Clarke Distributors has a 5,000-square-foot showroom in Hopkinton, Mass., and a 7,600-square-foot showroom in South Norwalk, Conn. -- but that's just the beginning of what they offer. In both locations, the showrooms feature cooking demonstrations, visits from celebrity chefs, and a play kitchen for children. "It's a place to learn about cooking and refrigeration and wine storage and lifestyle. We always make it fun. You get to eat well and be entertained well," says director of marketing Jim Raftus.

All the fixings

In the company's Connecticut showroom, a salesperson takes homeowners to a presentation room on their first by-appointment-only visit. They fill out a survey and watch as the still photo in the plasma screen changes to play a short introductory video. As it ends, the walls move back to reveal the showroom. "It's a Disney touch, but it takes a mundane chore and makes it fun," Raftus says.

Clarke also offers post-sale appointments where homeowners learn how to use their new purchases. The firm gives them custom recipe gift packets that highlight features of their new appliances.

As full-service appliance distributors create interactive showrooms that help homeowners understand and choose products, they're branching out into all sorts of areas and services previously unheard of.

Atlanta-based appliance distributor Hadco has showrooms in Atlanta, New York, and Boston. At the 60,000-square-foot showroom in Atlanta, they cook an elaborate dinner for up to 50 homeowners who are in the decision-making stage of a remodel. "If they were buying a $299 oven, they would only be concerned with does it heat up and does it self-clean. But these folks have waited a lifetime to own a high-performance product," says vice president of marketing Barry Cohen. If they understand the product before they buy it, he says, they'll be happier with their purchase.

Hadco and Clarke do not sell directly to consumers -- they refer them to their authorized dealers. Raftus says Clarke trains the dealer salespeople to maintain the same level of service clients get at the showroom.

Now they're cooking

So if they're not selling directly, why do these distributors provide these services? In the past few years, Raftus says, appliances have been driving kitchen design. "Appliances are an appropriate place to begin the project," he says.

Designer Margie Mullin at Barrington Kitchen Design in Barrington, R.I., sends her clients to Clarke and says their showroom reflects the trend of upper-end consumers looking for more luxury products and amenities. Cohen says consumers look to designers to be a resource about the products they see on the Internet and television. It's hard, he says, for designers to keep up with -- let alone display -- the range of products on the market. Raftus says having a trained salesperson educate their clients gives designers peace of mind.

Cohen prefers that designers send clients in with a list of products they need or areas where they have questions. That way, his salespeople are careful not to compromise the designer's vision during the selection process. In their Boston showroom, Hadco installed a conference room with videotapes and samples to give designers private time with their clients.