Jodi Wallace

Special Contributor

First Impressions Do CountUntil a year ago, my “showroom” was 300 square feet located inside our fabrication shop. 

First Impressions Do CountAnyone who owns or works in a shop knows that trying to keep things clean around a fabrication environment is an effort in continuous futility. No sooner would I wipe down all the samples, racks, and my couple of displays, then the routers would start back up, the sanders going, the guys forgetting to close the door and literally within minutes I could write my name in the dust. 

Because I felt it important that things look presentable to potential customers, if I knew I wasn’t going to beat a customer to the showroom and have a couple minutes to do a quick dusting, I would call the shop and ask one of the guys to wipe the surfaces down, even though I had just done so a day or two before. 

It drove me crazy and there were days I literally asked myself out loud why I put so much effort into a constantly losing battle when my poor house never saw this kind of TLC! But I knew if I didn’t, dust would inevitably coat every conceivable surface of the showroom. 

The truth of the matter was that I did it because first impressions are important. I wanted customers to be able to look around and realize though small in stature, our showroom was clean, well organized, and offered the largest selection of samples available. 

I, and most customers I know prefer to view a nice large 10 inch x 10 inch sample in a smaller showroom than a little 4 inch x 4 inch sample in a large showroom, so I made a display of larger-sized samples our priority. 

That meant wall and floor space were a premium and every inch of the showroom was utilized. But most importantly, I wanted to make sure it never came across as dirty, cluttered or neglected.  

Over the 12 years that this was our main location, we received many compliments on how clean and organized our petite showroom was compared to many of the large cabinet/countertop shops customers had visited. Little did they know what it actually took to keep it looking that way! But it was important to us that what we lacked in size, we made up the difference in professional appearance.

And it paid off. We closed many jobs larger shops had bid on because customers liked the larger selection of choices we offered, they were able to view the larger sample colors, and we offered an inviting place to view them. 

What people seldom realized was that because the showroom displayed so many different sample racks, there was nowhere to set up an office, let alone a desk. Customers found us online or by referral and I set up appointments to meet them at our showroom. 

When our appointment was done I left. Very few people were ever aware that their proposals and contracts were prepared in our home office as I worked in my fluffy slippers and jammies with my kitty for company! 

When we acquired our new 900 square feet of showroom space last year, I was really excited. We were able to devote almost one full 30-foot wall to all my quartz samples. The triple-sized space allowed us to build two shower and one tub displays, have ten vanity displays, two small islands, and somewhere down the road as financing allows, we hope to add two kitchen displays.

Our new location was a total leap of faith and the one piece of the puzzle we were lacking – a storefront for customers to just walk into. As scary as the prospect of additional bills, and many sleepless night spent wondering if we did the right thing or picked the right spot, the last year feels like it definitely was the right move for us. 

The location offers a lot of visibility to consumers driving by, which is what we had hoped for. What I had seriously failed to anticipate was the amount of dirt and dust that busy main road and all those cars zooming by would be throwing into my showroom! I naively thought getting away from the working shop would minimize the cleaning needed in there. Silly, silly me!

To make matters worse, I was told because of the age of the front door it is practically impossible to take off and put it back on, making replacing the almost totally disintegrated weather stripping a non-issue. The gaps around the door are so bad you can feel the wind and rain blow in. 

Alas, I have become a common sight walking around the showroom, phone in one hand while speaking with a customer or vendor, dust rag in the other! (Might as well put my good multitasking skills to work!)  

For many consumers, and myself I might add, there is a direct correlation between the impression of a company’s showroom and the quality of the workmanship they expect. I have had more than one customer comment that so-and-so’s quality may be really great, but based on the customer’s first impression when they walked into their showroom, they weren’t sure what to think.  

This is something we rarely give thought to: does our messy, dirty, or unorganized showroom or office accurately portray the impression we want to present to potential customers? Small businesses in particular know there are never enough hours in the day to get everything done, let alone throw cleaning into the equation. But if we are offering customers a place to visit, are we not offering them the opportunity to view our workmanship, our products, our quality and service?

Put yourself in the place of the consumer. If you’re looking to purchase something where you don’t care about the quality of a product and are basing your choice strictly on price, then you may not care, if you walk into a showroom or shop that looks like it has been hit by a tornado. In that scenario, the consumer’s expectations aren’t high to start with so they may not even give it a second thought. 

Personally, I don’t go by price, alone.

If I already know ahead of time that I will be spending a lot of money, when I walk into a showroom, I want to feel that the quality of the product I am looking to purchase is reflected in the displays that are presented to me.  

