Distributor Showrooms Done Right

Take a tour of some of the ad specialty industry’s most colorful, classy and customer-friendly spaces.

Advantages recently set out to find the most stylish distributor showrooms in the U.S. Our goal was two-fold: to showcase these chic sites, and explain how they help companies appeal to customers and increase sales. So where did we start? By asking you, our readers, for advice on where to find them.

Soon, we got our first reader responses on the topic. One of them read: “Sounds like a good article for the 1980s.”

>> 8 Tips for a Great Showroom

Could this salesperson be right? In this digital era where endless data heralds a lengthening shadow of web-based commerce, are physical showrooms simply outdated? Dozens of reader responses later, we got a resounding answer: Absolutely not.

From Boston to SoCal and Seattle to Miami, distributors talked with enthusiasm about showrooms, calling them important tools that help engineer success. Indeed, a common refrain was that, as more commerce moves impersonally online, tactile human-touch showrooms let distributors stand out from the pack. When used correctly, showrooms serve as a demo space for creativity and design. The product-rich rooms help win large, coveted accounts, sparking discussion, brainstorming, cross-selling and upselling.

“If your goal is to develop long-term, mutually beneficial relationships with clients, then the ability to review a wide range of products and to share product differences on the spot, all of which a showroom allows for, is essential,” says Gerry Barker, president of Barker Specialty Company (asi/132690), which boasts a 4,000-square-foot showroom. While there are hundreds of classy and colorful distributor showrooms across America, we spotlight 10 outstanding spaces here. Follow along to see how distributors are leveraging their showrooms, and learn practical tips that can make your space stand out as well.

A Creative Boutique
City Paper

Wow Factor: Dubbed the City Paper Boutique, the City Paper Company (asi/162267) showroom in Birmingham, AL, is designed to have the look and feel of a cool urban retailer.

Layout: There’s a coherent, organic setup that makes it easy for clients to shop. City Paper arranges products by category – drinkware, apparel, tech, etc. – and also has “family” sections. These are displays that feature an array of merchandise that the distributorship has created – a grouping that helps prospects envision the range of logoed swag they can use to build their brands. Also significant, City Paper devotes a third of its showroom to retail packaging products – shopping bags, plastic bags, custom nonwoven bags, boxes and more. “The display allows our customers to think beyond just giving out a product and taking their marketing to the next level through packaging,” says Stephanie Friedman, City Paper’s VP of marketing.

How the Showroom Helps Sales: With so many products displayed in eye-catching fashion, it’s easier for City Paper’s sales pros to demonstrate their forward thinking. They can be more consultative – showing how logos can be positioned in cool ways, while focusing on what items are popular and new. Since the room is also effectively a living case history of successful promotions, salespeople can relate how branded products have worked for similar clients.

Success: City Paper landed a six-figure program with a large nonprofit after decision-makers from the organization visited the distributor’s showroom. Having purchased promo products on their own for years, the nonprofit’s logoed merchandise had become stale (they used the same old items) and riddled with branding inconsistencies.

When they visited the City Paper Boutique, the nonprofit’s reps were impressed by everything from the products to the sophisticated branding strategies to the creativity of City Paper’s in-house art department. “Not only did we land their six-figure program, we also were able to provide them with a new e-commerce store, warehousing, kitting, fulfillment and distribution of these goods,” says Jeff Grippando, VP/GM of promotional marketing at City Paper. “We think our showroom had something to do with this win.”

An Artistic Atmosphere
Superior Promotions

Wow Factor: At about 1,000 square feet, Superior Promotions’ (asi/379023) space certainly isn’t the biggest in the industry. But what the Medford, MA, showroom lacks in size, it makes up for in stylish design. Pops of bright color in the décor, wood floors, flattering lighting, contemporary furniture, televisions, a fireplace and a kitchen area combine to create a comfortable, modern space that exudes vibrant energy and hip appeal.

Layout: When clients walk in, they’re greeted with fun, inexpensive items – eye candy that won’t break budgets. “It invites them in – shows them they don’t need a million dollars to market their business,” says Superior Promotions Co-Owner Justin Moss.

From there, the showroom features about 10 different well-defined areas. Sections include apparel and themes like lifestyle, which highlights items like sunglasses, grills and more. Another section shows how packaging can enhance the look and feel of an item. Comfortable seating areas divide sections, allowing Superior sales pros and clients to sit and chat over items and ideas.

