Aligning Experience, Fulfilling Quality
By Suzanne VanGilder
Walking into California Closets’ new award-winning Showroom 2.0 retail environment is a choose-your-own adventure. The brick and mortar concept creates a customer experience consistent with the company’s online presence and in-home consultations. Cleverly devised with regard to buying behaviors of current generations, Showroom 2.0 delivers on today’s most effective retail strategies.
Turn left and flow through vignettes of rooms in a home, like your home—only better with beautiful organization solutions. Go ahead. Touch. Open doors. Play with lighting and accessories.
Turn right and take a seat in a classy yet informal living room. Make yourself comfortable. The interactive tech table is there to peruse the company’s inspiring library of custom systems and breadth of product offerings.
The backbone of Showroom 2.0 is an angled Pietra wall, a touchpoint providing context and fueling imagination. Visible from nearly anywhere in the store, the wall provides simple wayfinding and hints at design possibilities.
The heart of Showroom 2.0 is a sleek Design Studio with both state-of-the-art design software and unobtrusive samples on hand.
These iconic elements are standard in every Showroom 2.0 store, which will soon include all of the approximately 130 company and franchisee-owned locations in North America. That number is expected to double in the next five years.
The key to Showroom 2.0’s exceptional retail design and branding strategy is multi-channel, customizable consistency on a grand scale.
But that’s only part of the adventure.
Underlying Showroom 2.0 is the story of how California Closets manufactures a consistent, high-quality custom product on a grand scale—regardless if fulfillment is done by a company store or a franchisee. It’s a technology thriller with just a bit of mystery. A compelling example of advanced panel-processing throughout the value chain.
There is a unifying theme in both the retail and production sides of the California Closets story.
“The beauty of TFL is you can provide consistent color, texture and durability. The material is continually advancing and has all the panel-processing characteristics we look for,” said Bill Barton, president and CEO of California Closets. “We are able to satisfy our highest end customers’ needs with beautiful, deeply textured products and offer different price points without compromising quality.”
Incorporating California Style
For nearly four decades, California Closets has built a reputation as a leader in premium- and luxury-space management. The company engaged Bergmeyer Associates, a top retail design and architecture firm out of Boston, to reimagine the showroom experience.
“They were doing a great job interacting with customers one on one and on the website. The showroom retail environment had to deliver on that same level to ensure a consistent customer experience in whatever channel people touch California Closets,” said Joe Nevin, senior principal at Bergmeyer Associates. “As designers for a product like this—because it is a finished product going into a customer’s home—it is really about creating a great backdrop so people can engage with and experience the product in different ways.
“Early in the process, we thought about the brand and rooted the idea of ‘California’ symbolizing not only nature and beauty, but also innovation and optimism,” Nevin said. “All of these qualities are integral to the California Closets brand and true wherever you are located geographically. The Pietra finish TFL used for the angled iconic wall really harkens to natural materials and the outdoors. All of those feelings come through in California Closets’ products. We wanted to bring that forward in the customer experience.”
Like California Closets, the new Showroom 2.0 concept is designed to be consistent and customizable while staying on trend. Modern retail environments have to compete with online shopping and satisfy the entire generational spectrum of buyers. The space has to be a lifestyle destination, providing shoppers with the ability to do the one thing they can’t do online—touch and try products. Simultaneously, modern shoppers long for transparency.
“The way people research and want to be dealt with is different,” Barton said. “They don’t want to be sold. They want to be educated, and they will educate themselves. We believe informed customers are a good thing.
“This entire brand experience is as much about the tactile experience as the technologies that enable it,” Barton said. “So there is technology integrated throughout the space. And at the heart of Showroom 2.0 is the Design Studio, which is really one of the most revolutionary breakthrough concepts in the category.”
