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Maximizing showroom space

August 1st, 2009 / By: / Feature, Marketing

Use your showroom space to wow your clients and partner with other event vendors.

Americans have come to expect choices and customization in every detail of their lives: their toothpaste flavor, their morning coffee, their mp3 playlists. Tented events can take that desire for a unique experience to the extreme. But contrast this with recent research that suggests that when consumers are overwhelmed with choices, they are more likely to make poor choices, be unhappy with their choice or choose not to choose. Psychologist Barry Schwartz calls this the “paradox of choice.”

All of this theory can turn into a conundrum for event rental companies when determining how to best lay out inventory in an event showroom. Creating a showroom that highlights all you have to offer while not overwhelming the client is a balancing act that requires the creative ability to maximize the showroom space.

Keep it fresh

No matter how big or small your showroom is—and regardless of whether it is a traditional brick-and-mortar space, online, or a combination—your event display area has to be user friendly and accessible to both clients and vendor-partners who may need get a feel for an event or require a common meeting place. At Classic Events and Parties, West Des Moines, Iowa, manager Steve Card has a 1,000-square-foot showroom with 10-foot ceilings and four table settings in various sizes. He says more than one client has suggested they just have the party right there.

Classic Events and Parties makes monthly changes to table displays if the season calls for it, Card says. The month of May might inspire a graduation motif, while June is all about weddings and December is set up for holiday gatherings. Card also encourages event planners and other vendors to have a hand in the decor to showcase their services as well.

“I do require them to use my flatware and china, but they can do their own centerpieces and bring in other things while leaving their business cards on the table as well,” Card says. “It keeps the rapport going.”

Event Source in Cleveland and Columbus, Ohio, has two large showrooms with similar setups in order to make clients feel comfortable in both locations, says president John Bibbo Jr. The Cleveland store boasts a showroom of 3,200 square feet with large pictures displayed on an LCD monitor along with 200 linens and a variety of products and services to view. Bibbo says the Columbus store is smaller but has plenty of items displayed as well so that clients who work between cities have no trouble finding what they are looking for.

“We have 13 different china patterns in addition to 12 flatware patterns on display. We do about 25 different chair options so we have them out as well,” Bibbo says. “One of the things we strive to do for our customers is to show them different options and unique ways that they can use our items that they may not have thought about. We try to mix different chairs with funky linens in order to keep their event fresh and imaginative.”

Event Source also changes the decor with the seasons, and brings in a couple of event professionals to help set the stage for clients when they come in to order arrangements and make selections.

Ken Flower, president of Arizona Party Rental, Tucson, wants his customers to have that “wow” moment when they walk into the showroom. But with hundreds of items, including lighting, flooring, and heating and cooling systems, not to mention arches and other decor items, he admits it can be overwhelming for the client. He likens the industry to the fashion world, with trends constantly evolving.

“We change many of the tablescapes each month in order to freshen up the showroom. We have a lot of repeat clients who come over from the hotels or resorts, and so we like for them to see something new when they visit,” he says, noting that the company’s location offers a lot of foot traffic as well. “People go by the showroom window and will look to see what is new and exciting for their event.”

Solutions for limited space

Portfolios, CAD drawings and computer slide shows can be employed when showroom space is tight or to help clients narrow choices. Manager Joe Leith of AA Party Rentals, Fife, Wash., says with more than half of the company’s inventory displayed in a 1,500-square-foot showroom, it is important to streamline choices to allow clients to see their selections in person.

“I think personal layout is extremely important so that our customers can see like items together and go over their selections in person,” he says. “When they see their choices laid out, it is helpful and not as overwhelming.”

When it comes to packing as much inventory as possible into a showroom, creativity and flexibility are paramount. Some companies will display items vertically to use all of the available space, while others will mix and match place settings at a table to showcase multiple layouts.

“We went out and bought about eight little mantles from Home Depot to help us display some of our glassware and other items,” Leith says. “One of the hardest things to keep track of is the flatware because it moves around so much, but we have created little boxes with Velcro® attachment so that we can return the display flatware when we are through with it.”

A trend in event planning is the virtual showroom, which enables clients to get a feel for a rental company and view and select items for their special event. While a website offers unlimited “space” for showcasing inventory, some event specialists believe it cannot replace a traditional showroom, which can inspire a multitude of ideas.

“I see the virtual showroom being an advantage because of the inventory and being able to display more choices,” Flower says. “On a computer you can display thousands of items in a way that you simply can’t in a traditional showroom, but I don’t see it replacing the showroom any time soon. I can see putting a kiosk in our showroom so that a customer can meet with an event specialist while tapping into a virtual showroom as well.”

While there can be advantages to online purchasing or reservation options, event rental experts note that people often need expert assistance when it comes to understanding the size and scope of their rental needs, making traditional showrooms an invaluable resource. As Bibbo says, it is still a touch-and-feel industry where customers bring in photos and hope you can help them recreate a specific look within their budget.

“When it comes down to it, if you are a designer, you want to see the actual stuff,” he says.

Everyone at the table

An additional advantage to a brick-and-mortar showroom is that it can serve as a meeting place and home base for any number of professionals working together on a single event. Lighting professionals, caterers, event planners and florists may need to coordinate their services with the event set up, so the showroom becomes the key location for planning.

“Showrooms make a good meeting place for all of the vendors,” Flower says. “We’ve even been known to hold our own events here after hours.”

Given the service-oriented nature of event equipment rental and planning, the physical showroom isn’t going anywhere. An open, inviting, and up-to-date showroom, combined with virtual options and displays and top-notch customer service, will help clients avoid that theoretical choice paradox and make the right choice—your business.

Julie Young is a freelance writer in Indianapolis, Ind.

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