Instead of a Showroom

If you don't have space for a cabinet showroom, try these techniques instead. May 6, 2007

What do you do if you don't have a showroom for customers? I'm sure no one on this site can compete with the big box store showrooms. They have all the finishes, door styles, frame, and frameless. Would it be wrong to send a potential customer to one of these stores and pick something out they like and bring it back to us? I don't have the room or the funds to build a showroom that could compete with this. I would just like to know what other shops are doing if they don't have a showroom.

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor H:
Although I don't have a showroom, I do have a kitchen set up in my office to demo doors, drawer slides and general quality of my work. I also have some closet cabinets set up. I explain to my clients that we can produce any design, in any color as opposed to the box stores and therefore cannot keep samples of everything. However, they are coming to me for advice, handholding, design, professional knowledge, and an open mind toward fulfilling their vision. I have all catalogues divided by categories (handles, closet hardware, stain colors, door companies, etc.) as well as years of design books. I stress that if a client has seen something in a magazine or website, they can bring it in so we can use it as a starting point to plan their dream. You have to sell your strengths and flexibility; not fret about the big box store.

From contributor S:
Basically I have the same issue, but so far it hasn't been a big problem. First of all, most of my customers come to me with some ideas already in hand. They've been to the stores, and they have a pretty good idea what they want. So how do I operate with no showroom? I have a different kind of showroom.

First of all, I have really good relationships with my past customers. They often show off their new cabinets and refer their friends to me. And they usually are happy to have me bring a prospective client over to see their stuff – provided I ask first, give them plenty of warning, and be reasonable about the time of day. It doesn’t hurt that my customers are as proud of my cabinets as I am.

The second thing I do is maintain a very complete portfolio of my past creations as digital images. This includes exterior shots of color and style and well as detail close-ups of interiors and any special features that I normally do. I try to use these pictures to emphasize what sets my work apart from the “big box” offerings. I make extensive use of E-mails to keep in touch with customers – I like to use this to keep a written record of they want as well as send them suggestions on what they should consider. It is very gratifying when I do have a sit down with the prospective clients when they bring to the table pictures that I sent them – pictures of specifically what they want me to build for them.

And last of all, my latest venture is to build a web site for my business. My intent is not to use this to draw new customers in. I do not expect them to find me by having Google or some other search engine direct them to my site. Rather, I am going to use it as a reference point, for people that are interested but are a little hesitant to take the first step. The idea is that if some of my friends or past customers know of someone interested they can just give them my web site, and let that get the ball rolling.

From contributor R:
I've never had a problem not having a showroom. I do just what you're asking, suggest they look at the big chain stores and see what they like/don't like, and even suggest they go ahead and get price quotes for comparison. I've never lost a job by suggesting that, they actually seem to appreciate that I'm willing to risk losing it to them, and never lost one for that reason, that I know of anyway. Like Contributor S, I also have pictures of every job I've done on my laptop that I can show prospective customers.

From contributor K:
I think a showroom would be great but I don’t have the room. What I’ve been doing is bringing out my laptop and showing them digital pictures of my work. I group all my photos into groups - islands, fireplace surrounds, countertops, favorite kitchen shots, etc..

From contributor J:
There are ways, as the others have said, around not having a showroom. The thing is though, that if you are making cabinets for a living then that living will be easier if you can have some kind of insurance - even if it is just a corner of your office. Try to do something, it will be worth it.
We have just taken over the building next to our workshop, and have put a small showroom in one of the rooms. It is already making a big difference.

From contributor T:
I would suggest that you send them to your suppliers showroom, or to their web site - that's what they are there for.

From contributor I:
"Showroom" definition has changed drastically in the last 10 years. The laptop virtual showroom is excellent. Don't forget the purpose of your showroom. Often it is not to get the job but to up-sell the customer. They come in with a preconception and limited exposure to options. With as little as 6 square feet of 'showroom' consisting of well presented options, you might be surprised how often someone comes in with typical cabinet desires and leaves with nova drawers, glazed finishes on cherry, and granite tops. The client can leave happier, with more confidence in you, and your profit can go way up. Be creative and pack all the features you can into a 3' cabinet with finished door samples about 12" square mounted as a flip book between uppers and base cabs.