves.
According to Factory Builder Stores, no other appliance distributor in Texas, possibly even the country, offers its customers the ability to test-drive the products and see how they operate firsthand. The company adds that its target customers—custom home builders, remodelers, and designers whose clients are affluent homeowners—are more likely to purchase high-end products when they see them in use firsthand.
ProSales Excellence Awards Judge Rick Davis praised the facility, saying, “They did two things that I think are brilliant: capturing information and creating a great experience. The thing we need to teach our inside salespeople is to capture information to follow up. I love the digital sign-in.”
Celia Vrnak, integrated marketing director, says, “We wanted to get more information [from clients] and be more responsive. Initially we were doing a handwritten sign-in sheet. We use Salesforce.com, so I created [digital] pages for each showroom with sign-ins. Now we’ve captured information from them without being too intrusive.”
The use of a computer sign-in and shopping tablets provides the business with a lot of information about its clients without relying on salespeople to ask questions, which reduces the pressure for everyone involved. People can browse at their own pace, getting product specs from the virtual catalogs, before talking to a sales representative. Salespeople are always available for customers who do want assistance. And to ensure everyone gets help when they need it, the open design includes specific areas for salespeople to stand that increase visibility between clients and the sales staff.
“From a marketing standpoint, we can tell how many people are coming into the showroom and how they’re hearing about us. We can better help customers with more information,” Vrnak explains. She adds, “We have a follow-up survey for customers to tell us what we’re doing right and wrong.”
Some showrooms struggle with how much product to include, overloading the floor. The Austin space doesn’t have this problem. Despite being long and narrow, the efficient layout allows it to hold a large amount of product without looking cluttered.
Design specialist and VP of cabinet sales Kitty Decareaux, who designed the space, cites the building’s many windows as her biggest challenge. “With retail, windows are great,” she says. “But in an environment with vignettes, it’s hard to work around windows.”
Decareaux took advantage of the windows as a way to help the store advertise. “To the right of the reception desk, I designed a small area that can be changed frequently and seen from the parking lot,” she says, adding that the front window area became her favorite part of the design.
She also created a large central area with tables and chairs surrounded by kitchen vignettes, which allows customers to turn their chairs to look at different options or adjust their vantage to see a specific vignette and watch live cooking demonstrations.
Factory Builder Stores says its Austin showroom gets around 35 visitors on the average day, 20% of whom are first-time visitors. Over 60% of total traffic results in a sale. The company attributes this success rate to the ability to hold events such as cooking demonstrations, industry association networking, and customer appreciation dinners.
Paul Marshall, branch manager, says the redesign made a huge difference. “The old showroom didn’t have that openness and warmth,” he says. “Before, we were strictly more of an appliance dealer; now, it’s more full service because everything in the display is the products that we sell.” He estimates that sales went up about 28% to 30% in the first year the showroom was open.
Buoyed by the success at the Austin facility, the company recently completed the same type of layout for its Dallas location, Marshall notes.