Next time you go shopping, try to be more aware of why you not only bought what you needed, but also bought what you wanted.

Through effective use of practically every square inch of space, retailers know how to coax their customers through the selling process leaving nothing to chance and everything to possibility. Need a new white shirt? Easy. Drive to any clothing store and walk to the Shirt Department where you can easily compare prices of the shirt lines. On the way to the register, you’ll no doubt pass the Tie Department ... and it’ll dawn on you that you really want a new tie to go with your new shirt.

Transactions like this go on about a hundred million times a day in retail stores across the country. This same logic of merchandising shirts and ties can just as easily be applied to faucets and sinks — but often isn’t.

“I don’t think the word ‘showroom’ adequately describes what should be accomplished,” explains consultant David Lyon. “What we’re really doing is opening a ‘store,’ and inviting the public in. As a result, you become a retailer, and your customers are going to expect your store to function just as if it were a shoe store, clothing store, whatever. That’s a mindset that people in the traditional plumbing distribution channel don’t always easily understand.”

In the preceding story we described how Lyon helped plumbing contractor Tim Miller transform his showroom into essentially a Plumbing Department Store. Here’s a list of do’s and don’t’s that might help do the same for you.

Keep in mind, however, that it’s not as simple as simply having a pretty store. Miller purposely increased his product line, even including tile, stone and marble. In addition, any retailer has to advertise and promote first in order to get customers in the store.

As such, plenty of Lyon’s work goes on behind the scenes. Still, Lyon’s skill at merchandising plumbing products is readily apparent in how he orchestrates the use of space to the utmost.

DO “compartmentalize.” This is the guiding principle for Lyon. Put bathroom faucets in one area, kitchen faucets in another. Water closets here, whirlpools over there. Compartmentalizing, in other words, grouping like products together, is what creates that retail look. The benefits are two-fold:

  • Ease of selling: From the time they walk in the door, customers should immediately be able to hone in on what they need. An obvious sign such as “Faucet Department,” can be used, but it isn’t even needed. People seem to have a built-in radar for finding what they want, but don’t have any patience if too many obstacles are put in their way. Once in, say, the Faucet Department, customers should be able to easily compare the differences in shape, size, finish and price.
  • The “Wow” factor: Grouping like products together not only saves the customer time but should help you make a strong statement regarding the extent of your selection. Anyone “just looking” shouldn’t be given any reason to look any further than your store. The Retailer’s Credo is, “Give ’em what they want.” These days people are aware of the various options available for the bath and want to shop at the store with the widest selection. Give it to ’em.

DO create your own image. Another big principle. Typically, contractors rely on manufacturers’ own displays to dress up their showrooms. And as a result, everybody’s showrooms have the same “cookie cutter” look. Manufacturers’ names certainly help sell customers, and by all means, use the names in your advertising and promotion efforts to bring co-op funds into play, allowing you to stretch your budget all the more. But in the end, the store is yours, not Kohler’s or American Standard’s. Invest in your own name and separate yourself from the pack. To display faucets, for example, Lyon uses cubes that hold one faucet each and easily fit against a wall. Thanks to this presentation, Lyon’s stores can display anywhere from 200 to 300 facuets. “Sink gardens” are another innovative way to display decorative basins.

DO position complementary groups of product next to one another. Remember, merchandising not only helps you find what you want, but leads you to what you need. You may not even know what you need, until you find what you want. That’s the beauty of merchandising. Placing complementary items next to each other means the products almost sell themselves. Think ties and shirts, shoes and socks. Basins and lavs should be side by side faucets, which should be side by side brass accessories. Make sure you’re telling and selling a complete story.

DO include a luxury bath suite. Great merchandisers create dreams. Not everybody may have the space or the budget for such a purchase, but it does give everybody ideas they never would have thought of before walking into your store. Lyon usually positions such a fantasy bath display in front of the store to add to the “Wow” factor. If space permits he may put another farther in the back to purposely draw customers through the entire store. While you may not sell the whole “ensemble” every day, Lyon believes you can sell a part of it — showerhead, medicine cabinet, faucet — most every day.

DO consider a kitchen. Lyon’s not kidding when he asks his clients for real commitment. Even if you’re not in the kitchen business, Lyon urges clients to include a working kitchen. Why? If for no other reason than to feed hungry customers and add to the ambiance of the store. And it’s a strong focal point for open houses. Obviously, the kitchen doesn’t need to just stay a prop. Keep in mind from our preceding story that Prestige Bath & Tile sold four kitchen jobs even though Tim Miller had planned to wait a bit before entering the kitchen market.

DO let kids be kids. Such a major purchase as outfitting a bath requires concentration, and that’s not going to happen with the kids screaming for Mommy. Create a space just for children. Include a TV and VCR and let the parents shop in peace. The kids won’t mind at all.

DON’T rely too much on vignettes. When you understand the benefits of compartmentalizing, you’ll understand why vignettes are usually the first thing Lyon gets rid of. Vignettes do help customers visualize a particular look, and Lyon does incorporate some. But they’re just as likely to confuse customers who like to compare as many options as possible. Vignettes force customers to remember a water closet from one display, while walking over to another, and then another. Everybody ends up wasting valuable time and forgetting what was just seen. On the other hand, Jim Miller’s Prestige Bath & Tile has a row of water closets that allows customers to make a much easier choice. The water closets are hidden from view so that customers can sit down and not feel self-conscious. Vignettes are also major space-killers and major headaches to change out. By getting rid of some vignettes you automatically create more space to display significantly more product.

DON’T forget the traditional bath. While not everyone will be in the market for a luxury bath suite, they will be in the market to dress up their regular 5' X 7' space. Modest size, however, doesn’t need to mean modest appearance. Really jazz up the vignette. Throw everything at it but the kitchen sink. This is a big reason Lyon encourages his clients to sell tile in order to complete the whole bath package. Customers can easily relate to the size, but their bathroom at home sure doesn’t look like this.

DON’T hide your sales staff. Position everyone’s desk on the store floor. Having customers sit out in the open, going over their plans, creates excitement for them and others in the store.