Is that all ya got

By Roy Brewer
Copyright © 2002 by Davis Multimedia, Int'l. All Rights Reserved.
As Printed in June 2002, Volume 27, No. 12 of The Engravers Journal.



    What you see in figure 1 is a typical trophy display. It’s not that hot, but it’s not that bad, either — just a typical display. One day in this particular showroom a customer walked in, looked around for quite some time, and said to the proprietor, “Is that all ya got?”
    The shopper’s words kind of offended the proprietor. So as soon as that day was over, the owner had a meeting with her employees and said, “We don’t want anyone coming in here and saying, ‘Is that all ya got?’ We’ve got plenty of merchandise in the back here. Let’s put it in the showroom where people can see it!” You can see the results in figure 2.
    But guess what? That next day, two different people came in and said, “Is that all ya got?”
    Luckily, this happened just before the Las Vegas trade show. So the shop owner decided to fix this problem, and she said, “We’re going to order some new stuff in Vegas and bring it back to show people!” And she did just that (fig. 3). But guess what people said? “Is that all ya got?”
    She wasn’t the only person to fall into this trap. A lot of people think that if customers want to see more merchandise, the solution is to have a display in which every part and component they have is out for customers to see. But customers will still say it: “Is that all ya got?”
    Let me explain how this idea came about. Almost two decades ago, former TDMA executive director Don Neer saw me give my presentation on showroom display. He called it the “Is That All Ya Got?” seminar, and the name stuck. The last time I gave this seminar was more than ten years ago, so I will not apologize for some of the old pictures you’ll see in this article. These pictures are extremely rewarding to me because they wonderfully illustrate the showroom design principles I’ll be telling you about.
An Idea Is Born
    Let me tell you how this whole idea came about. I have been in this industry since 1965. As I would travel from showroom to showroom, I started noticing that in the shops with a certain kind of display, it was easier for me to interest the proprietor in the product I was trying to sell. What I mean is, with one kind of display, the proprietor would spend an enormous amount of time getting an order. But with other displays, customers could come in, find what they were looking for, and place their order, all within a short period of time. Then the proprietor was free for me to make a presentation for whatever I had to sell him.
    Consequently, these highly effective showrooms looked like a win-win situation for both me and the business owners I was calling on. I started trying to share this idea with the people who had the poor displays, but I had no way to explain what they should do. So I started taking photographs of some of the better displays in my area. I carried a camera in my sample case everywhere I went, and I’d take a picture (with the owner’s permission). If they wouldn’t give me permission, I’d take a picture when they left the display area. Therefore, some of these pictures are “unauthorized”!
    In this way I created a notebook with visuals. Now if someone would say, “Well, what suggestions do you have for my showroom?” I would get my notebook and show people what a good display really could be. But when I saw some of the worst displays, people would look at my book of “good” displays and say, “Oh, yeah! That looks just like mine!” I realized that people would pull the good out of their displays, ignore the rest, and say theirs was good.


FIGURE 4: What's wrong with this picture?

    And so on my next series of trips, I started taking pictures of the worst displays, and I put those in my book too. Now when people asked me for advice, I’d just start flipping through the book. When they saw the good looking displays, they’d say, “Yeah, I see a little bit of mine there.” But when I got to the bad displays, they’d say, “Oh my gosh, that looks just like mine!” That was the effect that I wanted. That’s how this all started.
    What it comes down to is this: Most of the people who have a good display have a good business. Many of the proprietors who once had bad displays and didn’t correct them are out of business. Understanding this relationship between successful displays and successful businesses is somewhat rewarding to me, because it lends some credence to some of the philosophies I’m going to suggest to you.
    Last year, Otis Veteto of R.S. Owens gave a seminar on first impressions. He started it off by saying, “This could easily be the most important hour and half of your life.” This comment put quite a bit of pressure on himself, in my opinion! Let me be sure you understand that if the time you spend reading these articles in EJ are the most important hours of your life, you’d better get a life!
    What I mean by that is, a display is not the whole business. Some of my best clients have terrible displays and are still in business. You can still build a business — you can even have a great business — without a good display. It’s not an essential part; it just makes the business more fun. It makes it more creative. You and your employees will feel better about what you’re doing if you have a good display. You’ll feel even better if your display is growing along with your business, instead of deteriorating or stagnating. That’s where this all came from, and that’s what we’re going to cover in this article series.
The “E” Word
    I taught three semesters of eighth-grade science. In the eighth-grade science book — I still remember it well — the theme was entropy. That’s not a word we use often, and probably one that few of you are even familiar with. But entropy, especially in science, means the natural process of going from a higher organization to a lower organization. What a great application to the recognition industry and to the display used in most award shops!
    Some of you probably thought that Figure 3 wasn’t really a showroom — that it was really back in the workroom. It was not. That is the way that dealer sold his awards. All the other pictures you see will also be real. None of these are made up — they’re just what I saw when I went into those particular showrooms.
    The photos of the three showrooms at the beginning of this article were from different businesses, but they were all at different levels of entropy, and entropy happens for several different reasons. One is that you listen too much to what your customers say. I’ll never tell you not to listen to your customers, of course. But you need to listen to what they mean, not necessarily what they say. Understand why they say what they do. Those customers who said, “Is that all ya got?” didn’t mean that the proprietor needed to put more things into her display. What they meant was, “Nothing that you have catches my attention.” So the “solution” of putting more stuff out isn’t going to help them see something they like. We need to build our displays so that customers will see something that catches their attention, so that they won’t ask that question.
    If you’ve been in this business any time at all, you know that some people are going to ask that question anytime, anywhere. Therefore, you should always have something else available to show them, but you don’t need to have it displayed in your showroom. You should keep a “junk book” ready for the shoppers who just love to go into the back and get a deal on something. I’m not saying you shouldn’t cater to those people. But don’t let those types of people damage the display you put in your main showroom.

