Good Vibes Only

Why your showroom’s aesthetic could make or break your business

Are you curating a killer showroom experience for your customers, or are your displays killing the shopping vibes? 

“Every single thing in your showroom either helps you be more profitable or hurts you,” says Mario Maichel, dealer development manager for Watkins Wellness in Vista, California. 

 With 25 years of industry experience, Maichel says there’s nothing neutral when it comes to showroom details. 

“Retail is not something that you can quickly tell if there’s a problem with the space and the design,” he explains. “It’s something that just slowly eats away at conversion rates, average sales price, store traffic and return traffic and all those little things over time.” 

Maichel believes that until retailers gain a critical eye for their spaces, justifications for bad design will abound. 

“You can only ignore it for so long,” he says. “One day, you look and go, ‘Wow, we’re slower than we used to be.’ ”

Backyard Leisure offers a relaxing setting for customers to experience a hot tub at its showroom in Terre Haute, Indiana.

Around 80% of all shopping still happens in physical stores, according to the National Retail Federation. A 2023 report from VML and Wunderman Thompson on global commerce trends found 63% of people want brands to provide them with multi-sensory experiences, with 72% expecting as many of their senses to be engaged as possible and almost half being more likely to buy from companies that surprise and delight them.

“We’re seeing more and more evidence that, when it comes to long-term loyalty, shoppers value service over price,” says Beth Ann Kaminkow, global chief commerce officer for VML, a creative agency, consultancy and technology company. 

In a 2024 VML report on future commerce trends, Kaminkow writes that price still ranks as the biggest influence on people’s purchasing decisions, but the rest of the top five are all about quality of service and customer experience. 

With so much data pointing to in-person experiences as vital to business, Maichel encourages retailers to think about their physical space and what impressions it communicates. 

“Yes, maybe it’s had some new signage put up, but is it actually a new experience?” Maichel asks. 

Big retailers teach consumers how to infer information about a product or the value of a product from its presentation, and Maichel says the bigger the knowledge gap a consumer has about the value and quality of the product, the more they depend on the display to inform them. 

Spa Depot in Park City, Utah, uses lighting to make a space more inviting.

Make design updates part of your budget

Retailers who are rethinking the form and function of their showrooms can start by adapting their budgets. Maichel says that’s where change starts. “You need to have a showroom budget,” he says. “You need to figure out what the update and maintenance budget is for your space, and you need to think about it and plan it.” 

He advises starting with the least expensive thing and prioritizing from there. Hiring the right kind of professional designer is also crucial for retailers who don’t have an eye for showroom layouts. Maichel says professional designers who specialize in retail or hospitality are helpful because they “think differently than home designers do, and we have to think about how people move through a space.” 

Develop a critical eye

It can be easy for retailers to become “showroom blind” and stop noticing the way things are hanging, stacked or stored. One free and easy way to overcome showroom blindness is to take photos of the entire property, starting in the parking lot.

Maichel suggests snapping photos and videos of everything — from the parking space stripes, to the landscaping, to the entrance and any outdoor signage before taking a similar approach inside. The next step is to show the photos to someone who will give honest feedback, preferably someone who doesn’t work for the business.

“Pull the photos up on the biggest screen you can connect your device to and play ‘What’s wrong with this picture?’ ” Maichel suggests. “That’s a great exercise to do at least twice a year.” 

Once you’ve identified the problems, tackle the ones that will have the biggest impact while staying within your budget.

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Think ‘showroom,’ not ‘storage room’

Joseph Musnicki, owner of Ocean Spray Hot Tubs in Westhampton Beach, New York, says a showroom should clearly represent the company and manufacturer in a clean space: “When the showroom is attractive and not cluttered, customers are willing to spend more.” 

He also says it’s important to make a showroom look like it belongs in the industry. 

“Make sure you are seen clearly as in the hot tub business,” he advises. “When it looks like an afterthought, consumers don’t take the shopping seriously.” 

About 50% of Ocean Spray’s walk-ins are looking for their first hot tub or sauna. Even though they could buy it online, it’s a larger purchase that requires a point person to talk to during the shopping experience and ownership, Musnicki says. 

Create a pleasant shopping environment showcasing what you have to sell. Remember, it’s a showroom, not a storeroom.”

Joseph Musnicki, Ocean Spray Hot Tubs

“Create a pleasant shopping environment showcasing what you have to sell,” he says. “Remember, it’s a showroom, not a storeroom.” 

Maichel says he often sees showrooms set up like self-serve warehouses, but that’s not what retail is supposed to be. 

“If you walk into some pool and spa stores and see the plethora of parts and pieces and products and mountains and walls of water care, even if they’re well arranged, it can be really stressful,” Maichel says.

Retailers who allow inventory to pile up in aisles, nooks and crannies can make a system for restocking and rearrange their storage methods to help keep their showroom space tidy and decluttered. 

“No one likes to restock; it’s not fun, but that’s retail,” he says. “Excess just causes stress, especially for new product shoppers.”

Alaska Stove & Spa creates visual interest with a wall of firewood in its showroom.

Incorporate practical layouts

When it comes to layout, Maichel advises making enough space for customers to see and touch most sides of the hot tub. Don’t push the spas against each other or back the more expensive ones into corners where half of it is inaccessible. Limiting the number of steps displayed can also encourage customers to get closer to the hot tubs, and decluttering the walls of excess signage can help customers focus. 

One way to crack down on signage clutter is to incorporate retail media into the space. The Get Smart Group, a pool and hot tub marketing agency, suggests investing in digital signage, like flat-screen TVs, because they can be easily updated. Digital signage helps retailers have the latest marketing without taking up too much space and can show off units that aren’t even in the showroom. 

Lighting, smells, background noise, spacing and visuals all play a part in a customer’s decision-making. 

A meta-analysis from the American Marketing Association found that exposure to pleasant ambient scents produced a substantial increase in the level of customer responses to a retail environment.

Retailers should also consider letting customers try out hot tubs. But even if customers don’t take a dip, these experience rooms can provide a more intimate area where customers get a physical, mental, emotional and visual break from everything. They can touch the product, see the lights and hear the quietness of its operation. 

“Nobody actually wants a hot tub; they want the results of a hot tub,” Maichel says. “You can’t sell stuff you don’t show off.” 

From the moment a customer comes into the store, Maichel says that’s the retailer’s chance to draw them in. 

If you want to make life easier for your business and your sales staff, if you want to take out some variability, have a nicer showroom.”

Mario Maichel, Watkins Wellness

“When they walk in, that’s it,” Maichel says. “It doesn’t matter what it’s supposed to be or what it normally is. If you want to make life easier for your business and your sales staff, if you want to take out some variability, have a nicer showroom.”