Showroom 2.0—which won a Silver Award in the Service Retail category of the prestigious Shop! Design Awards—is designed to be applicable to different store sizes, from small footprint all the way up to flagship. The plan allows for space to be dedicated to reflect local character. For example, the store in San Francisco has an area devoted to small spaces, while the Phoenix location has a section of garage solutions. But several iconic elements are required for every Showroom 2.0, which create an on-brand customer experience regardless of location.
The first thing a visitor might notice is the lack of reception desk in Showroom 2.0. Instead of suggesting barriers or rigid transactions, the open entry invites customer to flow freely through the space. Trained designers are available, as are web-enabled technology tables, but how to experience the space is up to the individual shopper.
An eye-catching iconic element within the space is the brand-distinguishing finish wall. Wrapped in one of California Closets’ exclusive finishes, this standout feature showcases 6-foot-high samples of the company’s proprietary finish collections.
The finishes represented on the wall are standard in every Showroom 2.0. “Many years ago, we had a wide variety of colors and textures around the country. As part of creating a cohesive brand identity, our product management team developed a corporate palette across four categories. It is very specific, and all stores are required to carry it,” Barton said.
The Classic Collection is solid color, flat TFL. The Lago Collection is domestically produced TFL available in woodgrain designs with intriguing textures. California Closets’ exclusive, Italian-imported Tesoro Collection offers deep-textured finishes, while the Kristall Collection, also imported from Italy, offers high-gloss acrylics.
“The depth and richness of the Tesoro is unrivaled, but all of our materials are excellent. Health, safety and durability are very important to us. Our systems can be built out of any combination of our collections, allowing us to address virtually any budget need with quality product,” Barton said. “The finish wall is one of my favorite components of Showroom 2.0 because it is a challenge to really see the beauty of these finishes on small samples. The details of the grain and texture need to be appreciated in a larger format.”
Perhaps the most definitive element of Showroom 2.0 is the Design Studio. “It is really the heart of the showroom. Every thing else revolves around it. The thinking was to have a place that is very informal and conversational and yet facilitates collaboration,” Nevin said.
The perimeter room vignettes and technology tables give customers ideas of how other people use California Closets’ systems. But the Design Studio gives customers a place for their own ideas. The walls are white, and although samples of every finish, type of hardware and accessory are available to address the touch-and-feel buying behavior, they are tucked into covered drawers.
“The designer will fire up the proprietary CAD software and project a nearly full-sized rendering on the wall while creating in real time with the customer,” Barton said. “And that is smack in the middle of the millennial buying experience. They are very comfortable with technology and want to co-create. They don’t want something handed to them.”
The Showroom 2.0 concept aligns with the online and in-person market strategies to create a consistent brand experience regardless of a customer’s preferred buying behavior.
But California Closets is also investing in delivering consistent goods.
The California Closets model includes company stores and franchises throughout North America. Step one was rationalizing the brand’s product line into a standard offering. Next California Closets set out to build a network of laminators throughout North America to produce the TFL for the Classic and Lago collections.
“Over the years, we set a specific goal to make sure our brand colors are unique and consistent. It allows us to make a total commitment to our customers,” Barton said. “We have some great supply chain partners—laminators who’ve made the commitment to us to use the paper and plates we specify. They make a capital investment to support our product strategy, and we are very loyal to them. I am eternally grateful that they produce a high-quality product to our specs in sufficient volume to enable the growth we have experienced over the years.”
The consistent quality of TFL enables California Closets to grow its numbers across the continent and sell the same customizable product through franchises as through company stores. It also enabled California Closets to make significant investments in production.
California Closets continues to experience significant growth across North America. In addition to its manufacturing facility in Phoenix, Arizona, to support demand for its products in the
Western U.S, the company recently expanded its manufacturing operations in Michigan to supply the Eastern U.S.
To observe California Closets’ success and growth is to observe the continual innovations all along the value-chain of panel processing. But the company does more than efficiently manufacture quality products: It tells the story. In alignment with online and in-person programs, California Closets’ Showroom 2.0 succeeds at creating the kind of collaborative, personal and customizable brand experiences consumers want.