How the Showroom Helps Sales: “When clients start seeing all the products and they’re checking everything out in a welcoming space, it just happens naturally that they get lots of new ideas about what they want to do,” says Co-Owner James Bowdring, adding that Superior has hosted catered open houses – events that directly spur sales.

The showroom also has a history of expanding client budgets, according to Moss. “They get excited about the possibilities and they want to do more,” he says.

Success: With the help of its showroom, Superior won an approximately $100,000 deal with a communications industry client. Buyers needed executive-level products for a presidents’ club gathering in Hawaii. When the client arrived at the showroom, Superior had a slideshow playing on its showroom televisions that featured scenes from Hawaii and products with the customer’s logo. It was just one special touch within the space that helped seal a major deal. “We did polo shirts, Maui Jim sunglasses, watches, Bose headphones – a lot of nice items,” says Moss.

Eagle Promotions

Eagle Promotions is near completing an elegant showroom of nearly 14,000 square feet inside its Las Vegas headquarters (shown here).

Wow Factor: By year’s end, Eagle Promotions (asi/185320) plans to open what company principals hope will be the best showroom in the industry – a nearly 14,000-square-foot luxurious space at their Las Vegas location.

Featuring soaring 25-foot-high ceilings, the swanky showroom will include conference rooms, a boardroom with a granite table, a 300-gallon fish tank, a photography room, a kitchen and an entertainment area where clients can enjoy drinks and food with the Eagle team. If all that weren’t enough, Eagle plans to complement clients’ showroom visits with stays at high-rise condos the company owns.

Layout: The showroom is set to feature a broad sampling of products that appeal to Eagle’s Fortune 500 clientele, from apparel staples to handbags, electronics, travel items, outdoor products, home goods and more. Eagle will house some high-end items, such as certain watches, in glass cases. To stock the space, Eagle is teaming up with key suppliers; the showroom will feature vendor-specific product areas as part of the design. “It’s going to have the look and feel of a Nordstrom,” says Mario Stadtlander, a partner at Eagle.

How the Showroom Will Help Sales: “We’ll be providing our clients with one-stop shopping in an unbelievable setting,” Stadtlander says. “That will lead to bigger orders and stronger relationships that are good for our clients and good for us.”

The Fan Cave
Envision Tees

Wow Factor: Envision Tees (asi/188438) of Dubuque, IA, has created a sports-specific showroom that’s decorated with tons of memorabilia – all collected through working with major league sports teams and players. Collectibles include everything from a bat autographed by MLB slugger Bryce Harper to a jersey autographed by baseball Hall-of-Famer Ken Griffey, Jr.

Layout: In addition to the memorabilia, the space features lockers that are stocked with brandable apparel for various sports. “We typically have our core items of T-shirt, performance shirt, hoodie and sweatpants for fan apparel, then a few polos and jackets for coaches, and then uniforms for the particular sport,” says Envision Tees Owner Tom Rauen.

How the Showroom Helps Sales: While Envision has a larger main showroom as well, developing a fan cave-style sports space made good business sense. “We work with a lot of local coaches and teams, so we wanted to create an experience that they would remember. It is fun to share the stories and memorabilia we get from major league players with our local coaches. It helps build rapport and credibility,” says Rauen, whose company created the “Make Baseball Fun Again” caps for Bryce Harper that generated loads of media coverage earlier this year.

Success: Buyers for teams feel comfortable in an athletics setting that isn’t “salesy,” says Rauen. Once they’ve had a positive experience, they refer other coaches and teams to Envision. The word-of-mouth has led to a bevy of clients. “It becomes easy,” says Rauen, “to jump on board with us.”

Simplifying the Sale
American Outfitters

Wow Factor: A savvy layout strategy, 3,000 square feet of space and heavy client foot traffic make the American Outfitters Ltd. (asi/120666) showroom a standout. “We have hundreds of clients throughout each week, which shows customers still care about personal service,” says David Rettig, VP of sales at American Outfitters.

Layout: The space largely consists of apparel separated by brand. Within brands, American Outfitters’ groups by style to show the diversity of each category. Plus, the Waukegan, IL-based distributor features hard good promotional products in sections, too, creating sales opportunities by highlighting potential product tie-ins.

