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You Have Got To Try Google SketchUp

August 4, 2010
Among many benefits of being an ICFA member are its webinars. Topics range widely and you never have to leave the comfort of your office to participate. The most recent one taught how to design an outdoor living room using Google Sketch-up. Paul Nigon with The Great Outdoor Room Company  moderated the seminar. He did a great job. He calls himself a “regular guy with no graphics or engineering background.” Well, you couldn’t tell that during his presentation because he was able to make using a 3D layout program look simple and easy something only a pro can do.

The webinar was the best two hours I have invested in a long time. We have been doing room layouts for customers for years. Paul showed us a way to do it using Google SketchUp, a product that is not only free, it is also intuitive and fun to use. You can find and download the free application at Google. In my humble opinion, this product is so capable it shouldn’t be free. More important, with all of the free training available from Google for SketchUp everyone can easily learn the program.

Basically, SketchUp is a 3D modeling program. A modeling program is usually used to create 3D models of furniture, cars, houses, or anything else that can be made. However, Paul showed us how to use it to layout an outdoor room all the way from drawing out the patio area to putting in furniture, accessories, and even shadows.

In the course of the webinar, Paul created a basic patio shape and then started dragging 3D versions of his company’s products onto the patio. By the time he had finished he had furnished the patio with a pergola, an outdoor kitchen, and a chat group including a firepit and loveseat group. He then panned around the room so we could see it from a variety of angles. He even changed the time of day so that we could see where the shadows would fall in the morning, afternoon, and early evening. It made it very easy for the consumer to visualize what they were about to buy in their own backyard.

Outdoor RoomOutdoor Room Designed by Paul Nigon of The Great Outdoor Room Company using Google SketchUp

Paul and his lead production manager of outdoor kitchens used SketchUp to create 3D models of their entire product line. It took them anywhere from two to eight hours to develop each component (SketchUp calls models “components). They make these components available to anyone for free on their web site. You or your client can download them to create their own dream outdoor room. Just the exposure they get from making these models available to the public makes the whole project worthwhile to Paul and The Great Outdoor Room Company.

Paul says that offering these models as another tool for retail partners to use in their sales efforts adds value to their brand. Plus, his company uses the models and the layout features of SketchUp to design layouts for photo shoots, showrooms for their retailers, and trade show booths. They also create concept designs of new products, which can shorten the time from design to production considerably.

Another feature that Paul showed was fascinating to all of us. Google has created a “Warehouse” of models that anyone can use for free in layouts they create. You can access this warehouse directly through SketchUp or through any web browser. Once at the warehouse, you can search for an item, such as a chaise lounge, and hundreds of models come up which can suit anyone’s taste or pocketbook. You can then download them into your layout. This way you don’t need to have the knowhow or spend the time creating new models.

Creating 3D layouts for our clients is the wave of the future. If you aren’t doing it now, I guarantee your competitors are and you are going to lose clients to them. I think it is a matter of time before other manufacturers become as enlightened as The Great Outdoor Room and realize how a portfolio of 3D models of their product line can add to the value their brand. Imagine how nice it would be to be able to create a 3D model of your client’s outdoor room filled with furniture from any vendor you represent. Pretty impressive and something we specialty retailers need to be able to do.

You can contact Paul by email at or by phone at 1.866.303.4028. I would also like to thank ICFA and Joe Logan for putting together this and other webinars. It sure does add to the value of my annual ICFA membership fee.

Yours in confused retailing, Bruce