SEMA News—July 2012

By Mike Imlay

Winning POP Displays

Breaking Down the Basics

  Aftermarket Business, Automotive Business, Car Stereo Retailers, Off Road Retailers
MacNeil Automotive Products won the 2011 SEMA Show New Product Award for its TechFloor retail display. Giving consumers an immediate, intuitive experience of product is vital to POP success.
We’ve all seen them—on the showroom floor, on the retail shelves, at parts counters. Point-of-purchase (POP) and related merchandising displays compete for our attention daily. But do they really work? How are they created? And why should manufacturers consider adding POP/merchandising displays to their marketing mixes?

“They’re the last three feet of closing a sale,” said Jim Redfield, CEO of Griffin Chase Oliver Inc., a specialist in merchandising display production. “That’s the bottom line.”

Founded in 1978, Griffin Chase Oliver sees itself as a “hired gun” for manufacturers who are looking to create sophisticated displays but know they don’t have the expertise to produce them. In short, the company orchestrates complicated display production from concept all the way to fulfillment, engaging outside designers, fabricators and other vendors as required for each project and working closely with manufacturers through every phase of development, including budgeting, timeline management and test runs.

“You can do all the advertising you want in print or broadcast or normal media, but the best they can do is get a customer into a store where the products you’re touting are being sold,” said Redfield. “Once a customer is in the store, though, they’re at the mercy of whatever promotion there is most attractive.

“If I see heavy advertising for Product A, and it’s enough to take me from here to Pep Boys or wherever, and I get into the store looking for Product A but adjacent to it is Product B [with] a nice-looking display that touts all of the benefits of that product, at that point I have a decision to make. If the job has been done right for Product B in terms of messaging, I’m going to buy Product B. The irony is that Product A spent $50,000 last month, let’s say, to put ads in all of the relevant media to attract people to the store, and Product B leeched right off that.”

In other words, Redfield believes that if a manufacturer is going to put money into promoting a product at retail, the best place to put it is in a POP/merchandising display. Once you’ve produced a display and wrestled enough room on the retail shelf or floor to put it up, it sells for you like a billboard next to the freeway, Redfield concluded.

“You don’t have to further invest in that display,” he said. “It’s there and selling for you until hell freezes over.”

Jason Hutchens, marketing director at UnderCover Inc., a leading manufacturer of truck bed covers, is also a true believer in the power of POP/merchandising displays. He says that his company spends approximately half its marketing budget on them.

“We place more value in displays and really supporting the hard retail stores than any other type of marketing we do,” he explained.

From Elaborate to Simple

  Aftermarket Business, Automotive Business, Car Stereo Retailers, Off Road Retailers
UnderCover’s Lux tonneau cover display incorporates an actual working model of the product in miniature, along with pertinent literature to create true consumer interaction.
To that end, UnderCover recently completed production of an elaborate merchandising display showcasing its Lux line of tonneau covers. The display features a half-scale working tonneau—a direct representation of the fullsize unit that customers would buy, down to the materials, hardware, shocks and LED lighting. That part of the display was built in-house using the same manufacturing procedures employed for the real product.

Similarly, the display’s framework was partially fabricated in-house, while the print work was outsourced. The completed project allows retail customers to operate the model cover to see what it will do for their trucks.

“I think one of the biggest things is having a product that the consumer can touch and feel—that’s representative of what they’re actually going to get—and a good, powerful graphic to grab their attention and draw them into it,” said Hutchens.

Shannon Price, account manager for Empire Packaging and Displays, a leading manufacturer of corrugated cardboard POP/merchandising displays, agrees that getting consumers to directly experience a product is the principal goal. She explained that effective POP/merchandising displays both complement and work with product packaging to attract customers.

“The average consumer is an impulse buyer,” she said. “If your packaging is more eye-catching, it is more likely to be picked up. Once it’s in their hands, it’s more likely to go into their basket than not.”

Price said that her company takes a variety of factors into consideration in creating the perfect POP/merchandising display. How eye-catching is the display versus the packaging? Is the packaging attractive? How consumer-friendly is the display? Where in the store will the display be located? All of these things will have an effect on enticing consumers to touch, feel or otherwise experience the product being showcased.

