Putting a showroom on wheels
April 5, 2010 | 7:00 pm CDT

When Sean Benetin of Millwork & More LLC in Bernardsville, N.J., started looking into the costs of building and maintaining an effective showroom for his business, he was floored by the costs. He wanted something more than just a corner in his shop. And he wanted it convenient so customers wouldn’t have to seek out his shop. But a good traffic retail location he looked at would have cost $40,000 a year for the overhead without even considering the cost of building displays and staffing.

Benetin’s solution was to put his showroom on wheels.

He outfitted a box van with a sophisticated system of displays inside and colorful graphics on the outside. Now, instead of customers having to find him, he can take his showroom to them. Not only is the cost dramatically less than a freestanding showroom, but he figures it is a more effective selling and business tool.

Outfitting the truck 

Benetin said the cost of the truck and adding a few things like a generator and air conditioning was only about $10,000. He added clever displays and elegant touches in keeping with his target high-end clientele, such as polished brass hand rails and a velvet cordon at the entrance.

Base cabinets are mounted on both sides of the van, and a series of simple locking bars keep all the doors and drawers closed when the truck is in motion.

“All the cabinets are painted white so customers can focus on the mechanical details, not the finish,” says Benetin.

Between the base cabinets and wall-mounted displays, Benetin can show customers the differences between every option he offers from simple European-style cabinets to beaded inset construction. Door samples line most of one wall. The other wall has an ingenious “build your own column” display with column components mounted on the cloth-covered wall with hook and loop fasteners so customers move the components around to get the look they want.

“It’s very tactile,” says Benetin. “Customers really like it.”

All the drawers and pullouts in the base cabinets demonstrate different slides and drawer styles available. Inside the drawers are hundreds of finish samples, moulding profiles, countertop options, and even glass and metal screen samples for doors.

Path to a sale 

Everything in the van is cleverly arranged so Benetin can walk the customer systematically through all of the choices involved in specifying their project. Typically he will have his laptop out on the counter and enter all the data as the customer makes the choices.

As the customer moves down one side of the van and then the other, it follows Benetin’s order form logic and ends up with a section that displays framed association membership certificates, awards and significant press coverage of the shop’s projects. The total effect, Benetin says, is to basically close the deal by the time the customer is ready to leave the van.

He even has the customer following a checklist in the process, so when they get to point where the checklist calls for signing the contract and making a deposit, they are ready to do so.

“I’m a firm believer in the silent close,” says Benetin, explaining that when he finishes his presentation, he just stays silent and waits for the customer to speak up next.

Added benefits 

Besides having a more cost effective showroom, Benetin says his mobile showroom has other benefits. He can take it to customer homes and job sites. Once a deal is done, he can take care of the site measurements right then and avoid extra trips. He can take the mobile showroom to the workplace of a busy client, so he or she doesn’t have to take so much time out of their day to specify their cabinets and millwork.

“One time we met a client at a furniture store so she could match a moulding sample,” he says.

And because the showroom and displays are so effectively coordinated with Benetin’s ordering system, it helps to avoid needless back and forth between him and the client.

“Everything is in the truck,” he says. “There’s no reason to go back.”

Mobile billboard 

Benetin is a very active networker and makes sure the mobile showroom goes with him everywhere. At association meetings, it’s always handy.

Full color wrapped graphics on the back and sides attract a lot of attention. “I’ve even had someone call me from their cell phone driving on the highway behind me,” he says.

The mobile showroom has become such an effective tool for Benetin that he rarely uses his regular office at the shop. He finds he’s much more effective on the road, networking and marketing the business.

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About the author
William Sampson

William Sampson is a lifelong woodworker, and he has been an advocate for small-scale entrepreneurs and lean manufacturing since the 1980s. He was the editor of Fine Woodworking magazine in the early 1990s and founded WoodshopBusiness magazine, which he eventually sold and merged with CabinetMaker magazine. He helped found the Cabinet Makers Association in 1998 and was its first executive director. Today, as editorial director of Woodworking Network and FDMC magazine he has more than 20 years experience covering the professional woodworking industry. His popular "In the Shop" tool reviews and videos appear monthly in FDMC.