Creating a welcoming environment where customers feel comfortable to browse is one of the top priorities in designing an upscale ceramic tile showroom. Columnist Jennifer Adams examines the process of designing and creating a high-end showroom.

Lighting is another essential component in building a successful showroom atmosphere. Spotlights can be used to reveal details in the tile.

The world comprises millions of people; each possessing their own thoughts, feelings and personalities. While some are drawn to serene environments and behave conservatively, others crave bold colors and adventure. For this reason, numerous retail stores each have an individual focus to target the diverse needs of the public. From high-end boutiques to affordable department stores, top executives research and strategize to target consumers and offer them the most desirable shopping atmosphere. And the same holds true for tile showrooms. With the abundance of ceramic, porcelain and glass product lines on the market nowadays, manufacturers and distributors are working hard to display these collections in the most appealing setting.

Today's consumers are savvy. They are knowledgeable and want only the finest materials in their homes. They have high expectations when it comes to quality standards and customer service. Whether they are building a new home or remodeling an old one, they are making a significant investment and expect to be treated as such. Therefore, owners of tile showrooms need to consider many factors when establishing new outlets, in order to satisfy their customers' demands.

Among the top objectives should be to create a welcoming environment where customers feel comfortable to browse. Avoiding clutter and devising a layout where people can clearly see a distinction between tile collections is important. If consumers have to dig through piles of stacked tiles or try to decipher what product is what, they may be discouraged and feel they are better off looking somewhere else.

Vignettes are a way to offer consumers ideas and showcase some of the innovative tile products on the market.

Scouting a location

But even before the interior design of the showroom comes into play, the most important decision to make is "location, location, location," according to Lee Nicholson, Marketing Director of Country Floors in Los Angeles. As a distributor of high-end tile collections with five stores in the U.S. and two in Canada, Country Floors has quite a bit of experience in this area.

And when deciding on a location, it is important to consider who your customer is going to be, Nicholson explained. "Is it the trade?" she said. "Retail? Homeowners? What kind of market? Low to middle class? Upper class? That definitely determines what type of products you will show. All those factors need to be considered."

Thought should be given to whether the showroom should be part of a design center or standalone on a trendy upcoming street. In Florida, Country Floors decided to take space in The Dakota, a large design center in Dania Beach. But in Los Angeles, its showroom stands prominently alone on Melrose Ave.

"We had to weigh the options, and ask ourselves, ‘What size do we want to be?" said Nicholson. "Being on Melrose is an upscale location. We do have end-users come in."

When designing a high-end showroom, it is important to create a warm inviting feel for consumers to view tiles. Separating a space into rooms with house-type settings is one way to make customers comfortable.

Determining a style

After settling on a location, Nicholson believes that the next crucial step is to decide on the type of products that will be promoted. "Picking the right product to show and loving your product is very important," she said. "Are you showing European hand-decorated tile or modern tile tending toward the commercial side? All those things sort of mold what the showroom should look like."

While offering a mix of product lines is okay, it helps to concentrate on one particular style to form a cohesive look. "You want to choose products that catch a person's attention," said Nicholson. "Have a specialty. You can't be all things to all people. Decide if you are Armani or Brooks Brothers."

Once the products and the target market are determined, then the type of space can be decided. "We have a house design in the Melrose showroom," explained Nicholson. "It is separated into rooms for a more comfortable, warm house-type setting verses a large open feel."

Making a showroom that is easy for consumers to maneuver around is essential. "Traffic flow and accessibility of products are two very important things to consider," said Jeffrey Bennett, owner of Bennett Stone & Tile Co., which has showrooms in both Eugene and Portland, Ore. "There should be room to step back to take a look at the products. So many showrooms that I go into are cramming in as much products as they can. This doesn't lend itself to good design."

Choosing a distinctive style for a showroom helps to develop a cohesive design. Elegant stone-look tiles such as this creates a Mediterranean feel in the space.

