SEMA News—December 2012
By Mike Imlay
Need a Store Makeover?
These Design and Fixture Suppliers Can Help
Like many retailers, you may have been tightening your belt against a sluggish economy for the last few years while striving to improve your social media and Internet marketing. But in doing so, have you neglected your aftermarket business’s most important asset? Look around you. How does your retail space stack up against the competition, especially the chain auto parts or big-box superstore down the street?
Yes, even in this day and age, bricks and mortar still matter. In fact, according to retail experts, a timely reinvestment in your shop’s displays, fixtures and overall environment could actually give you the critical edge you need in the current economic climate.
“We’re seeing little bits and pieces of light at the end of the tunnel, and now we know it’s not another train,” said Brion Coyne, president of Aftermarket Advantage Inc., a full-service retail design consultancy and store fixture supplier for the specialty-equipment industry. “I think we’ve all been knocked around and over the last four years. Now that we can see that things are starting to come back, people are loosening up on the death grips they have on their money. The guy who decides to clean up his store a little bit, add some new lighting, maybe get a new service desk and add some graphics and paint, will be the one getting their recurring business.”
Nowadays, with consumers doing so much of their shopping via the Internet and smartphones, Coyne said that a retailer needs to pull them into his store through effective marketing and advertising and then retain them with an attractive shopping environment filled with neatly arranged products and samples that they can see, touch and experience, along with appropriate information or brochures.
In other words, said Coyne, “What’s going to keep customers in the store is effective merchandizing and store fixtures. If you don’t have the sizzle, you don’t have the steak, particularly with the younger people. Tangible, physical displays are what make a brick-and-mortar store successful.”
A store design consultant since 1998, Coyne has assisted in the makeover of countless aftermarket outlets of every size.
“We’ve done some pretty spectacular showrooms,” he said. “What we try to do is convince the independent jobber or specialty store operator that showrooms are just as important as what goes on in the back room.”
Still, the bulk of Aftermarket Advantage’s business is the sales of fixtures and furnishings designed to meet any retailer’s budget. Coyne said that such items are all too often among the last things that a new retailer will consider.
“Unfortunately, after everything else is purchased, then I get the frantic, last-minute call from store owners looking for something to put their merchandise on,” he observed.
Recently, though, Coyne has seen a spate of established store owners investing in remodels. For those watching their wallets, he recommended concentrating on perimeter walling, lighting, signage and graphics. Metallic walling that’s reflective combined with inexpensive track lighting can help eliminate dark spots and highlight key products and displays. Well-placed video screens offering marketing-related content are further additions that can engage customers. For shop owners who want more, Aftermarket Advantage also offers every sort of store fixture imaginable, from merchandizing displays to sales counters.
Steven DiOrio, marketing manager for Handy Store Fixtures, agreed that now is a good time for business owners to reevaluate their store design and consider a makeover.
“We know it’s expensive to buy new fixtures, but customers don’t want to go into a store that’s old looking or outdated,” explained DiOrio. “In their mindset, they might feel the products are old and outdated. Looking over the course of a year, the price of fixtures is a very important investment for a lot of retailers.”
Established in 1952, Handy Store Fixtures remains a leading family-based manufacturer of store fixtures with several subsidiaries nationwide.
“We’ve worked with a lot of automotive stores over the last 50 years and manufacture a lot of shelving items just for the industry,” said DiOrio. “What we try to explain to people is that every single store—especially a small, independent store or smaller chain store—can customize its fixtures, play around with color and really brand itself so that when someone walks in, they know they’re in a specific retail outlet. This advice has made a difference to a lot of our customers.”
Handy Store Fixtures makes and sells all of the characteristic gondola shelving, end caps and wall units that typical automotive aftermarket retailers normally need, plus specialty products, such as displays for oil products, batteries and tires. The company also offers customized service and checkout counters.
“We have sales reps who have been doing this for more than 30 years and know what the customer needs,” said DiOrio. “They don’t like to steer customers in the wrong direction, and our customers appreciate that. We save them money.”
He added that a common error among retailers is ordering more shelving than they actually require.
“A lot of automotive parts are peg-able,” he pointed out. “It costs much less to buy, say, 200 peg hooks than three extra shelves.”
