Retail Redo


Retail Redo

Wring More Sales Out Of Your Showroom With A Store Makeover
By Phillip M. Perry

If you’re running your own store, you know what the recession’s done to retailing. The troubling reports are everywhere, with big-box behemoths such as Macy’s and Sears reporting dizzying drops in revenue.

Does the ringing of your own cash registers sound like a funeral dirge? If so, you’re likely taking a sharp look at expenses. And maybe this seems like exactly the wrong time for a store renovation. But, a showroom retooling can be just the ticket to get shoppers excited about buying. And that’s what you need to move that moribund merchandise sitting on your floor.

“There are two important things for retailers to keep in mind during this recession,” says David A. Fields, managing director of Ascendant Consulting in Ridgefield, Conn. “One, customers will still buy. You need to take the right steps to capture them. Two, marketing and innovation in your showroom are critical.”

Design For Dollars
“Some retailers hold back from remodeling because it sounds expensive,” says Bob Phibbs, a retail consultant in Long Beach, Calif.

In tough times, everyone recoils from costly investments in glittery fixtures and Space Age track lighting. In fact, he says, the most effective redesign tactics involve subtle but effective changes in what you’ve already got. And that doesn’t cost a dime.

One of the best things you can do, says Phibbs, is reposition your departments.

“Every time you move around your store you create energy,” says Phibbs. “It makes your old stuff look new again.”

Suppose you own a party store with a display of balloons that runs along a long wall at the back of the store. Bring those balloons up front. Maybe wrap the whole display around one corner for an eye-catching effect. And then move the party favors to the back where the balloons were displayed.

Total investment: Zero. Shopper reaction to what looks like a new store interior: Priceless.

Retooling your fixtures also works wonders. Changing the basic shelf pattern can make the entire store look re-engineered. But watch out for extended rows of boring shelves.

“You can’t design a small store like a supermarket with long rows of shelves,” says Tom Shay, a retail consultant in St. Petersburg, Fla. “People will say ‘this is starting to look old.’”

Break up long shelves into shorter sections with highlighted displays. If you run a gift store, for example, spotlight selections of some high-margin merchandise at breaks in the shelving.

Watch out for boring walls, too.

“If you are selling T-shirts, don’t just have wall after wall of them,” says Shay. “I want to see some T-shirts hanging from the ceiling or worn on mannequins. Try posting a display and a spotlight midway [down the wall]. Do anything to break the eye line and interest the customer.”

Front And Center
The smartest redesign of all can be a change in what customers see just inside your front door. The entrance area gets the most customer traffic, so subtle changes that stimulate visual excitement can result in big sales.
Here’s an example. Before he became a retail consultant, Shay got years of experience running hardware and convenience stores in his family’s home town of Ft. Smith, Ark. The stores ranged from 1,200 to 26,000 square feet.

“We always made sure there was something new in the areas just inside the front doors,” he says. “The racks usually stayed the same but the merchandise had to be changed every three days.”

The results were extraordinary. One of Shay’s larger stores had three entrance doors, each providing a high-impact display area of roughly 32 square feet.

“Some months, the 96 square feet of displays in the entrance areas produced 5 percent of all the sales in the 26,000-square-foot store.”

A related idea: Display high-margin impulse items in the area just to the right of the store entrance. Customers usually turn that direction after entering, so change the displays often.

Try using attractive and subtle trimmings to catch the eye at the front of your store. A potted plant just outside your front door with a bright red welcome mat can renew the whole storefront. Unusual accessories, such a train set loaded with items sold in your store, can draw crowds.

Even imaginative displays need to be changed on a regular basis. Shay remembers one gift store with a full-size Superman statue in its window.

“I swear the thing was in the front window seven years,” he says. “Every time I walked by the same phrase went through my mind: Nothing new. Why should I go in there?”

Stop And Shop
Left to their own devices, shoppers will walk quickly through your store as they proceed to their destination department. That’s not good. You want to develop ways to make people stop in their tracks. One idea is to offer information shoppers can use.

“Post little interpretive signs for your expensive items,” suggests consultant Phibbs. “Explain why people would want to use an item; what customers who bought it are saying about it. You can create your own signs in Word on a half sheet of paper and laminate them, then put them in sign holders. This goes a long way in setting yourself apart from your competitors.”

