SEMA News - October 2010

Setups That Draw Customers and Promote Sales

By Steve Campbell

This series of SEMA News stories is based on the idea of using reliable and repeatable methods to ensure business success. In coming issues, we will delve into a range of topics aimed at developing Best Practices through knowledge, motivation and skills.  

  Signage should be hung high whenever possible to allow maximum view from throughout the store. Signs should also be produced in a clear, simple font for easy reading. 
Retail stores should be well-organized and use clear, easily understood signage so that shoppers can find the products they are looking for while also being led to special offers and promotional items. But unless you have vast experience in the design of retail spaces, it’s undoubtedly best to work with a consultant in setting up your store for maximum accessibility and the resultant sales.  Just as you would hire an architect to design a building—relying on the professional’s expertise in not only planning and structural engineering, but also materials, colors and textures—so too should all but the most experienced retailer seek the services of a display consultant. At the same time, everyone involved with the store should be involved in its design, observing some basic tenets that are used in every efficient layout.

“All employees should work as a team to set-up and fully understand the dynamics of the space,” said Mike Staples, president and owner of Naythons Display. “From time to time, employee meetings should also be held to see what is working and what needs improvement.”

High on the list of best practices is determining the focus, qualities and brand distinction of the store. Decide what makes it unique, better or different from the competition. These characteristics can be carried through in the creation of the displays.

“Enticing customers to buy is a multileveled task,” said Tony Camilletti, executive vice president of Design Fabrications. “Customers need to have confidence in a store’s quality, value and proficiency. Decide what first impression the owner wants to give his or her customers. The best prices? The best service? The cleanest store? The most knowledgeable people? Determine what the brand stands for.”

Once the desired characteristics have been decided upon, the physical qualities of the displays should be based on those criteria. Customers must begin to understand the store’s value proposition—why they should make a purchase or use the store’s services—as soon as they come into view of the first sign or window.

There are a couple of different approaches to window displays. Camilletti believes that window displays are the “billboard”
of a retail store, and the goal is to capture the attention of a passer-by. If you can’t understand what the window display is trying to tell you during a two-second blink, he said, it needs to be simplified and made more impactful.

Staples also touted the importance of the front window, but his emphasis is on allowing potential customers a clear view of what’s inside. “Upfront product displays or promotional signage can block the interior of the store and cause visual confusion,” he said. “Instead, I suggest using five- or six-foot grid panels set back inside the store roughly five feet from the window and installing halogen fixtures inside the store above the window. That way, store fixtures can be displayed in bulk. The potential customer can walk in and shop off the racks, and the rest of the store and categories are clearly visible.

It’s also a good idea to leave some lights on at the rear of the store. They’re good for nighttime window-shopping and, more importantly, give local law enforcement a good view of the store.”


Endcap displays off a central aisle can be used not only to promote sale or specialty items but also to lead customers to similar products in the perpendicular aisles. Ambient lighting, usually from florescent fixtures, should provide broad, even illumination.   

Bob Radcliffe Jr., president of Display Dynamics Inc., echoed Camilletti’s point about the brief opportunity a store has to capture attention. “Potential customers are frequently moving briskly outside of a store,” he said, “and this means that copy and signage should use strong, iconic imagery that can be easily digested. The featured products should be those that are popular and unique to your store.”

Radcliffe also suggested that, except in the smallest of retail spaces, there should be a “decompression zone” as customers enter the store—a place where you’re not trying to sell goods or services but are instead allowing customers to acclimate to the inside of the store as they come in from the heat or noise or other distractions outside.

“There is nothing better to slow people down and get them adjusted to a shopping environment than face-to-face interaction,” he said, “even if it’s just the counterperson saying hello when the customer enters. But it needs to be appropriate for the environment. If yours is a store where customers are hurrying in and out, where they’re driven to get to a particular part of the store, you don’t want to distract them from their mission.”

In that instance, said Camilletti, some stores have begun to build brand loyalty and appreciation among rushed shoppers by placing such “destination products” near the front entrance for easy access. If harried customers aren’t a problem, however, the store’s floorplan and signage should promote bringing them farther in and pointing them toward specific areas where special offers and sale items are located.

“High-demand and replenishment products are typically positioned toward the rear of a store to encourage customers to browse through more merchandise on their way to getting what they want,” Camilletti said. “But if a product is on sale or is part of a promotion, celebrate it with an endcap display or a prominent palette near the entrance. Guiding customers to destination areas within a store is easily accomplished with creative use of interior décor, graphics and other signing elements to create attention and focus on desired product displays.”

Merchants should be aware of the items that are most-often purchased and central to their value proposition, Radcliffe said, and those items should be promoted with coupons and specials. “Clear graphics and signage should be posted throughout the store for easy shopper navigation, usually by aisle,” he advised. “If there are items that require assistance because they are complicated or SKU intensive, they should be positioned near a register or a customer-service staff member.”

In larger stores, Radcliffe said, the most popular floor plan is called the “racetrack,” which is characterized by a large central aisle that circles the store. Perpendicular aisles that branch off the racetrack provide end caps for promotional and new-product merchandising, and those products should reflect the category of products that are found down that particular aisle.

  Slatgrid wire floor racks accommodate shelves, hooks, baskets and dozens of other display hardware, making them extremely versatile. The hardware is also compatible with slatwall, which allows the dealer to easily re-merchandise walls and floors.
“Small retailers probably won’t use a racetrack because it takes quite a bit of square footage,” he said. “If you owned a smaller store, you might use an aisle of shelving perpendicular to the entrance and well below ceiling height—such as in Bed, Bath & Beyond. The shelving is about four or five feet tall so that customers can see farther into the store as they enter, and it is stocked with featured items.”

