California Closets upgrades showrooms to help customers design better lives

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California Closets has spent several years renovating and relocating about half of its approximately 130 showrooms, with a goal of transforming all within a year or two. Already, the change to what the company calls “Showroom 2.0” is paying off with increased order sizes.

Over the past four-plus decades, California Closets has built its reputation as a leader in premium space management. Its work extends beyond the closet, as the Richmond, Calif.-based company offers custom storage systems and storage accessories for every room in the house, including the garage.

A key element of California Closet’s growth are “tech tables” from Elo. The displays, which give a retro vibe with their drafting table design, allow customers to see with clarity and vividness the full range of California Closet’s design capabilities.

THE TRANSFORMATION

Until recently, showrooms were attached to the shops in which customers’ orders were created, typically in industrial rather than retail areas. As the management team considered its retail presence, it became clear that the locations “didn’t speak to that premium, white-glove service we deliver,” says Lisa Gold, director of showroom design.

An early step in the company’s transformation was to open showrooms in areas in which its demographic felt comfortable, whether that was near a Whole Foods Market or at the corner of Main and Elm. “We’re really trying to create an experiential retail presence in areas that speak to our elevated brand,” Gold says.

At the same time, the showrooms themselves needed a redesign. California Closets enlisted the help of design firm Bergmeyer Associates to create “the Apple Store for us,” Gold says. Along with consistency, the new design highlights the quality and innovation California Closets offers.

A first step was removing the reception desk that used to greet customers, creating a more open environment that encourages customers to move into the space. A key addition to the spaces has been a six-foot-tall “finish wall” that features one of the company’s proprietary material finishes made from recycled wood fiber, making them more durable (and easier to care for) than wood. The finishes are California Air Resources Board compliant and eco-friendly.

The goal was to use the showrooms to bring to life the company’s mission of “Designing Better Lives” for its customers. That meant, in part, enabling the showrooms to feature a wider range of custom design solutions and creating a more collaborative and inspiring environment.

In the past, the showrooms had been able to incorporate about a half-dozen displays. While these could highlight a few products and spark ideas, there was no way they could accommodate the nearly infinite number of custom design solutions available. “With more than 40 years of experience, thousands upon thousands of designs have been drawn up and produced,” Gold says.

And while sales associates could show customers material samples and use their tablets to highlight different designs, these failed to truly capture “a sense of the drama of our beautiful, custom designs,” Gold says. California Closets needed a way to showcase its “endless aisle” of designs and finished rooms.

The company began incorporating large (42- and 46-inch) interactive touchscreen displays from Elo. California Closets had initially worked with a different tech table vendor, but its costs were prohibitive for many of the company’s franchise owners.

Gold enlisted Creative Realities Inc., which provides innovative digital marketing technology systems, to find a cost-effective alternative that maintained the “white glove service” California Closets offers, Gold says. CRI brought Elo into the project, as well as firms that work with the showrooms to install and maintain the tech tables.

“Elo provides retailers the robust tools they need to create in-store experiences that engage their customers and drive sales,” says Rachel Romba, Elo’s marketing manager. That include point of sale, self-service and signage systems, which retailers can craft by leveraging Elo’s touchscreens; these range in size from 10 to 70 inches. Elo solutions are built on a unified architecture platform, eliminating disparate in store systems.

Because its offerings are custom, California Closet doesn’t have a true inventory system to which it would make sense for the touchscreens to connect. Instead, the tech tables integrate with California Closet’s content management system. The HTML application, which runs on Windows 10, mirrors the system designers use on their iPads, so designers have been very comfortable picking it up.

The tech table application also had to be intuitive, beautiful and able to withstand repeated use. The next generation of the solution will feature an even more streamlined and simplified user experience, Gold says. It also will allow customers to make appointments with their designers, enter personal information and email themselves product info.

IN THE SHOWROOMS

To be sure, California Closet design consultants continue to work with customers in their homes. The complementary meetings allow design consultants to understand customers’ storage needs and style, and to take detailed measurements so they can come up with custom design solutions. During the consultations, designers can use their iPads to explore ideas, think through details and save information to review later. “It’s a more personalized experience,” says Beth Warren, senior vice president of experience planning and design at CRI.

Then they head to the showrooms. “The design studios are the jewelry box,” Gold says. Designers can guide customers to drawers filled with samples of fabrics, finishes, hardware and lighting to touch and see their quality and style, while zeroing in on those most appropriate for their projects.

And customers can interact with the touchscreens. The vibrancy and scale of the images prompts many to stand back and say “oh wow,” Gold says. “Magical moments happen in the showroom.”

Gold notes that tablets are great for quickly looking at different items. However, once a customer goes into the showroom and sees the solutions in high-definition and at scale, they typically generate even more ideas. The touchscreens also provide a way to highlight California Closet’s capabilities beyond its namesake storage areas.

Indeed, the tech tables showcases 14 categories of rooms. “It awakens the possibilities for a customer,” Gold says. Many customers begin working with California Closet to redo their closets and then consider the company for other rooms in their house. “This has been key to helping the brand stand for more than just a closet,” she says.

Associates love the scale of the tech tables. “It’s almost like you are working a design solution at a drafting table with your client,” Gold says. In addition, designers can stand side by side with their customers, rather than both trying to work off an iPad, which often required designers to call up images and then hand the device to the customer.

California Closet’s investment in Showroom 2.0 is already paying off; Gold says average job sizes have increased. “The tech tables really show the solutions in all their glory,” she says. As customers review information, they start percolating ideas.

“When the customer comes into the showroom and sees and touches and feels everything, it makes the design process more intimate,” Gold says.

Karen M. Kroll is a business writer based in Minnetonka, Minn.

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