DiOrio also suggested that customers mix and match shelving and furnishings to make a distinctive impact in their showrooms. For example, black shelving stands out nicely against white pegboard, and different color schemes offer a practical way to distinguish different sectors of a shop.
“You can play around at no extra cost, and it really makes a difference,” he noted.
New Versus Used
If new store furnishings seem cost prohibitive, a retailer might find quality used fixtures a viable alternative, said Kaytlyn Smith, store manager for Store Fixture Supercenter. Based in Flint, Michigan, the company offers a plethora of store essentials for new and established businesses, including shelving, flat wall, grid wall, counters, display cases, hangers, clothing racks, LED signs and pricing guns. While offering new products, however, Store Fixture Supercenter specializes in used and refurbished items, much of which comes from store liquidations.
“We’ve got basically anything,” Smith said. “If a store closes down, they’ll contact us, and we’ll sell a lot of their stuff onsite. Whatever we don’t sell, we bring back to our store.”
Smith said that her company’s offerings can be customized to a purchaser’s specifications for color and design. In fact, Store Fixture Supercenter goes a step further than many suppliers of used retail fixtures and furnishings by sprucing up its acquisitions and repairing any significant flaws.
“We’ll also repaint fixtures according to a customer’s request,” said Smith. “If they want a certain color and we don’t have it, we go ahead and professionally repaint in whatever color they want.”
Smith noted that used products can actually slice fixture costs in half.
“Obviously, new is going to be a little bit better quality because there won’t be any type of damage coming straight from the manufacturer as you order it,” she said. “However, the used fixtures aren’t junk. They do look nice, and they’re definitely a lot more cost effective. We are selective when it comes to buying fixtures. If it’s dented and all scratched up and something we can’t do anything with, we won’t take it. We try to get the best quality we can for our customers.”
According to Smith, gondola shelving is among the company’s best sellers to automotive retailers because of its ability to hold heavy items. Regardless, customers can specify any types of used fixtures they want. Normally, Store Fixture Supercenter will have the items in its inventory. If it doesn’t, it will go out and find them for the purchaser. Fulfillment can take anywhere from two days to two weeks, depending upon the order.
When investigating liquidated and used fixtures, Smith recommended that retailers search for brand names, just as they would if buying new. Also, it’s important to research a dealer’s reputation. Unfortunately, some used furnishing suppliers are known to throw together orders in which fixtures are severely damaged, hastily assembled or otherwise mismatched in color or quality.
A Distinctive Look
Experts in store design agree that a retail outlet’s look and feel should be an exercise in branding. Retailers in search of an especially distinctive atmosphere might consider specialty furnishings, such as those offered by Intro-Tech Automotive. Three years ago, the SEMA-member company launched its unique PitStop line of furniture designed to bring a performance flair to automotive aftermarket dealerships and offices.
“The first item was a racing-inspired office chair with a tire-embossed armrest, a real billet-aluminum shift knob on the side, ABS coil-over springs, a caliper kit with a rotor, and five-spoke wheels on the bottom of the chair,” said Jons Van Dooren, Intro-Tech Automotive vice president of marketing and sales. “We really gave it a lot of accents for the automotive enthusiast.”
Introduced at the 2009 SEMA Show, the chair was so well received that the company has added new items to the line each year since.
“From the chair, we designed a glass-top office desk with a spoiler inbox, a 50-in. power strut bar, real shocks on the legs, lockable five-spoke wheels and braided hoses incorporating steel rods to generate lateral control,” said Van Dooren, adding that receiver chairs are also now available. He further noted that all of the furnishings are designed as much for strength and durability as appearance. Where most chairs sold by office superchains are rated for 260 to 280 lbs. of weight, Intro-Tech’s PitStop line of chairs has a capacity in excess of 300 lbs.
“That puts it in a league by itself,” asserted Van Dooren, who went on to explain that all PitStop furnishings come with a lifetime warranty. “If any part at any given time goes bad, we’ll replace it for free.”
Moreover, the PitStop line is priced competitively against other, more traditional high-end office furnishings. For instance, the Grand Prix desk chair retails for about $465.