“An important part of our strategy is to create displays on mannequins to highlight new products and decoration techniques,” says Rettig. “It’s also a great way to layer apparel to give clients ideas on what products look good together.”

How the Showroom Helps Sales: The showroom aids in everything from training salespeople to expediting the sales process. The space also helps ensure clients get a product they’ll truly love because buyers can touch and feel many different items. “Our showroom has an atmosphere that encourages clients to come to our facility to see what’s new, and that’s extremely important in creating client relationships,” says Rettig.

Success: Annually, American Outfitters hosts a customer appreciation event at its showroom. There, preferred suppliers showcase their new products. American has earned many lucrative deals through the event, including one for a $90,000 employee holiday gift program. “Being in the showroom simplified the sampling process for the client,” says Rettig. “In the end, she loved two particular products and invested in them.”

Decoration Showcase
A&P Master Images

Wow Factor: The high-gloss showroom at A&P Master Images (asi/102019) allows the Utica, NY-based distributor to show off a robust selection of apparel, hard good products, and the diverse embellishment techniques offered by its in-house decoration department.

Layout: Divided into apparel and hard good sections, the showroom also features boards on which A&P demonstrates decoration techniques that run the gamut from traditional embroidery to cutting-edge sublimation. Another section displays awards A&P has won, community initiatives it’s been involved in, and items autographed by performers (like singer David Correy) the distributorship has worked with – touches that help show prospects that CEO Howard Potter and his team are a proven company.

How the Showroom Helps Sales: A&P’s orders lean heavily toward apparel, so enabling customers to feel products leads to greater client satisfaction, streamlined ordering and easy upsells, according to Potter. “Customers often move up to more expensive items because of the different colors or quality of the fabric,” he says.

Success: The showroom has helped A&P to win first-time sales and deepen customer relationships with diverse end-buyers, from big accounts to mom-and-pop shops. “When we have families with kids, people that are tall, people that are above a 3X come in to our store, they see right away that they are in a place that is going to get them what they need – that no one will be left out,” says Potter. “Providing reassurance like that gets you closer to having a customer for life.”

JH Specialty Inc.

This custom space exudes class – a result, in part, of JH Specialty (asi/232445) having showroom equipment custom-made to fit the rest of its building. Each shelf represents a particular product category, while each hanging section covers a particular clothing category, with entry-level, midpoint and premium samples displayed. “The showroom is a great way to tell our story, who we work with, and come up with new ideas for clients,” says Founder John Henry III.

Showroom Sales

Barker Specialty Company

The 4,000-square foot showroom at Cheshire, CT-based Barker Specialty Company (asi/132690) teems with excellent branded merchandise divided into four main sections – promotional products, awards/recognition, apparel and upscale jewelry, clocks and crystal. When representatives for a large insurance company, dissatisfied with their current distributor, visited the space, they became Barker clients the same day. “They said they’d finally found a ‘real company’ – someone committed to the industry,” says Barker President Gerry Barker. “Years later, we still maintain this million-dollar relationship.”

HDS Marketing

White wall units and mirror and slat wall displays are just a few of the subtle retail touches that make HDS Marketing’s (asi/216807) 3,000-square-foot showroom an inviting place for clients to visit. Stocked with products that are typically updated in-line with retail seasons, the space certainly came in handy when HDS was courting a major Pittsburgh-area brewery. Through staging in the showroom, HDS presented product ideas and exhibited its creative abilities with displays and custom items. “The client came on board with us and started an online store,” says Kelly Chiccitt, VP of marketing at HDS. “We also run local and regional programs for them.”

Budd Bay Promotions & Apparel

The showroom at Budd Bay Promotions & Apparel (asi/149520) occupies prime real estate that affords the Lacey, WA-based distributor good exposure to client traffic. “Customers large and small stop in all the time to look through our shop,” says Budd Bay Manager John Grantham. “It’s not uncommon for the owner of a local business to come in and place a $3,000 order unsolicited.”

After stopping by the showroom recently, a local fire department expanded beyond its apparel purchasing with Budd Bay by investing in 2,500 virtual reality viewers for a community outreach program. “The internet is a great tool and we use it frequently for our customers’ programs, but samples and personal interaction still sells,” says Grantham.

Christopher Ruvo is a senior writer for Advantages. Tweet: @ChrisR_ASI. Contact: cruvo@asicentral.com