Jamar Connor

Showroom Shifts

How to Maintain Strong Showroom Marketing During a Downturn

Step into the average modern design center or showroom and you will be taken aback — not by the beauty of the space or the quality of the products (which are, no doubt, spectacular), but by the lack of consumers available to appreciate these stunning facilities. What was once a bustling, sometimes even chaotic environment feels a lot quieter. Leaders in the interior design space are understandably concerned, as the showroom has long set the stage for stronger customer engagement and satisfaction. It also traditionally acted as a weather vane of sorts, reflecting the overarching status of the market.

Despite these previous tendencies, decreasing showroom traffic does not necessarily reflect a true lack of committed customers. Rather, in this situation, it's an expected result of customers' dramatic shift towards online solutions. This isn't entirely negative; the digital realm provides plenty of opportunities for consumers to find inspiration and discuss their concerns while still capturing the personalization and quality service that made showrooms so appealing in the first place. That being said, the showroom still has a powerful role to play. Keep reading to learn why traffic is down and how marketing can bridge the gap.

What's Causing the Drop in Traffic?

A variety of factors play into today's quiet showrooms, which reflect both rapidly advancing technology and heightened expectations among consumers. COVID, however, deserves much of the blame. In the early days of the pandemic, showrooms were forced to shut down altogether, with leaders scrambling to find new ways to appeal to strictly digital consumers. They clearly rose to the occasion, drawing on the power of immersive technology and other advancements to replicate the physical showroom environment as best they could.

Customers responded enthusiastically. Forced to stay home and prevented from spending their hard-earned money on vacations or other in-person experiences, many turned to interior projects to make their spaces more inviting. Equipped with emerging digital solutions, they no longer needed to compromise.

As lockdowns lifted, some customers were no longer willing to return to the status quo of shopping. Simply put, digital offerings were just too good to make physical showrooms as compelling as they were in the past.

The pandemic has clearly changed how consumers perceive the actual process of planning and executing important projects. Showroom visits are increasingly thought of as fun or supplemental, rather than a central component of modern renovations.

This problem exists across numerous industries and, unfortunately, it's not about to disappear anytime soon. The National Retail Federation (NRF) anticipates that growth moving forward will fall short of the explosive levels reached in 2021 and 2022. Unfortunately, NRF data indicates that sales of building materials and home furnishings are not only slowing, but also, on a significant downswing.

How to Boost Showroom Traffic

Limited showroom traffic isn't inevitable. It simply demonstrates the flaws of the status quo and the need to understand what makes (or should make) showrooms distinct — and how to convey this to customers. Adjustments to the showroom environment can amplify marketing efforts while also producing greater engagement among motivated consumers. Solutions worth looking into include:

  • Easier appointment-setting. Walk-ins are not always realistic, but the hassle of settings appointments can be off-putting for some. Customers should never need to wait on the phone to schedule appointments. Offer digital solutions such as easy online appointment requests. Should customers call, they should expect a swift response.
  • Build a sense of community. One of the main benefits of physical showrooms over digital alternatives? The opportunity to take part in a close-knit, design-oriented community. Context Gallery's Kristen Roland tells Architectural Digest that design centers, in particular, can deliver an energy and synergy by facilitating a sense of community that might otherwise be lacking. This can be fostered by planning special events, boosting interaction on social media, and strengthening relationships with designers and representatives. Furthermore, showrooms must be marketed as community-centric spaces.
  • Add interactive elements. While many current interior design initiatives aim to bring the showroom to the digital space, the reverse approach is also an option: integrate high-level tech components into the showroom itself. Many of the digital solutions that we will highlight in detail below can also be utilized in the showroom space, including virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and, of course, touchscreen displays that invite consumers to get involved.

Solutions for Boosting the Digital Experience

No matter how much attention is dedicated to developing the showroom of the future, it's clear that a certain subset of consumers will continue to show a marked preference for digital solutions. While the traditional showroom shouldn't be abandoned outright - seeing isn't always believing and with many high-end products the difference is in the touch.