Handy Store Fixtures
Store Fixture Supercenter
Zarwell and Company
Van Dooren sees the furnishings as easily fitting into any automotive aftermarket retail environment and adding character to service and sales desks as well as customer waiting areas in parts departments:
“About three months ago, we furnished an entire BMW MINI Cooper store in Cincinnati with our PitStop line,” he said. “Every service area, every service writer, every salesman now has a PitStop chair, desk and two of our receiver chairs. We’re doing something similar for several locations, including a client in Florida who’s now thinking of outfitting several of his franchises with our racing-inspired furniture. It’s different than Office Depot or Staples furniture—the PitStop line creates an automotive vibe. All the parts relate to automotive enthusiasm.”
And the line continues to expand. At the SEMA Show, the company introduced tables to coordinate with the receiver chairs. There are plans in the works to add showcase displays as well.
While store owners can certainly take the do-it-yourself route to updating their showrooms, those ready to invest in a truly thorough makeover might consider the services provided by an expert retail consultant such as Coyne, who has an extensive background in automotive retailing as a merchandizing specialist, buyer, advertising manager and salesman.
“I got heavily involved working with independent retailers and jobbers,” he recalled. “I recognized the fact that they were truly experts and craftsmen at what they did with vehicles, but they often needed help in putting a showroom together.”
No matter the budget, Aftermarket Advantage will work with retailers to revamp their showroom design for maximum impact on customers.
“You have to make your store a combination of excitement, self service and information,” he said, adding that he helps his clients achieve a clean, enticing environment that invites customers to “do the lap” through their stores. He emphasizes such often-overlooked details as the use of perimeter walling to lead clientele to the back of a store as well as the proper positioning of point-of-purchase displays and shelving and locating sales or service counters at the center or rear of an outlet. He also teaches retailers the ideal way to showcase and build displays for new products, which he said should always be prominently displayed
Based in Rocklin, California, Steve Zarwell heads Zarwell and Company, another retail consultancy firm specializing in powersports and off-roading outlets.
“Essentially, I’m hired to come in and assess a complete store or dealership operation, which encompasses everything from leases to expenses to the appearance of the building inside and out,” Zarwell said. “What does your floor look like? Your service department? Your bathrooms? I look at all the integral parts of what goes on within all four walls of the operation as well as what a retailer is doing outside those four walls to bring in business on a constant basis.”
Like Coyne, Zarwell also has a broad background in the retail business, having owned several stores himself over the years and consulted for several large chains. However, he said, small retailers shouldn’t be intimidated by his credentials.
“I work with any size business,” he said. “While I’ve worked with the big guys, the bulk of my consulting has always been the mom-and-pop store where the husband and wife are in the front, the son is wrenching in the back and the daughter is the bookkeeper.” He also said that he tailors his rates to individual clients and their needs.
Zarwell agreed that retailers often overlook the little things in showroom design that can help brand their businesses.
“I’ll go in and show them everything from putting tags with their logo on their coat hangers to improving pricing and purchase systems to laying out their fixtures,” he said.
For many of Zarwell’s clients, efficient use of a store’s square footage is the greatest challenge. He advised taking a close, realistic assessment of an outlet’s day-to-day operations and adjusting space usage accordingly.
“Maybe you tend to be more of a service store than you are a parts store, yet you have two-thirds of your floor space dedicated to parts,” he said. “It may be better to cut down on your parts because you’re cranking out a ton of business in your service department.”
According to Zarwell, another overlooked area is signage.
“A guy walks in the door and can’t see where the service or parts departments are,” he said. “As trivial as that sounds, it’s important. Today’s customers are accustomed to being directed. You’ve got them in your store—why make it complicated to find anything?”
The Right Investment
The point is, while it may seem counterintuitive, retail suppliers and consultants believe that the current business climate offers an ideal time to reassess your store’s design and fixtures. Perhaps all your outlet needs is a few minor tweaks. Maybe a total makeover is in order. Whatever the case, help is out there in the form of direct suppliers and showroom design consultants.
Small or large, the right reinvestment in your establishment’s appearance can give your retail brand the competitive boost it needs as the economy slowly recovers.