When you're operating in the state with the nation's fourth-highest unemployment rate and the 19th worst foreclosure rate, it might seem to make sense for Douglas Lumber of Smithfield, R.I., to hunker down and wait for better times. But general manager Steve Rendine rejects that attitude, and he's using the continual improvement of his store's showroom displays as one way to fight back.

"In this economy, as important as any [increase in] gross sales is the perception that you're being proactive," Rendine tells ProSales. So it's good for your customers and employees to see you invest in new displays and think outside of the box.

Douglas Lumber has been working steadily on showroom upgrades since last summer. It unveiled a European Kitchen Design Center to go with its 19 existing kitchen displays, installed a new decking area, and upgraded some of its window displays. It also has a flooring showroom whose presence is heralded by the new granite tiles laid at the entrance. Now under way is a home vignette featuring one of its key vendors, Anderson Windows.

The changes also reflect an ongoing shift at Douglas away from commodities as the mainstay of the business. Like any other good, competitive yard--which is probably all that's left at this point--we were looking to expand product niches where there was a chance to make margin dollars," Rendine says.

The updates to the displays also are giving Rendine an opportunity to incorporate some of the best ideas he says he's seen while visiting other facilities. One of those ideas is to make the displays more tactile and explanatory.

"We're giving people the chance to touch and feel things, to walk on the deck products, to grab the rails, to see it in a structure but also get on the inside, play with it," Rendine says. "We did interiors with cutaways so the customer can get an idea of how it'll operate in a real-world environment. With these kinds of three-dimensional mixes you can put other products in there, like wainscoting and green bamboo tile, and show casings and rosettes and plinth blocks. We want every place to show something we can sell."

Aside from helping boost the perception among customers that Douglas Lumber is on the move, the renovations are meant to improve employee morale as well. Rendine says he asked all staff members, from the sales office to the warehouse, to provide suggestions on the displays. He also used some of the handier members of staff to build the displays. "It allows them to feel good about what they're doing rather than waiting for the ax to drop on them," he says.

While Douglas Lumber tends to use a good/better/best approach when stocking goods, its displays focus on the high-dollar products. By doing so, Rendine says, he not only has been able to upsell to customers but also has found vendors more willing to be competitive on the prices they charge him. In the case of the European Design Kitchen, Rendine says he helped cover the risk of offering a semi-custom high-end line by finding a partner willing to work with him on those products.

Douglas Lumber promotes both outdoor and indoor products in its Smitfield, R.I., showroom.
A new display shows Douglas' best composite decks and rails.
Douglas Lumber created its Euro Kitchen Design display in part to capture some of the growing apartment business in nearby Providence, R.I. It hedged its investment by working with a partner.
Douglas Lumber also has an extensive flooring department. As part of its revamp, it put new granite tiles down at the store entrance.
Douglas Lumber's website notes the company has 19 kitchen displays, not counting its new Euro Kitchen area.