Researching ideas

There are several approaches that can be taken when developing a showroom design. Bennett explained that he thoroughly researched different ideas before beginning to build his first showroom in Eugene.

"My research spanned several years," he said. "I started going into stores like Nordstrom, Pottery Barn and Macy's. Places like Pottery Barn sell everything from furniture to little knick-knacks, so that was interesting to see. It was fun just taking different concepts from completely unrelated industries and applying those concepts to tile."

After dedicating several years to observing various retail stores, Bennett started to put together his ideal floor plan. "I just took cool ideas and did a big 3- x 4-foot plan," he said. "I started placing different things around." He also explained that he worked with designers of retail and grocery stores to get some fresh insight.

A high level of customer service is a crucial component in establishing a prosperous tile business.

Catering to customers

According to Bennett, one thing is certain, customer service is the key to a good showroom. "The number one thing when it comes to building a showroom is to make it easy for the client to make a decision," he said. "Taking an American Olean rack and putting it next to a Dal-Tile rack doesn't make it easy. You have to keep that in mind at every turn - become more retail driven."

Bennett explains that he utilizes several key marketing tools to assist his customers. "In the center of both showrooms we have a sample room," he said. "Inside the sample room there is what I call a ‘prop' area, which has paint swatches and hardwood samples. When someone says, ‘Well, I have a Red Oak floor,' we can pull out a Red Oak sample and lay it down. Then they say, ‘My cabinets are maple.' We put it together and make it easy for them to visualize."

And although vignettes are one way to present applications to customers, Bennett also has other methods that he finds extremely useful. "We have five vignettes in our Eugene showroom," he said. "They are helpful, but I think material on the floor is a bigger thing."

With one showroom under his belt, Bennett had his previous experience to rely on when building his Portland location, which recently opened. He had learned things that worked and things that didn't.

Both stores feature a floor that is broken into 100-square-foot grids, which display various tile collections. "I used Brazilian Cherry [wood] as a dividing medium," he said. "I went with wood because of the difference in texture. It lends itself to tile and stone."

The flooring in Bennett Stone & Tile Co.'s Portland showroom is comprised of about 44 grids. Each one contains different materials, including ceramic, porcelain, glass and stone. This allows consumers to easily visualize how each material would look as flooring in their own home, and decide what material best suites their needs.

Dividing a showroom floor into grids is an excellent way to display various ceramic, porcelain and glass tile products.

Lighting effects

In addition to planning style and layout, a showroom also needs to be equipped with good lighting. "Lighting is a huge issue," said Bennett. "Fortunately, in the new showroom, the whole west side of the building is glass. We also discovered a skylight that was covered up with tar. That was restored to allow more natural light in."

Natural light opens up a space and is ideal for creating a bright cheery atmosphere. Glass tiles, in particular, shimmer and sparkle when they catch sunlight. This is a great way to show the iridescent qualities that many glass tile products possess.

If windows are not plentiful within a showroom, there are other alternatives to creating a bright space. Direct spotlights can be used to draw attention to tile collections - especially finely decorated ones that have a lot of intricate details to showoff.

Innovative marketing

And finally, a successful marketing campaign is also a key ingredient to establishing a successful showroom - especially in big cities where there is competition. "Going into Portland is such a larger market [than Eugene]," said Bennett. "I had to create innovative ways for marketing."

In his new showroom, Bennett plans to build a kitchen, which will be fully operational. As a way of luring customers into the store, he is going to hire a celebrity chef and offer cooking classes.

"The kitchen is just going to be phenomenal," he said. "That concept came from a friend who owns a kitchen store. She sells high-end kitchen increments and has a full high-end kitchen and offers cooking classes. It's a hot thing. I thought that really lends itself to what we do."

Keeping ideas fresh will help to set a showroom apart from the rest, and ensure for a prosperous business. Also, by placing an emphasis on customer service, consumers will enjoy the process and be inclined to spread the good word.