To that end, digital strategies should continue to advance so that they can produce the same level of engagement as their in-person counterparts. This means making digital showroom experiences more immersive and more compelling — and even using them to drive consumers to brick-and-mortar locations.

Showrooms such as Plain & Fancy's exemplify the enduring value of the in-person experience, where only the perception of touch can truly convey a unique finishing process. Ideally, digital strategies will immerse consumers just enough to hint at these distinct offerings while also revealing how much more customers have to gain from visiting in person.

Create an Immersive Experience With Video Marketing

Video marketing is a must across numerous sectors but is especially valuable for interior design, where photography can only go so far in capturing the flow of the showroom or design center. Immersive content goes beyond traditional videos to provide a better sense of how remodeled spaces actually look or feel. If the main goal is to get customers into the showroom, however, content should emphasize what, exactly, makes this space unique and how customers will benefit from stopping by in person.

Video marketing should not necessarily be regarded as a substitute for the conventional showroom experience, but rather, as a supplement that can encourage casual consumers to get more invested. Use curated videos to provide a taste of the showroom experience and build excitement. Viewers should emerge feeling impressed by the scope of your digital offerings, but also, determined to check out designs on their own.

Offer — And Advertise — Remote Solutions

Homeowners and designers increasingly prefer the convenience of discussing plans and opportunities from the comfort of home. While there's no denying the visual impact of the classic showroom environment, it's still possible and even enjoyable to brainstorm on a remote basis. This is a great option for accommodating those with geographic or mobility restrictions. Remote offerings should also prove helpful for busy homeowners who struggle to set time aside in their jam-packed schedules.

Marketing solutions should make it abundantly clear that there are plenty of remote or virtual options available for learning more about products and design services. Customers should feel confident that, while they are absolutely encouraged to visit in person, they can always rely on backup options as well. This reassurance may actually have the roundabout effect of encouraging customers to visit; as they take part in remote consultations, their curiosity will be piqued and they may ultimately decide that they want to see top offerings in person.

Elevate Marketing During Downturns

Stuck at home and eager to make their surroundings more livable and beautiful, consumers were uniquely motivated to spend on remodeling services and products during the pandemic. Now, however, this drive has begun to wane, spurred, in part, by the swift return to the office — and, perhaps, more notably, by inflation and other financial concerns. Still, many homeowners are still eager to make their homes feel more calming or more functional. At this point, they just might need a bit more convincing than they did these past few years.

Many businesses pull back on their marketing budgets in response to downturns, but the exact opposite approach may be warranted: amping up marketing efforts to convince potentially reluctant consumers to launch remodeling projects and, hopefully, visit showrooms. More importantly, ensure that every marketing dollar is used to its full potential. This means carefully targeting all campaigns to ensure that they speak to the most relevant consumers — and tracking these initiatives to verify that they provide a desirable return on investment.

Marketing initiatives should also emphasize education. Increasingly, customers and designers need to be reminded why brick-and-mortar experiences matter. The New York Design Center's Jim Druckman tells Architectural Digest, In our faster-paced society, people have to be properly educated about the value of great design and great production.

When in doubt, aim for smarter, more targeted outreach, rather than simply expanding the scope of the campaign or throwing every marketing dollar available at the problem. Trade area analytics can make a world of difference, as these pinpoint exactly which local consumers are most likely to pursue large-scale renovations or other ambitious projects. The result? Increased revenue, in spite or (or even facilitated by) fewer overall projects.

Make the Most of Emerging Opportunities

There is no substitute for the classic showroom, where the most creative and ambitious visions are brought to life. Our concept of the 'typical' showroom may shift somewhat, but this vibrant space will continue to excite and delight consumers for years to come.

This is the perfect time to double down and pursue innovative solutions that consumers find compelling. Look to nuanced and highly targeted marketing to help customers see the value in showroom experiences — and that they feel drawn to both brick-and-mortar showrooms and their immersive digital counterparts. This comprehensive approach will ensure that, no matter the overarching trends in retail spending, showrooms maintain a competitive edge.

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