Showroom Design – It’s About the Message and Placement

Updated: Apr 28

In 1959, Dinah Washington, released a hit single called, “What a Diff’rence a Day Makes.” You may be familiar with it. To be accurate, there were other versions before and after. I mention this only because many years later, when I was just starting my career and working at a department store, the store’s display manager often walked around singing his own version; “What a Difference Display Makes.” He told me his goal was to make sure each of his displays “told the viewer a story” about the products on display and why a customer would want to buy them… without requiring anyone to give an explanation.

Showroom design is very much about story telling. It is about product placement. It is about creating an environment in which a customer can see themselves working along with the products in the display.

Many dealers only maintain a working showroom where their staff works. The design of these spaces is critical because it often tells the primary story about the dealer…good, bad, or indifferent. If the client is uncomfortable with the design of the dealer’s space and the products shown, it can negatively influence the amount of confidence they may have in letting them design their space. Form vs. Function Form follows function is a principle of design associated with late 19th and early 20th century architecture and industrial design in general. Form is the element that creates designs but function is the objective of the design. Form can include many different elements: color, texture, proportion, line, and shape. It includes design principles like composition, balance, rhythm, repetition, and dominance along with the theme, props, attention-getting devices, and signage.

While form is of course an important consideration, it often receives more attention than function. Ultimately, function will deliver more value over time. An attractive space is important but not if it isn’t productive. Showrooms need to be able to convey both messages, whether they are a working space or only a display. The Value of Showroom Design When considering showroom design it is important to think of it in terms of value. One of the most important questions to ask: Is your showroom design creating the most possible value for your business? Value can be defined by productivity and by profit.

If the showroom space is strictly a working showroom for staff and to occasionally show certain products in use, then it is important that the staff and potential buyers can easily recognize how it adopts to their working needs. The design of the space should demonstrate how and where workers can perform their tasks; whether as a team or in their own more private spaces.

A selling showroom space is primarily about profit and making a sale. From a practical perspective and despite the variations in size and shape of a showroom space, the goal is to effectively present product in a way that emotionally engages the customer while optimizing traffic flow. This relates back to the message and telling an unspoken story with the display. The use of light and props help to enhance that message and increase the sale.

In a strictly retail environment there is an important rule. Each product that is displayed should earn it’s placement. One method is to evaluate the cost of the space. There is a cost per square foot for every space, therefore, an important consideration is how the use of that space creates a contribution to the company’s bottom line. Showroom displays that do not create enough sales should be exchanged for those that do. Every product and person occupying a space has to contribute either productivity or profit…and not just break-even.

That does not mean cramming as many people and products as possible into the space. The past year and social distancing have certainly had a major effect on that.

The key is to use all your space to its advantage. That may mean keeping a portion of the square footage open and airy. Customers walking into a showroom do not want to feel immediately overwhelmed or bombarded by products. Some showrooms even keep the first 20 feet clear so customers have a moment to take in the whole space.

Showing how your showroom design addresses these things often makes a more compelling presentation leading to more closed orders. Product Placement Product placement is another key factor in showroom design. One classic example of product placement; where is milk located in a grocery store? If you don’t readily know the answer all you have to do is think about the last time you went to the store and then picture yourself walking past every aisle. Milk and dairy are almost always in the back of the store so that shoppers have to pass other items they may have forgotten or for some that suddenly catch their eye. The same holds true for mattresses in a home furniture store and file cabinets in an office furniture store. Consider the logic behind the recommendation that “the more customers see, the more they purchase.”

Which products are most important? What do most customers want to see? Is there a natural flow to this space? Does it indicate that you know how to lay out a customer’s space with the right products?

Take a step back and look at your showroom, then ask yourself, "if someone looked at this and would only remember three things, what would I want them to remember?" Is the space memorable? Does it convey a message? Does it draw people in or will they pass it by?

Does your showroom answer the question, “Why buy?” If not, it may be time for a new approach. This article was included in the April 2021 edition of Midpoint Magazine. View the full publication for addition content created for dealers in the commercial interiors industry.

Jim Heilborn is INDEAL's Training and Development Consultant specializing in the office furniture/products industry, working nationwide with dealers, manufacturers, and service providers. Jim has been associated with INDEAL since 2011, specializing in training and dealer development. Jim can be reached at