The perfect showroom not only shows product, but also shows off your professionalism and expertise.

In my July column, I outlined some ideas to get you started conducting market research. By now, if you've spent some time at other competitors' places of business, you've also noticed the many different shapes and sizes of their showrooms. At this point, your visits may be more confusing than illuminating. This column will focus on what I believe is the ideal size and layout for a bath remodeling showroom.

In order for most remodeling businesses to be successful, one of the most important items to have is a business plan. A big portion of that plan has to include projected overhead expenses, including insurance, telephone, electric, office supplies and staff salaries. But one of the biggest expenses will be rent, or property costs if you own the building.

A lot of people in the remodeling business are sorry that they started out with too big of a showroom. It's difficult enough with all of the other costs of running a business to design and pay for all the displays. Even though these folks thought they needed to display many different lines and have a great number of stylish displays, they found the cost per square foot on a monthly basis made it difficult to turn a profit. Plus, the maintenance of the displays, and constant upgrading to keep them current only adds to the expense of a showroom. The average life span of a typical bath display should be five to seven years - max! If allowed to get any older, they become stale, and the impact of the display will be diminished. With new product coming on the market every year, you want to upgrade often.

Maximize The Space

The good news is you can maximize your space without going so crazy on product displays. You certainly want to help the customer make decisions, but you don't want to blind them to all the possible choices. Above all, the showroom should show off your company's talent to act as the guide in whittling down those choices.

Keep in mind, according to kitchen and bath industry statistics, seven out of 10 people will walk out of a showroom after just one visit - and never come back! As a result, what's displayed on the showroom walls may be just as important as what's displayed on the showroom floor. The first thing visitors see when entering our showroom is a wall full of photos of our staff. In other areas, we have framed contracts hanging on the walls, along with photos of completed jobs, testimonial letters and a pin map showing where we've done our work.

The biggest reason people choose you over another competitor is the confidence and trust they have in you to do the job. High-end remodeling results in two sets of circumstances: For one, you'll experience less competition and produce better margins. But you'll also cater to a more demanding customer, need to produce a better product and perform the remodeling project as effectively as you say you can. It's a two-edged sword, but it's the market to be in.

Manageable Space

I believe a showroom with 1,800 to 2,000 square feet is ideal. The sketch on page 138 shows a typical layout. The overall dimensions are 30 feet wide by 60 feet deep. As you can see, it includes displays, work stations, a conference room and some storage space on site.

What is most interesting is that there are only two complete bath display areas shown. Two other smaller vignettes, located side by side, highlight what could be done with the traditional 35 sq. ft. bathroom; I'd suggest making one more elaborate than the other so that people have a chance to compare a "good" vs. "better" remodeling job. Customers definitely need the opportunity to touch, feel and be enclosed in a remodeled bath space, but a few areas of knock-out displays will give them more than enough of an idea.

If there is one place to go wild by showing a lot of the same type of product, it would be the faucet display. Considering the relatively small size of a faucet, you could put 30 faucets on display, and change them out quickly and inexpensively. Accessories, such as towel bars and soap dishes, are a natural to show alongside the faucet display. Having space dedicated to at least two or three whirlpool tubs will allow your customers to sit in different sized tubs and, as we like to say, test drive them before they buy them. I also recommend at least one cast-iron, non-whirlpool tub, just to show your client the differences in depth and comfort. Along with your other full displays, this should offer your customers plenty to compare.

Remember that the plumbing fixtures are only part of the complete design package. The layout shows one display that you might not have thought about before: a closet display. They're easy to put in and the profit margins are great. With the work we do, we often "borrow" closet space from an adjoining room by knocking down walls. That leaves us with less square footage to provide storage space - which gives us the perfect opportunity to install a more efficient system.

In addition, cabinetry, ceramic tile, accessories, wall and floor finishes all combine to give the customer the final bathroom they will be proud to own and purchase from you. Perhaps the most important room in the showroom isn't a display at all - it's the conference room in which to hold presentations. When we do presentations, the conference room table is covered with tile samples, door samples, shower door samples, paint and wallpaper swatches, you name it.

A designer will use resource catalogs, individualize designs and go to all sorts of different manufacturers. There's no way you'll be able to display all of this. Are people comfortable looking at pictures from a catalog? For the most part, if they have confidence in you, they will be. Sure, there will always be customers who want to "kick the tires." We once drove a customer to Chicago, just so he could sit in a $7,000 whirlpool. But if the displays you incorporate give customers the concepts of other lines and styles, then they'll touch what they can and trust you for the rest. People are very comfortable "seeing" their bathroom this way as long as you've built up a relationship.

I cannot stress enough that the more thought and planning put into the showroom upfront, the better off you will be as your business changes and expands.

Next month we will discuss the all-important business plan, establishing some realistic goals and some of the costs that you should be aware of when starting down the road to a successful bath remodeling business.