Signage also plays a crucial role in guiding customers through the store. Camilletti said that effective floor displays need to be signed with an explanation of the nature of the display (promotional, sale, clearance, close-out, new introduction, etc.), the unique benefits or features of the product and the price. These types of floor displays should not require customer assistance from service personnel.

Staples recommended steel shelving for floor displays, especially for heavier merchandise on shelves and for blister-packed goods on peg hooks. “Many dealers are unaware that steel shelving can be special ordered in custom finishes such as black, gray, red or other colors,” he said. “And slatgrid floor racks are another good alternative. They are wire racks that accommodate shelves, hooks, baskets and dozens of other display hardware, making them extremely versatile. But the most important feature of this type of rack is that the hardware is compatible with the wall-mounted slatwall, which allows the dealer to easily re-merchandise walls and floors. And speaking of merchandising, don’t stock product directly on the floor. Use an endcap or a skid. And don’t under-stock or leave shelves partially empty because that indicates a lack of merchandising momentum. If necessary, mitigate this issue by reducing the number of racks and opening up the aisles.”

Slatwall is normally used for perimeter wall displays, Staples said. It comes in a variety of finishes or can be ordered raw and painted as desired. It can also be ordered with aluminum inserts for increased strength and a better look. Steel slatwall, a frequent upgrade over wood, may be particularly useful in an automotive environment.

“The swirl finish on steel is the most popular,” Staples said, “but slatwall should not be used for the entire wall. It’s best to break it up here and there with another system, such as wall-mounted steel shelving. Slatwall connector extrusions can also be used to create angled protrusions. This is a good way to organize brands or categories.”

Camilletti also recommended taking advantage of height on walls when possible. “Try to create a wall display that is visible from a distance and that will draw an inquisitive shopper,” he said. “Use merchandise with brighter, distinctive colors or finishes near the top or at eye level, working with darker colors toward the lower levels. Also consider the use of blade signs that protrude perpendicularly from the wall, attaching to the fixture shelving.”

Staples recommended that most signage also be hung high so that it is visible from various areas of the floor, and he advised using a plain font that is easy to read. Be careful, too, that hanging signs are heavy enough not to sway easily, which could set off motion detectors after hours.

Stores should focus on four levels of interior graphics and signage, Camilletti said. The first might include graphic elements that express the character or brand identity of the store or tell something about the company’s history, legacy or founders.
“These elements typically fill the perimeter wall space above the fixtures or hang in areas that don’t interfere with merchandise displays,” he said.

  This slatgrid pinwheel free-standing rack is mounted on casters, allowing it to be repositioned for even greater versatility. The hardware can be swapped out with the other grid and slat systems. 
Next are the directional or way-finding signs that help customers find the location of general destination areas, departments or services from the instant they enter the store. “These signs are typically mounted to walls directly above perimeter fixtures and hang throughout the store,” he said.

Subcategory and informational signs drill into the details of product categories within a department and provide information about the products, such as descriptions, benefits, unique qualities and pricing. “These signs typically are attached to the top and shelf edges of inline fixtures and endcaps,” he explained.

And, finally, temporary promotional signs should be used to announce special promotions, sales, events and seasonal themes.

Radcliffe pointed out that consumers consider good retailers to be “trusted advisors” who will introduce them to the latest products and services. He said that they also count on favorite stores to provide project merchandising, where retailers bring complementary products together in a featured area and, incidentally, inspire incremental sales. For instance, an oil change display might include protective floor mats, funnels and a selection of oils along with cleaning rags, filter wrenches or other accessories needed for the project.

Lighting can also be used to showcase specific products and should include plenty of ambient or overall lighting to ensure that customers are able to read labels and packaging.

“Ambient lighting is typically provided by florescent lamps that illuminate the whole retail space,” Staples said. “Accent lighting is usually halogen lamps used to illuminate specific products or brands. Most retail spaces are offered with inexpensive fluorescent lighting, but try to negotiate energy-saving cool white fluorescent bulbs. Also, the diffusers—the panels covering the bulbs—will probably be an inexpensive dimple design that simply disperses lighting randomly. Try working six-inch parabolic diffusers into your budget—the ones with the six-inch squares that allow the lighting to shine directly down on the merchandise.”

Camilletti also included “task lighting” in his list of must-haves. These are lamps placed over the checkout and service areas or counters to ensure adequate lighting for customers and service personnel during a transaction or consultation. He recommended consulting with a local electrical engineer or lighting specialist to discuss the specific needs of any store environment, including desired energy consumption and budget.

Radcliffe added another type of “consultation” for retail store owners: visiting the competition. “Leave your store and walk into your competitor’s store with an objective eye,” he suggested. “Spend time looking around. Compare your competitor’s operation to your own—and do it objectively! Go with a checklist of things you’d like to improve on. You’ll usually find that your competitors are doing something well, which is what keeps them in business. They’ve got some relationship to their customers that works. You need to uncover that.”

He added that polling and rewarding customers can also provide great insights on ways to improve your business. “If you notice customers who have been in your store a few times, ask them to take a brief survey or answer a checklist of four or five questions,” he suggested. “Offer them a 5% or 10% coupon on their next purchase or a free popular product. People love to be asked what they think. Suddenly, they feel like they matter. It also makes the relationship more personal.”
Above all else, keep your store contemporary, Staples counseled. Change your display layout as merchandise changes. Put dead products on sale; don’t let them sit on the shelf. “Give your store a new look by moving displays into different positions or purchasing some inexpensive grids or other displays to provide a look of renovation,” he said.

Proper product display is the lifeblood of a retail store. Organization and attention to detail are what make the cash register ring. 

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