In that regard, Price said that simple displays composed of less elaborate materials such as corrugated cardboard can be highly effective. In fact, cardboard displays hold a number of advantages. Often less expensive, they can be produced much more quickly than metal or plastic displays. Plus they weigh less for shipping and can be more easily disposed of or recycled at the end of a campaign. However, said Price, you don’t want just a throwaway display.

“You want a lot of use out of that display,” she said. “A lot of people think corrugated displays are for one-time use. They’re not. They’re sustainable. They’re not as sturdy as metal or plastic displays, but they can be built very sturdy, where they can last through several uses.”

The Production Process

  Aftermarket Business, Automotive Business, Car Stereo Retailers, Off Road Retailers
Runner-up for best new merchandising display at the 2010 SEMA Show, Husky Liners’ Husky Mud Guard POP display exhibits clear messaging through branding, product description and photos.
POP/merchandising displays come in all shapes and sizes. They can be countertop items that simply hold a product sample or perhaps some literature. Or they may be designed to colorfully organize and showcase product on existing store shelves. Finally, there is the freestanding variety that models product or actually serves as a merchandising rack. Whatever the finished result, however, the design and production process is essentially the same.

“First we would sit down with our structural designers and have your product in front of us,” said Price. “We would ask you what retailers you want to go into—whether those retailers require any sort of footprint that would take up the space that they allow in the retail store, whether it be counter or floor display. Then from there, we basically design the display fitting your specific product based on the footprint information that the retailer has provided and the capacity which you want your product on the display.”

Once the display is designed, Empire fabricates it in-house. In fact, the company has recently made heavy investments in equipment to further develop both its retail packaging and POP display capabilities, especially in high-quality lithography and lamination. Although primarily a corrugated manufacturer, if a display incorporates other plastic components such as clips or hooks, Empire can provide those as well.

“Your average counter to floor display production run is usually around the 500-quantity mark,” said Price. “Anything lower than that, you’d go digital and cut it out on a sample table, because the tooling and printing costs involved for anything smaller are just not cost-inducive to actually do a manufacturing run because you’re paying so much in setup. Obviously, the more you order, the lower your per-unit cost is. The pricing really varies on the actual size of the display, the material costs and the graphics. We also have graphic artists on staff to help with the branding, from adding your logo to any other branding issues that affect your display.”

Best Practices:
Five Tips for a Winning POP Display 
  • Scrutinize Your Competition: What tactics do your rivals use in their displays? How effective are they? Brainstorm your own innovative solutions to beat (not copy) them at their game.
  • Know Your Consumers: Employ market research to identify your typical customer’s interests and buying habits. Craft your POP display as you would any other marketing endeavor to play to your demographic.
  • Inform Your Audience: Be more than eye-catching. Incorporate useful consumer information into the display through brochures and literature, video screens or other interactive features.
  • Integrate Your Brand: An effective POP display enhances product packaging, graphics and logos, and vice versa. Your product should contribute to the overall merchandising display as much as the display showcases your product.
  • Maintain Your Consistency: Be creative, but avoid the temptation to roll out differing displays or POP campaigns at various locations all at once. Doing so only dilutes your brand.
The creative process is similar at Griffin Chase Oliver, although the company doesn’t actually design and fabricate the displays in-house but rather hires jobs out to appropriate vendors.

“We use freelancers of various sorts with various sets of expertise,” explained Redfield, who acts as the creative director for most endeavors. “We call them Mission Impossible teams. We put them together to fit the project.”

Moreover, Griffin Chase Oliver deals in only semi-permanent to permanent POP/merchandising displays made of plastic, metal, wood, fiberglass and similar materials.

“The bottom line is that our displays are intended to be placed in a store and remain there for a year, two years or three years—and you’ve only spent on that display one time,” said Redfield.

Branding a Winner

Whether produced in-house or outsourced; whether large, small, plastic, metal, cardboard, permanent or semi-permanent; messaging is paramount to successful POP/merchandising displays, just as with other forms of marketing.

“POP displays must be creative and eye-catching and should give a clear message to someone passing by,” emphasized Michelle St. Myers, marketing manager for Flex-a-lite, which recently won 2011 SEMA Show New Product Award runner-up recognition for its Flex-a-Chill POP counter display. “Customizing your display to represent your company and services is critical to your success.”

