Improve the look of the hot tub showroom

Nnn 310 AqEven in difficult economic times, people still visualize their dream homes and backyards - and many have the means to make the dreams reality. So when these folks walk through your door, if they see a hot tub - standing alone without any steps, surrounds, plants or towels around it - will they be encouraged to proceed or will they start to consider other places to spend their money?

Even if half and full surrounds haven't been your biggest sellers during the recession, it's still critical to display a few of them so customers can see how fabulous their backyard patio could look, even if they can't afford the surround with their initial hot tub purchase.

Joe Musnicki, owner of Ocean Spray Hot Tubs & Saunas in Westhampton Beach, N.Y., believes that first impression is critical. "Put yourself in the shoes of a customer walking into your showroom. When he or she walks in, you want a knockout-looking display to greet them, and that display should consist of a hot tub and a full or half surround with plantings and great lighting and great signage, perhaps an umbrella or trellis or pergola, so at least their first impression is great. And then, beyond that, you could provide minimal steps and planters and benches here and there to give the customers the idea of what you can do, but your first display should be knockout - it should set the tone for what you're selling."

Tasteful vignettes around your showroom also help create the upscale atmosphere so critical to a retailer's success. "If you don't do these," Musnicki says, "then as an independent dealer, you're really no better than a big box store that's displaying hot tubs on a back wall somewhere, just lined up."

If you're not sure how to create tasteful and attractive arrangements in your showroom, you can find ideas and inspiration in home and garden magazines and at other retailers (and not necessarily pool and spa retailers). "You can go to any high-end shopping mall and find there's certainly some stores there that use a limited amount of space and have great displays," says Musnicki. "Like a Bose stereo store - those stores are not that large, but they get as much bang for the buck as possible. Especially in this area, space is at a premium. It costs a lot of money to display product, so maximizing the available space is key to offering a great shopping experience."

Priceless Impact

Musnicki says Ocean Spray offers a step with every hot tub. "We'll offer a standard step, a composite step, with the purchase, but then we'll encourage the customer to upgrade to what's called a hybrid step. It's made out of composite and a wood material." About 30 percent of the time people choose to upgrade, adds Musnicki, and of that 30 percent, about half choose the hybrid step and the other half choose wooden steps.

A display of surrounds is particularly crucial for the high-end dealer. "You have to set the stage," he adds. "Especially if you're selling a premium line, it's got to look like a premium line, even if people don't buy every part of the vignette."

The surrounds and other accessories don't just add great visual impact, they improve your bottom line, he says. "I don't think you can go wrong [by displaying surrounds and steps]," says Musnicki. "It's not like you're purchasing products that aren't saleable. These items make your portable spas look so much better, and if you get an advantage by doing that over your competition, it's priceless. If the competition just has spas lined up on the floor with a step in front of each one of them, and then a customer walks into my showroom and sees vignettes, there's not much to think about. The customer is going to think, 'This is the place where we shop.'"

Clear Path To Profits

Because setting the stage in your showroom is so critical, you'll want to put a bit of time, energy and thought into the layout. Integrating concepts of feng shui - the ancient Chinese system of living-space aesthetics - into this layout could not only make your showroom more attractive, but your bottom line, as well.

Feng shui might sound a bit eccentric at first, but as you apply it to your showroom, it's easy to recognize the pragmatic benefits. Here are a few tips from Linda Cahan, a visual merchandising consultant and author of Feng Shui for Retailers.

1. Create flow. Make sure nothing is blocking a smooth flow of customers through your front door and around your store. The front door should always be easy to access, and it should never stick or catch. It shouldn't be too high, too big or too heavy, and there should never be any clutter in the front door area. Also, put the name of your business and the hours and days you're open on your front door at eye level because if you're in a location where you get a lot of foot traffic, very often people don't look above eye level and they may not notice your store.

It's very important to confirm your brand at eye level. Posting an open sign is also very important, especially if you have darker windows. This is not just good business, but it also energetically says: We're open for business. It's like an affirmation.

2. Integrate natural elements. The more natural elements you get into the store, the more comfortable customers will be. You need something to engage the senses. So you want to establish a balance of natural elements, using water (which will be an easy one!), stone, wood and plants. For example, flanking hot tub steps and surrounds with plants and some pebbles can soften the scene nicely.

3. Light the way. Make sure the lighting in the store is balanced. Lighting is expensive and people tend to address it last, but the better your lighting, the better your product looks. If you don't have the budget for superb lighting, at least get a couple of desk lamps at the checkout counter. You can even use a warm, yellow fluorescent if you don't want to spend the money for the incandescent bulbs, but getting a soft, yellow light on transactions softens the experience and makes it friendlier.

4. Place high-ticket items in focal areas. To determine what the focal areas are in your store, walk out the door, come back in and write down the first five things you see - those are your focal areas. You'll want to place high-ticket items, like your tubs and surrounds, in one of those areas. Display a book picturing all your other surrounds on a waist-high stand so that people see not only the quality of the product in person, but also the others you offer.

5. Avoid clutter everywhere. Clutter traps energy and makes people feel that the quality of your product is less and that your workmanship in installing the product will be inferior. Remember, the non-selling spaces have as much impact on your sales as your selling spaces, so it's very important that the stock room stays neat and clean. This is where energy can stagnate, and as your people run in and out of the stock room, that impacts their mood, their energy and their sales skills. A cluttered stock room creates inefficiency, as well. If you walk into a stock room after telling a customer you'll be right back, and then five or 10 minutes later you're still searching, it's very frustrating for the employee and the customer.

6. Display a banner outside. There's a really positive energy created by the color and movement of a banner moving in the breeze outside in front of your store. The banner, which could be a lightweight polyester that can withstand the elements, doesn't have to have your name on it. It could just have your logo colors. The banner will attract customers and energize the front of your store.

7. Always have a few tubs bubbling. The more tubs that are actually bubbling the better because each one creates more positive energy in the store.

8. Use color mindfully. In general, bright colors heighten energy, dark colors slow down energy and pastel colors soften energy. And it doesn't mean that you can't use any of those; you just have to put them in places where they belong, where they make sense, and balance them out, as well.

9. Create balance. Whether you're working with the natural elements, light or color, make sure your whole showroom is balanced between light and dark and soft and hard.

Comments or thoughts on this article? Please e-mail [email protected].

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