Turn your facility into a product showcase

 My office and warehouse is a plain, inexpensive building on a side street. My partner thinks we should move to a more visible location and add a showroom. Since we don’t depend on walk-in trade, does it make sense for us to spend the extra money?—J. P. S., distributor

Some building product distributors and manufacturers run successful businesses out of unattractive, out-of-the-way plants and offices. As one company president once told me, “If you have time to notice what the place looks like, you aren’t busy enough.”

Other firms, however, rely on elaborate showrooms to merchandise their products to a retail or designer customer base. But even if you don’t have much walk-in trade, you should consider how your building affects your public image and explore ways of using the facility to market your products.

One company I know of makes specified lighting fixtures but uses generic industrial lighting throughout its offices and plant. The illumination is dim and the fluorescent fixtures have yellowed with age. What message does that send to prospective customers, job applicants, suppliers, and other visitors? It would cost the firm almost nothing to install some of its new and innovative fixtures.

By comparison, Ledalite Architectural Products Inc., Langley, British Columbia, uses its own lighting products throughout its building in architecturally interesting applications. Each fixture has a sign hanging from it identifying the product name and model number. Small plaques give the footcandles of illumination on walls and tabletops. The lighting is remodeled frequently, allowing the company to test and display its newest products and to take photographs for use in advertising and catalogs.

Use imagination

Sometimes the building itself can be a product showcase, constructed from the materials the company markets. That may not be practical for your business, but a little creativity can go a long way. If you market water repellents, for example, use some repellent to stencil your company logo onto a concrete sign in front of your building. Then install a fountain to spray the sign with water. It will darken the concrete except where treated, leaving the logo to stand out.

Consider the following examples of what can be accomplished:
  • A New England distributor of exterior insulation and finish systems applied samples of its product lines to the front of its building. Demonstrating a wide range of colors, textures, and special effects, this display leaves no doubt about what the company sells. The wall attracts business from drive-by traffic and is illuminated at night.
  • At Deere & Co.’s Moline, IL, headquarters, the 155-year- old company has a museum-like showroom of past and present models and a wall of vintage advertising and other memorabilia. You don’t need Deere’s resources, however, to position yourself as a leader in your industry’s evolution. Even a small company with a long history can draw from its archives to create a nostalgic decor that attracts visitors.
  • Most brick distributors have an area that displays the colors and textures they offer, but some go a step further. They construct a wall using a variety of masonry bond patterns and special techniques. Masons and architects can visit the wall to shop for ideas or to show clients their design proposals.
  • Nelson Electric Co., Tulsa, OK, takes its custom-designed exhibit booth to several trade shows a year. The rest of the time it does duty at the company’s headquarters, communicating the features and benefits of the firm’s fireproofing products to passersby.
  • Some distributors and independent reps ask their suppliers to donate display materials as a form of co-op advertising.

Follow through
A showroom need not be an expensive proposition, but it must be integrated into your overall business plan. If customers come to your building every day to pick up orders, are you using their visits to communicate a sales message? Do you have a welcoming pot of coffee with a VCR nearby where they can watch the latest new-product or installation videos? Does your warehouse have space where you can invite several dozen contractors or architects in for lunch and a hands-on demonstration?

If you decide to add a showroom, do it right. Keep it clean and well maintained. Train your staff to handle visitors professionally and screen browsers from buyers. And if you do move to a more visible location, use attractive signage to identify your company and what you sell. You might be pleasantly surprised by the increase in awareness and business from drive-by traffic.

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Send an email to michaelchusid@chusid.com

By Michael Chusid
Originally published in Construction Marketing Today, Copyright © 1993