Flex-a-lite designed and produced its award-winning display in-house. Simplicity was key to the brand’s messaging.

“We were looking for something that wasn’t going to take up a lot of room on a counter or shelf—something that was clean and attractive to the customer,” explained St. Myers.

Redfield also emphasized that messaging is going to make or break the sale.

“The whole objective is to get somebody who’s in the store to notice your product—which isn’t easy to do if it’s a small product,” he said. “There’s a lot of noise in stores. You want to be able to intrigue and attract people to your display, either because the product is incredible or, if the product is somewhat uninteresting to look at, there’s still magic there that can be conveyed to a possible buyer. A display is called into service to do that.”
  Aftermarket Business, Automotive Business, Car Stereo Retailers, Off Road Retailers
ARP’s Ultra Torque counter display—winner of best new merchandising display recognition at the 2010 SEMA Show—delivers consumer benefits quickly, clearly and succinctly.
A good display has to attract people first from a distance, Redfield advised.

“It has to work at 30 feet, 15 feet, 10 feet,” he said. “You’ve got to have something attractive enough that if somebody comes into the store to buy a product that has nothing to do with what you’re selling, they’re intrigued enough visually by the eye candy on your display to look at it. From that same distance, now that you’ve got them glancing at the display, there has to be messaging going on to intrigue them further and bring them closer. The whole objective is to get them within 3 feet of the display, where you can really tell them what your product is all about.”

Redfield further believes that the messaging should ideally convey a product’s consumer benefit in just three or four words.

In addition to marketing and branding, Price said that POP/merchandising displays should literally avoid empty promises. In other words, they must remain stocked and graphically appealing even as product is taken from them.

“Positioning within the display is very important,” she said. “I think that if your product moves really fast, you want to make sure that your display is semi-sustainable so that a retailer can keep filling it with product.”

UnderCover’s Hutchens added that the display should also include a place for literature, which helps reinforce the display’s messaging and gives customers who may not be ready to buy some form of takeaway.

The Retail Angle

Finally, POP/merchandising displays should be designed for minimal assembly or positioning effort from the retailer.

“You have to understand the culture of the kind of stores in which the display is being asked to operate,” explained Redfield, and Hutchens said that understanding how space must be used is also critical.

“Retailers really struggle for space in their stores so much of the time, so trying to allocate enough for all the different product lines that they want to show can be a difficult feat,” he said. In fact, Hutchens advises retailers to consider that sometimes less is more in a smaller arena.

“Picking the products that really support you and give you the biggest portion of your sales is important, as is not letting displays go stagnant,” he said. “If you put something in and don’t start seeing sales in X amount of time, pull it out. Don’t just let things sit there and not sell product for you.”

  Aftermarket Business, Automotive Business, Car Stereo Retailers, Off Road Retailers
ARP’s Ultra Torque counter display—winner of best new merchandising display recognition at the 2010 SEMA Show—delivers consumer benefits quickly, clearly and succinctly.
For Redfield, the same principles that apply to POP/merchandising displays in other retail environments also apply to automotive specialty-equipment businesses. Although the size, shape and special nature of certain parts can require some innovation in how the product is showcased and secured safely to the display, he said that solving those types of problems is not unique.

“The consumer doesn’t care whether he’s in a store for automotive products or a grocery store,” he said. “The bottom line is that he’s a consumer coming into the store with money in his pocket and a predisposition to buy something.”

And, with the proper design and execution, your company’s POP/merchandising display can sell it to him.

Designed by Flex-a-lite to be clean and attractive for a small space, this Flex-a-Chill countertop display won runner-up New Product Award honors at the 2011 SEMA Show.

Showcasing Your Display at the SEMA Show

Got a winning merchandising display? Why not have it vie for top honors at the annual SEMA Show? POP/merchandising displays comprise one of the SEMA Show’s many New Product Award categories in the Ideas Alive: Featuring the New Products Showcase section.

Defined as new displays that physically show or hold actual merchandise, entries can include counter cards, gondolas, life-size stand-ups, free-standing trays or other rack variations. Judging is based on innovativeness, availability or cost, space efficiency, consumer appeal, quality and workmanship.

SEMA Show exhibitors wishing to enter their POP/merchandising displays in the New Product Award competition should go to, where they will find the appropriate entry information and form.

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