Walking into a dealer showroom, the last thing you expect to see is sculpture. But there it sits just inside the entryway to Columbus Wood Products: Atlanta artist Andrew Crawford's "Loop," a sculpture of a giant hammer with a curved handle. The piece twists your thinking about an ordinary tool—and sets the tone for a showroom that makes contractors and their customers rethink the way they see wood, wood products, and accessories.
The hammer isn't the only thing unique about Columbus Wood Products' (CWP) showroom in Columbus, Ohio. For starters, the showroom manager isn't a veteran dealer employee or a former contractor, but rather someone with a background in fashion merchandising. Then there's the overall look. Sure, there are vignettes and traditional door racks in the back, but at first glance, the CWP showroom has a museum-like quality, with cases that display hardware like artifacts and lighting arrangements that transform ordinary building products into something truly special.
What the team at CWP set out to do was to lend an importance to wood, showcase the company's custom capabilities, help buyers select the right combinations of products to make their homes stand out, and, perhaps most importantly, expand the imaginations of pro customers and homeowners about what is possible in doors, molding, and other wood products. By combining eye-catching displays and helpful information with stellar customer service, the CWP showroom does just that, providing Columbus-area contractors with a unique place to send their customers.
The 17,500-square-foot, $1.2 million showroom, which opened in March, sits within a larger building that is attached to CWP's recently relocated warehouse and door and molding manufacturing facility. Research prior to renovating the showroom included visiting dealer venues around the country, as well as urban showrooms such as the Merchandise Mart in Chicago. But the end result was ultimately a blend of ideas from architect Andrew Rosenthal, retail design consultant Charles Palmer, and CWP staff, including CEO Paul Rackoff, who drew on his family's roots in retail for inspiration.
"We felt we needed to find a way of breaking through with this category in such a way that not just the customers—builders and the like—but that the consumers could begin to understand the product," says Rackoff. "Understand how many different profiles there are in moldings. Understand what the differences are in wood species. Understand all the different choices that there are with stair parts."
They even went so far as to hire showroom manager Jimmy Musuraca, whose background in fashion merchandising includes work for clients like Fred Segal, Barneys, and Neiman Marcus. "I think merchandising any product sort of falls back on the same principles," Musuraca says. "You're trying to show someone a lifestyle, show somebody something unique, something different, something that can personalize their home, something they can personalize themselves. Everyone's looking for something different and this just happens to be in the building industry rather than fashion."
That retail push also resulted in the showroom having a spacious feel, despite the wide breadth of product types and categories on display. This detail can help keep home buyers—some of whom must choose every product going into their custom home—from becoming too overwhelmed.
And as much as the goal of the showroom is to stretch the imagination, the products showcased aren't out of reach. On the contrary, the displays allow visitors to go beyond traditional thinking—with combinations of species or styles they may not have seen before—but in ways that are completely doable. "It gives people kind of a perspective of what they can do and what's possible," says Musuraca. "The hammer at the front really starts to set the entire tone: getting people to think differently about wood."
Stretching behind the hammer sculpture is a wide pathway of vignettes showcasing doors—expansive entry-ways to the left, interior models to the right. Most of them are custom models manufactured by Columbus Wood Products, with designs well beyond six-panel standards and in a variety of species beyond simple oak. Each vignette is trimmed out with species-matched custom moldings.
"It's all functionally displayed, but it is all very visually appealing," says Sarah Schnulo, design center manager for Romanelli & Hughes, a custom home builder in Columbus. For example, homeowners can see the extensive possibilities of various built-up moldings better than they can in a catalog. "They can see and feel and touch things."