High-End Goes High-Tech

by WOHe

High-End Goes High-Tech

For many kitchen and bath dealers, the goal of technology in
the showroom is to give clients a full-sense experience one that
enlightens the eyes, the ears and the soul.

By John Filippelli


For some kitchen and bath dealers, the decision to implement new
technology in the showroom can be a delicate, if not daunting, one.
After all, there’s a lot to consider: Isn’t technology confusing
and offputting to some? Does it really do enough to be worth the
time, cost and training? And, no matter how great technology is,
will clients still feel like they’re getting a “personal” shopping
experience if there’s too much of a high-tech feel to the showroom?

While these are valid considerations, designers are also finding
that technology, when used well, can greatly enhance the kitchen
and bath showroom experience. So, rather than debate over the value
of a handshake versus the click of a mouse, some designers have
simply decided to offer both. This allows clients to enjoy the best
of both worlds so their customers can enjoy the benefits of
personal, face-to-face interaction while being additionally
educated and informed in a variety of high-tech ways from live
cooking demonstrations and virtual tours to Power Point
presentations and even video conferencing.

As explained by Mary Jo Camp, CKD, CBD, CID, v.p./marketing for
the Rohnert Park, CA-based McPhails showroom:

“Technology is a great tool to disperse information. But,
customers still want personal attention, and they get it from our
associates.”

In fact, the goal of many designers who integrate technology
into their showroom is to give clients a full-sense experience that
leaves them well informed, comfortable and confident which creates
better personal relationships, as well.

Additionally, technology can give clients a better sense of
where the project is going, helping to make them an integral part
of the design process, according to Maureen Flemming, designer for
the Millburn, NJ-based Sawhorse Designs, and secretary of the
Technology Subcommittee for the Hackettstown, NJ-based National
Kitchen & Bath Association. “Many clients have difficulty
visualizing a three-dimensional space when it is represented in a
two-dimensional medium.

Therefore, virtual reality has a very important place in our
industry. [It] enables customers to better visualize how the
finished space will ultimately look,” she explains.

While clients certainly can benefit from a high-tech showroom,
business-to-business relationships also reap the rewards of new
technology, dealers agree. In fact, many have found that a
high-tech showroom creates a more efficient movement of information
and allows for more jobs to be processed, ultimately making
designers and their clients more satisfied.

Educating clients
At the Purcell Murray showroom in San Francisco, CA, Tim Murray,
president and co-owner, has given new meaning to the term higher
education.

“We have a 50-person amphitheater that offers full audio-visual
capabilities,” he explains. In fact, Murray often has live
celebrity chef demonstrations for clients to enjoy at the
amphitheater. There are also opportunities to attend cooking
classes directly on the premises.

Camp’s firm has implemented similar technology. “We have
installed flat-screen TVs in our demo kitchens so we can show
close-ups of cooking demos or in-house cooking videos, or run the
Food Channel for consumers to enhance their shopping experience. We
also present Power Point presentations as part of our Culinary Arts
Education Program,” reports Camp. “This installation is giving us
the opportunity to do so much more for our design community, our
builders and the end-users right on the selling floor.”

The Purcell Murray showroom, which is divided into several
interactive areas, enables consumers to experience the product
lineup first hand, according to Murray. “We offer an interactive
kitchen,” he notes, pointing out that every product in the kitchen
is “live,” enabling customers to “virtually test drive” the
appliance before or even after they purchase it.

Technology is also used to educate clients about appliances at
the Suwanee, GA-based HADCO showroom, a distributor of such major
appliances as Thermador, Gaggenau and Bosch.

According to Barry Cohen, v.p./marketing, the showroom features
a Care & Use Class, where consumers learn to care for their
appliances and understand the various features, with screen
technology and overhead cameras simplifying the educational
process.

Flemming also suggests that technology such as virtual tours or
Power Point presentations can be used to strengthen a client’s
ability to visualize potential designs.

Likewise, video conferencing is a terrific form of technology
that can be used in the showroom to enable a spouse, architect or
interior designer to be included who otherwise might not be able to
be present for a design meeting.

Purcell Murray is contemplating similar technology, Murray says:
“One of our plans is to ‘Webcast’ product training meetings and
cooking schools that can be broadcast directly to a dealer’s store
[for a client to enjoy].”