Many years before our most current recession hit I had a customer who had a kitchen and bath showroom. They sold cabinetry, flooring, windows and offered countertops. I walked in one day to find (to my surprise) new countertop displays. I was told they were installed by ABC Company and their prices were considerably lower then ours. 

When I examined the stone I noticed the seams were seriously uneven to the touch as well as noticeably chipped down a long portion of the seam. I pushed a bit asking why they would accept something with such substandard workmanship and quality, and is that what they wanted their customers to think they would be getting installed in their homes? The answer I received was simple, “It’s alright, they were free.”

In my showroom, there is nothing displayed that I would not have in my house. Customers can see and touch the same quality they can expect in their homes or business. And showrooms are our chance as businesses to show customers potentials they may not have considered. 

Keeping things organized and looking nice is important in a showroom. We may be used to seeing our same displays or samples, but for new customers first stepping into our showroom, everything is a new experience. Again, clean and organized is a priority. 

My husband Ken and I are friends with one of the larger fabricators in our area. Their business caters more to homebuilders and contractors, and although they work directly with homeowners, they do not actively seek out residential business.

We had been working with them for quite a few years when the owners stopped by our little showroom. They were surprised with what we had done (and somewhat shocked we had transformed such a small space into a usable showroom). A couple years later they decided to convert a small, (their words, not mine!) storage area into a showroom. I really liked it. They had sample towers outside the room leading into more sample towers inside.

There were several sink and faucet displays, amazing tile displays on both the walls and rotating towers, and a large gorgeous granite table for customers to sit at. It was an inviting space, both visual and welcoming, much different then what was previously available: a simple bench in the reception area.

But over the next couple of months I began to notice changes in their displays. As samples were brought in or pulled off sample towers, they were just left where they had been placed – the table, the floor, on top of a display. Additional sinks being offered were left on the floor, boxes were brought in and left lying around, chairs scattered. 

I admit it drove me nuts since I am so meticulous with our showroom, and anytime I was there I would grab left out samples and start putting them back in their proper place, tucking in chairs around the table, moving boxes. After a while I asked the obvious question, “Why is this place such a disaster?” 

The answers I received were obvious; employees were too busy to straighten up, customers didn’t put things back, other employees didn’t want to clean up the mess that another employee had left out, new samples had arrived and no one had time, they really preferred to work with homebuilders instead of homeowners, so it wasn’t a big deal if the place was messy, etc. It was pretty sad. But because management’s attitude was, “Oh, well…” there was no incentive for the employees to care either.

Another large shop we know has a huge showroom. The potential for what you could do in that space is absolutely mind blowing. But because there are so few displays and all the samples are kept in a room in the back, and not out front and visible, it feels like you are walking into a warehouse. I love the large size of the kitchen displays but they feel outdated and in desperate need of some updating. 

The showroom doesn’t have anything that feels like it would appeal to anyone under the age of 55+. The amazing displays and potential of what could be done with a space this size drives me wild! I have even offered to come in and help them redesign things just to update it at no charge, looking for nothing in return – just because I can envision what they could do. Everyone just laughs at me. 

I am almost as obsessive about keeping samples up to date as keeping things looking presentable. Nothing is as frustrating and infuriating as finding the perfect color/design/pattern only to discover it has been discontinued. I have gotten several jobs over the years from customers that were upset because a shop never bothered to pull old and discontinued colors off their sample racks.

If you walk in my showroom you will find a lot of samples, labeled Jumbo Slabs (versus regular slab size); Special Orders Only; Special Finishes; Single Slabs available, etc. When a customer leaves my showroom, the first thing I do is put everything back in its proper place so I don’t have to worry about it later. 

If I have a customer walk in while another is walking out, I may ask them to wait a moment while I replace samples so they will be properly available for them to browse. If I am by myself and have multiple customers in at the same time, I do the best I can, and generally wait until a break in customers to do a quick re-organize. 

But no matter what, before I leave each evening, all samples, brochures, catalogues, chairs, are straightened up and back in their rightful place, ready for the start of my new day and the next customer walking in. 

The objective of a showroom is to present new potential, walk-in customers with a welcoming, inviting and interesting experience. This first impression is our first and best chance to differentiate between our competition and ourselves. Occasionally, we just need to step out of ourselves and step in to view our surroundings as our customers do.

Jodi Wallace is co-owner of Monarch Solid Surface Designs in San Jose, California. She may be reached at