Two years ago, Phil Callen, co-owner of Callen Construction, in Muskego, Wis., expanded his company's showroom to 2,500 square feet. It now includes five kitchens, eight window displays, several walls for siding, and a gutter replacement demonstration. The first year, the company didn't see much increase in business. This year? “We're definitely seeing it,” Callen says.

For home improvement contractors, a showroom lends credibility to the operation, draws walk-in customers, can help fence-sitters make up their minds, and offers an opportunity to sell add-on products such as furniture. For Miles Wilkins, general manager of The Board Store Home Improvements, in LaCrosse, Wis., the showroom's biggest advantage is that “you can see it, and feel it.”

BRING MATTERS TO A CLOSE For many companies, sales presentations that get stalled over the kitchen table can be brought to a conclusion in the showroom. “If it's a big project — say a whole house of windows — the sales rep will say: ‘Let me put a price together and meet you at the showroom so you can look at the product,'” Callen says. The showroom convinces because it's “real.”

Dennis Schaefer, owner of Creative Wood Products, a deck and sunroom company in Fenton, Mich., says his chances of closing are 60% greater if prospects have been to his showroom beforehand. Creative Wood Products takes the showroom concept straight into retail, stocking 6,000 products including outdoor furniture, heaters (for sunrooms), paints, and stains. Typically the company sells $200,000 or more a year in deck stain. Retail sales now pay for showroom overhead.

SET THE APPOINTMENT It's far from likely that showroom walk-ins are going to be closed then and there. So the object in approaching them is to secure an appointment. At Callen Construction's showroom, a receptionist greets visitors, then phones for a rep. The company requires sales reps to work the showroom for some portion of the week. The best such leads are those where the rep suggests an immediate appointment and follows the prospect home. “I don't know if we've had many of those,” Callen says. More often, it works the other way around: Reps who encounter indecision while presenting will suggest a visit to the showroom. That often results in a buying decision.

Schaefer always suggests a showroom visit. “I say: ‘Would you ever buy a car out of a catalog?' A lot of the decks I sell are more expensive than cars. You need to walk on it to see how it's going to feel.”