Says Gary Callier, CKD, co-owner of the St. Louis, MO-based
Callier & Thompson Kitchens and Baths, “We use an LCD projector
to show kitchen and bath designs to the clients. When the design is
projected on a large screen, it comes out almost full-size.”

Callier adds that this allows clients to easily visualize what
their new project will look like and also allows them to interact
in “real time” with any design changes they would like to
consider.

Furthermore, he says, “We typically will download off the
vendors’ Web site information and photos of any items for the
project that we don’t display in our showroom.”

Taking technology one step further, Cohen says his company is
currently evaluating “elevation” software to provide consumers and
specifiers with a vision of what their outdoor kitchen may look
like, as well.

As he explains, “They would simply [need to] provide minimal
information and we could generate an elevation to enhance their
appetite for this project. It may also allow them to develop a
relationship with upscale builders and developers.”

According to Murray, this is precisely what an effective,
well-run, high-tech showroom should do help all showroom personnel
develop relationships that make strengthen the business
overall.
And, since it’s difficult for dealers to display every product,
technology can also serve as a conduit for the dealer and customer
in their partnership.

Michelle Daenzer-Sapp, CKD, CBD, Allied ASID, of the Naples,
FL-based Designer Outsource Services, also sees technology as a
potential relationship builder. Despite not having a showroom, she
notes: “In our office, we recently instituted a weekly job progress
report [that can be] faxed or e-mailed for clients to read through
so that they know what is going on at any given time in a project,
including upcoming deadlines. This also provides information about
who is working on what. This allows the client to comment and fax
back any concerns.”

She adds that Designer Outsource Services also has a “Work Room”
section on its Web site that allows clients to view drawings in
progress through an AutoCAD viewer program, creating a heightened
sense of comfort and an “in-the-loop” feeling for all involved in a
project.

Technology also is playing an increasing role in
business-to-business-relationships, many dealers note. For
instance, it can help dealers acquire and share up-to-date
information regarding manufacturer lead times, new products and
order tracking ultimately enhancing communication and making jobs
flow more smoothly for
all involved.

As Flemming notes: “We are able to electronically transmit
orders through the use of EDI (Electronic Digital Interface). This
allows us more efficient order processing time and accuracies,
which benefits dealers and vendors.”

For Callier, the company’s electronic catalog and quote and
agreement/contract program allow the company to easily update
products and prices as things change, all while enabling sales
associates to work with the most current information.

Fleming also explains that her company is working on burning its
portfolio onto a CD and letting it continuously play on the iCEBOX
Flipscreen system displayed in the showroom, which offers cable TV,
broadband Internet and e-mail access, CD/DVD and home monitoring
capabilities for kitchens.

“I think it is an interesting and unique way to catch people’s
attention and showcase our company’s work,” she says, noting that
this could be a benefit for customers or dealers.
Virtually alone

While there’s plenty of talk about the future of virtual
technology, the kitchen and bath industry may not quite be ready
for a complete “virtual showroom.”

“Virtual reality is only viable in the kitchen design business
where you could project on flat screens or something that shows the
different configurations of a kitchen,” believes Murray.

In addition, Murray adds, “People like to touch the product,
open and slam the doors and feel intimate with the product.
[Therefore], I do not see showrooms becoming entirely
virtual.”
Flemming concurs: “I think that there is no substitute for personal
contact. Designing and selling a high-end kitchen is about much
more than the final product.”

But, while Camp admits that she does not see showrooms ever
becoming entirely virtual, she does feel that technology will
increase her company’s ability to show more products without
increasing its physical space. “Savvy consumers want to see the
‘latest and greatest,’ and the addition of new products into a
completely detailed showroom is a real challenge. Technology can
help us expand our walls.”

Camp add that the company is considering using a kiosk-type
information center “to allow easy access to online specs and new
products that are not yet on display in the showroom. We see this
as an enhancement to our customer service effort.”

She continues, “The combination of virtual reality and actual
displays make [for] a very exciting shopping experience.”

Flemming notes that, although kiosk technology can be valuable
in certain applications, “I have
not seen it catch on as quickly as many manufacturers would like. I
feel that kiosk technology does, in fact, have a place in retail
showrooms; however, in my experience, the clients who seek
higher-end kitchen design firms want more individualized customer
and personal attention.”

Indeed, most designers will agree that, even at its best,
technology can never replace the personal, one-on-one interaction
that clients crave. But, despite this, it can still allow customers
to visualize their kitchen and experience this in a way they never
would have been able
to before. KBDN

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