Pete Champion is director of 3D design at London-based design agency I-AM. He has worked on showroom design projects with a number of high-profile KBB brands, including Hansgrohe and CP Hart, in order to enhance the brand experience. Rebecca Nottingham talks to him about the principles of good showroom design and where KBB retailing is heading
What does good showroom design really mean and why is it so important for retailers to get it right?
A showroom has to do what a website can’t. It’s a commercial space, obviously, but in a fastchanging world where customers can learn about and purchase anything online, for a showroom to justify its existence, it has to give its target audience an experience they can’t get online. That means creating an emotionally engaging experience – something that consumers want to go to, rather than something they need to go to. Obviously a showroom has to be well-conceived and well considered at a functional level, in terms of how it presents the brands and products it’s trying to sell.
But it’s most important raison d’être is to generate an emotional connection, inspiration, excitement and experiential qualities. For me, the design of a showroom is a creative solution that expresses the values, the story and personality behind the retailer and the brands on show. The more you can do to bring the product to life and encourage interaction between the customer and your showroom, the more likely you are to sway them into buying from you, rather than somewhere else.
What are the key principles a retailer must consider when designing their showroom?
Start by understanding your target audience in as much detail as possible. Consider what it is that they need/want from you and your showroom? The other key principles of design then focus around your target customers’ showroom journey. Imagine what it is that they are likely to want and need at each key moment of their journey around your showroom. Once you understand these, the next stage is to think very creatively about how you design your showroom and what immersive and interactive elements you include to make you stand out. For example, if you feel that you are particularly strong at customer service, work out a way to showcase that in your showroom.
What do retailers stand to gain from perfecting their showroom design?
What retailers gain is the psychological moment of purchasing choice. A well-designed showroom can drive people’s emotional motivations to buy a product or service and not just their rational ones. A well-designed showroom can ensure that people fall a little bit in love with you and your showroom through a brilliant service or through how good the product looks in that space. A physical space is the best platform to achieve this connection with the consumer. This may sound like a very non-commercial view but, in fact, it is incredibly commercial. Consider some very big brands, such as Apple and Google, that have been highly successful through emotionally connecting with consumers.
Can you really achieve all of this within typical KBB showroom environments?
Absolutely. Kitchens and bathrooms are very intimate subjects and choosing them comes with a degree of emotional attachment. With the products on display in KBB showrooms, there is a fantastic opportunity to create an immersive and inspiring experience.
One of the things we considered when we designed Hansgrohe’s Water Studio [Clerkenwell, London – pictured] was to get to the essence of what’s really exciting about the bathroom experience. So, wherever possible, we tried to get real water flowing in the showroom so that visitors can interact with the product properly. A lot of showrooms are guilty of ignoring this but, if you think about it, working displays can really capture the essence of what it is you’re selling in the showroom.
How does this all relate to small, independent retailers on a budget?
It goes back to your target customer and their journey through the showroom. Identify parts of the journey that will have most impact and invest in making those the most memorable. What that ensures is that, rather than taking a small budget and sprinkling it very thinly across every aspect of the showroom, you spend your money on the areas of the showroom that will make the biggest impact. What’s key to most consumers is a really good first impression, something standout in the middle of the experience and a memorable moment at the end of the customer journey. Working displays, interactive screens and customer service are all key aspects of this.
When should retailers be considering the physical displays and how many should they include in the layout of their showroom?
Obviously, retailers have functional requirements from their showroom. In the past, that was very much based on how many product lines they needed to show and how many room sets that would require. These days, retailers still have to consider those elements, but the requirement for physical displays is being challenged by the advent of digital technology, interactive tools and other design techniques that can make what you display in your showroom practically limitless. Take what we did with CP Hart’s Chelsea showroom, for example. The challenge here was the size of the showroom. It was very small and couldn’t possibly include physical displays of everything CP Hart wanted to show. What we did was create a very edited mix of physical product displays and then used digital technology and interactive screens throughout to create almost a virtual showroom within the physical space. As the size of retail spaces continues to shrink, this, for me, is the future of retail design
As the retail landscape changes, is there a future for ‘traditional’ high-street KBB showrooms?
The growth of the function that online offers is at the heart of every retail project we’re working on.
That said, for me there will always be a need for physical retail spaces selling products like kitchens and bathrooms – it’s just that their purpose is changing. Showrooms are just moving from being a functional presentation of the product on offer to an inspirational and emotional brand experience.
Even as technology continues to be so prevalent, we’re still human beings and there will always be a desire among the majority to physically interact with an expert in a space surrounded by kitchen and bathroom products that they can touch, feel and experience first hand. As long as retailers understand the changing needs of their target customer, at a functional and an emotional level, there’s always a justification for having a showroom and creating the full brand experience.
No other platform offers the same experience as a showroom and that, for me, is why we’ll always have a need for physical showrooms on the high street. They just have to evolve.