Business Strategies: Showrooms & Displays - How grocery stores can help you sell decorative concrete products.

Showrooms & Displays: How grocery stores can help you sell decorative concrete products.
by Dick Pirozzolo

Supermarkets are the best places to see visual merchandising in action - principles that the decorative concrete retailer can adopt to boost sales and cement customer relations.

Retailing expert Susan Negen, of WhizBang! Training in Grand Haven, Mich., has been helping storeowners and managers learn the essentials of retailing, including visual merchandising, since 2001.

"Supermarkets make shopping entertaining while helping the customer discover solutions - typically the answer to that age-old question, ‘What am I going to do to make dinner interesting tonight?' The store then markets solutions in visually exiting ways," Negen says. "In grocery store parlance, the end-aisle groupings of pasta together with canned tomatoes and olive oil are called lifestyle displays. The consumer thinks immediately, ‘We'll go Italian.' Problem solved!"

This principle can help the supply store owner who wants to display decorative concrete materials. "Instead of displaying concrete in one place, tools in another and coloring agents in still another, pull together the concrete, dyes, necessary tools and other equipment and display them all together, prominently and in an attractive way," Negen says. "If possible, include a photo of a completed job using the supplies and technique included in the display."

The more you think of the showroom in terms of marketing solutions rather than selling products, the more you will sell. "One of those solutions is to cut down on ‘running-around time' for busy contractors," says Negen. "Help them use their time in your store more profitably. Display the many options available to them."

Muller Construction Supply

Also, she says, make your store a place where contractors will learn about new ideas they can, in turn, offer to their customers. "Do this all in a store environment that is welcoming and visually exciting, and sales will increase," Negen says.

Concrete retailers would do well to think of their showrooms as extensions of contractors' marketing operations. John Diaz, executive vice president of Muller Construction Supply, which operates in Richmond, Calif., and three other locations in the state, says contractors often send their customers to Muller to discuss projects and select colors and patterns. "We organize the store with similar products from different manufacturers displayed together. When a contractor sends his client to us, everything the customer needs is available, including charts to help in color selection. Our salespeople get out from behind the counter to work with the contractors' customer to guide the sales process."

Diaz, whose operation focuses on the contractor rather than the do-it-yourself market, adds: "We are helping the contractor with the sale by contributing our expertise and utilizing our store as his merchandising tool. In all, we are helping to foster the relationship between the contractor and the ultimate customer."

Here's another tip: Maximize the marketing value of every square inch of showroom space. The San Francisco showroom of Muller Construction had a ramp area the company was not using. "We turned the dead space into a display of the results that can be achieved by using various products and techniques," says Diaz. "In addition, the showroom floors in the Richmond, Calif., location are done with a wide variety of finishes - overlaid, stamped, colored and sealed to illustrate the various techniques available and how they would look in a realistic setting."

Jobsite Supply in Indianapolis sells forming and shoring products and expanded into decorative concrete solutions 10 years ago. "Decorative concrete is probably the fastest growing segment in our industry, and there are good margins in this sector," notes decorative concrete sales and product manager Ryan McCreery.

McCreery says Jobsite Supply uses videos and a flat-screen TV to demonstrate various processes and outcomes. To market its decorative products and equipment, the company uses the building exterior as a promotional display. "At our free-standing Indianapolis location, the entire exterior wall of the building is done in sample decorative pours," he says. "We provide customers with a diagram that explains what was used to create the patterns and colors in each section. The exterior display sells 24 hours a day ... including nights and weekends when the store is closed."

McCreery says Jobsite Supply focuses on the contractor. "Spending staff time teaching DIY customers results in one sale," McCreery notes. "But when we focus on training contractors, we can expect repeat business based on that training."

Concrete Texturing Tool & Supply, in Throop, Pa., boasts an entire building that was carefully designed well in advance of its construction to display decorative concrete. "This entire facility was planned out to be the way it is from the start," says store owner Bart Sacco. "Most everything was built around the functional purpose of what it is used for - both interior and exterior. But this was also done in a very tasteful way that shows off the beauty and working functionality of the materials used. Essentially this building is a working display."

Sacco also relies on a video-equipped classroom with a smart board that is 72 inches by 72 inches. It is equipped to display images from DVD, computer, VHS and the Internet. "The classroom educates the experienced contractor who already knows the basics of concrete, teaching him the fundamentals and knowledge of the decorative concrete trade," he says.

A snapshot can have a lot more impact and credibility than a professional photo from a snazzy brochure - it says, if this contractor can do it, so can your customer. "A woman we trained did a beautiful acid stain on a patio and brought in photos of the completed project which we now use during demonstrations," Sacco says.

Setting the stage before the customer enters is key to visual marketing at the Stanton, Calif., showroom of Resource Building Materials. "Visual merchandising starts with the walkway leading to the front entrance," says purchasing manager Brad Struiksma. "We also display various finishes on the building facade, and a four-foot wall in front is finished with a number of textures and colors. The wall also includes three columns that are capped and done in decorative concrete as well." Before the customer even walks in, they have been exposed to a dozen or more decorative treatments. The facade markets potential and the wide range of products and techniques available to reach the full potential of decorative concrete methods.

At the Chino location - one of 10 retail outlets in the chain - there is an elaborate pool and waterfall to show the full potential of decorative concrete techniques.

"Increasingly, customers are going to our Web site before they come to our store, so we think of the Web site as our virtual store and use it to post photos of completed jobs that we have solicited from customers," Struiksma says.

Inside the store, Resource Building Materials makes an effort to display the full line of tools, not just one trowel. "We want people to see all the options that are available to them," Struiksma says. "At the completion of every sale, we also ask to make sure the person has the right tools for the job. More important than the extra sale in tools is making sure the customer has everything she needs to successfully complete the job."

Finally, like other building products retailers, decorative concrete retailers often insist on employees wearing company shirts and that they get out from behind the counter to work with the customers. After all, once you get their attention with a compelling display, cementing customer relationships is the next step in successful retailing.