FIGURE 5: Entropy sets in.

FIGURE 6: Your objective: A captivating display.

Causes Of Entropy
    Another thing that causes entropy in a showroom is a lack of sales resistance in purchasing merchandise. Too often we come to a show and see so many things we’d like to have. There are so many beautiful products out there, and there’s so much of it! But you just can’t show everything out there that’s nice. You can’t even show all of the nicest stuff! There’s just too much of it. So, you have to make a decision about what to order, and, therefore, what to show. We’ve got to build sales resistance some way or another.
    Compared to the way it was 20 or 30 years ago, there are very few trophy salesmen out there. As time goes on, I think there’ll be even fewer salesmen. But with warehouses nearby in all parts of the country, it doesn’t make sense for the salesman to expect you’ll buy something every time he comes around. And if he does, my suggestion is that you pick out just one or two companies to buy from, just to whittle down the number of products you’re tempted to buy.
    But don’t buy something just because you feel like you owe it to your salesman. The longer you’ve been in the business, the more pressure you’ll probably feel to do just that. If you know the guy, you probably feel like you have to give him an order and buy something. But possibly the greatest problem with our showrooms is that we fall in love with too many different products. And while it takes some of the fun out of it (to not let ourselves fall in love with the items we sell), it pays to have discipline.
    Let me give you an illustration. I fell in love with a car in 1966. It was the first new car I’d ever owned. I spent three times more on that car than on any car I’d ever bought. It was a Cougar, one of the really early Cougars, and I fell in love with that car. Of course, it was far beyond my means, but I bought it anyway.
    A mere nineteen months later, when a wrecker towed that thing off, with a trail of oil leading out of my driveway and down the street, I said I would never, ever fall in love with a car again. And I haven’t! If you see the car I drive now, you know I don’t fall in love with cars. But I learned a lot from that experience. It caused me to never again buy something just because it was something I really wanted. I think we can learn from that.
    Sometimes our showroom starts to disintegrate (or show signs of entropy) because the showroom itself doesn’t seem to matter — customers don’t seem to care what’s in it, and they don’t seem to buy much from the displays. And as soon as that starts happening, the showroom matters even less. What I’m saying is, if people don’t notice what you’re doing in your showroom, then they aren’t really buying what you have on the shelves. That means they’re looking for other things in other places, and in turn they pay less attention to it. So it becomes more cluttered, it becomes less effective, and then it becomes useless. I’ve seen it in many of the showrooms I’ve visited.
    Changing the look of your showroom isn’t something you can or should do overnight. What I’m hoping is that as we go through some of the showrooms I’ve photographed, you’ll begin to pick up ideas and concepts and looks that will work for you. I’m depending on you to see what you like and dislike and what’s right and wrong about any given example. Notice the color combinations, the relationship of the parts, the ceilings and the floor. Every display room is different, whether it’s long or deep, and you’re going to have to tailor some of these concepts to what you have available to you.
Real Showrooms
    What do you think I dislike about the showroom in figure 4? You may have noticed that outgoing orders are beginning to stack up on the floor. Now, normally this showroom does not look this way. The plaque wall is usually full, without those gaping holes, and normally orders do not go on the floor. But this is the entropy that I’m talking about beginning to happen. If you let this start up, then very shortly, things start to look like figure 5.
    I often have people say to me, “Roy, you won’t believe this, but do you know where I sell most of my trophies?” They are astounded when I tell them they probably sell most of them out of those boxes on their floor. Because in many displays, including the one in Figure 5, you really can’t see anything on the shelves. It’s all too crammed together. So customers come in and say, “Hmm, I wonder what somebody else is buying?” And they start looking through the boxes. If your best seller is something that’s on the floor, I’d say it’s time to work on your display!
    Figure 6 is our objective — to create a captivating display that catches people’s attention. So how does one create a really outstanding display? The answer usually centers around learning and using professional merchandising techniques. And the easiest and fastest way to learn the fundamentals is to look at what the experts and professionals have done in larger and older retailing industries than the R&I industry. So before we look at more examples from award showrooms, I want to spend a little time looking at good displays in other retail markets. There’s a great deal of knowledge we can gather from these markets. That’s where we’ll pick up next time, as this series continues on how to build a good showroom display.