Interpretive signs communicate value. And that appeals to today’s frugal customers who want the most bang for their buck. Remember, though, that in a recession, people will be particularly attuned to the bang—the value. Avoid posting signs that just emphasize the buck—the cut-rate pricing.

“Discounts will only appeal to about 25 percent of the population,” says Phibbs. “Posting ‘four for a dollar’ is like shouting ‘here is more cheap stuff we just bought.’”

The customer’s most likely response is to simply not buy.

You can also get shoppers’ attention by hanging mirrors at eye level behind selected displays. Use a mirror large enough to show your customers’ heads and shoulders.

“Give people an opportunity to look at themselves holding your merchandise,” says Phibbs.

Go further by moving your customers into the action. Mount a wide-screen TV in your showroom and play videos of customers using your products. Get their permission to use their real names and cities. Showcase high-ticket items. A hardware store could feature a $400 sander. An art shop could showcase a premium service such as framing photographs with museum-quality glass.

Create shopping excitement by bringing the Web into your store—and vice versa.

“Suppose you own a party store,” says Phibbs. “Instead of just constructing some balloon arches as other party stores do, why not create a video showing how you go about creating a balloon arch? Then post the video on YouTube and in your store.”

Your Web video can invite people to visit your store. Your store video can invite people to see all of your other YouTube videos on the Web.

Consider soliciting customer videos from your Web site, suggests Phibbs.

“Ask people to share their pictures. Getting a dynamic Web presence that involves the customer keeps you from looking irrelevant. Constantly be thinking: How can I present this in the store using video and bring the same thing onto the Web?”

Freshen Up Your Space
Friends buy from friends. So retool your showroom to be more customer friendly. Here are two ideas.

1. Reduce the size of your sales counter. Many retailers are cutting down their counters to small desks. The more space between a customer and an employee, the less they will build a relationship.

2. Reduce the height of your stacks. People want to see through the store, so avoid displaying merchandise above six feet. “If it’s hard to see the goods, then you have to rethink where and how and at what levels you have your displays,” says Fields.

Freshly painted walls will make your store look new.

“Paint is very inexpensive and makes a huge difference to people walking in your store,” says Shay. “If you go from beige to a color, people will notice. They may not know exactly what has changed, but the new color will catch their eye.”

Shay also suggests adding graphics to your walls.

“Try shapes, stripes, circles or pieces of artwork. Better yet, tie some artwork into your store theme.”
If you operate a dive shop, post pictures of coral and fish on the walls. For a hardware store, consider pictures of power tools, wrenches and hammers. Does your store have high ceilings? Approach a nearby art shop with a cooperative deal.

“Tell the shop ‘I have these high walls; why don’t you display some of your artwork in my store for a few days?’” says Shay. “Then send postcards announcing your temporary art show. That will attract new groups of people you never saw before.”

Turn Up The Lights
Shoppers spend more money in bright stores. So, make your store brighter than the competition’s.

If you rely on banks of fluorescent lights like most retailers, be sure to replace burned out bulbs promptly. And be aware that these bulbs fade after awhile, giving the store a depressed appearance.

“Replacing them makes a huge difference,” says Shay.

But fluorescent bulbs aren’t enough. You must highlight selected high-impact displays.

“Add spotlights over corners and wherever you want customers to stop and look,” says Phibbs. “Visit a specialty light store to get ideas. Even little desk lights can be used to create small areas of discovery.”

One more note: The new energy-efficient fluorescent bulbs provide less light than their traditional counterparts. All the more reason for strategically placed spotlights that highlight your best displays and make your whole showroom pop.

Spend Wisely
In the current recession most retailers are questioning every expense. That means taking extra care
as you decide where to spend your display dollars.

Smart store redesign in a recession is more about subtle change than major overhaul.

“Right now a retailer has to decide where to put the dollars—it’s all about cash flow,” says Fields. “Most retailers have reasonably effective store design. The trick is to make those innovative design changes that will stimulate marginal purchases.”

If your store is shoddy or out of date, then you need to give it extra attention. More likely, though, your showroom just needs a few tweaks that inspire shoppers to open up their wallets. 


A resident of New York City, veteran business writer Phillip M. Perry is developing new ways to provide value in these recessionary times. 

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