Position displays based on the knowledge that prospective customers entering your showroom will look left, then right, then straight ahead.

Last month when I introduced the subject of merchandising, I provided an overview of what it is, shared definitions and explained the importance of good merchandising to your business. You can show exactly the same products as your biggest competitor (and many of you do) - but merchandising and selling skills can help you win a whole lot more sales than the other folks.

This month I want to get specific. Let’s start with merchandising ideas and goals:

  • Your ultimate goal is to sell products - not the showroom displays.
  • Even though the displays are secondary, they must be done very well.
  • Use lighting to focus on the products.
  • Design a floor plan that sets your prospect on a journey. Every turn should lead the customer to the next exciting area.
  • Create spaces of wonderment that feel warm and welcoming.
  • Concentrate on form over function with symmetry as the key element.
  • Visiting your showroom should be a unique experience for your customers - this starts with being able to park the car close to the entrance, to their first look at the building and landscape, to stepping out of the car and possibly hearing music, to taking their first step through the front door and the initial aromas, sights and sounds they encounter.
  • Make your showroom different!

    You need to set the mood for your prospects before you even say hello. Higher end clientele expect to drive up to good-looking, well-maintained buildings and landscape. Parking should be convenient to the entrance. I have two clients who have positioned speakers by their front door to play soft, soothing music that clients will hear as they approach. Another client has a small machine that circulates a nice aroma when the front door is opened.

    If your showroom has front windows with product displays, they have to be beautifully done. I have a 13-step guideline on how to do window displays.  If you’d like a copy, just send me an e-mail.

    The first steps the customer takes into your showroom should take him or her into an area that feels warm, relaxing and comfortable. In merchandising terms this is called a “decompression zone.”  Your clients are busy, rushed and stressed and you can help them “decompress” by having the music, aromas and an area right inside the front door where they can take a deep breath and start to relax. This area has no product in it. It might be six feet wide and eight feet deep.

    I know three companies that have created “decompression zones” with soft chairs, a sofa and end tables. A receptionist meets and greets the clients and asks if they would like coffee, tea, soda, water, etc., and encourages them to sit down and relax for a moment while a sales consultant is called.  The initial qualifying starts in the decompression zone before the prospect even sees any product. Great concept, don’t you think?

    Prospects stepping through your front door for the first time will stop, look left, then right, then straight ahead - and will make an initial judgment of your showroom in the first 30 seconds. That doesn’t seem fair. You have just spent $250,000 or more building out your showroom and you only get 30 seconds to be judged. This first impression had better be a good one.

    Following is a quote from “Selling Dreams: How To Make Any Product Irresistible” by Gian Luigi Longinotto Buitoni.

    “Effective store designs link store atmospheres and manage merchandising philosophies to offer a pleasant, productive shopping experience. The retail store should always be more than a place for a shopper to exchange money for products. It should also be the best place to inspect and interact with products - trying before buying. Nothing about a store’s design or layout should interfere with that process. When shoppers leave retail stores with products they have purchased, they may not realize they have “bought” the entire retail experience as well - but that’s what really happens. Successful dream sellers create products and services that convey intense emotions. They do everything possible to enhance the customer’s perception of added value.  The dream keeper should ensure that the company’s communication, distribution, special events and any type of customer relations consistently support the brand’s mission to build that dream in the consumer’s mind.”

    Wow, that’s a powerful statement. Please stop, go back and read this again. This is what good merchandising does. Be sure you understand what’s really being said.

    Your prospects enter your showroom with a number of concerns in their minds. Here are some of them:

  • Can I afford it?
  • Do I really need it?
  • Can I buy it for less somewhere else?
  • This isn’t what I pictured in my mind.
  • Will the quality be there?
  • Am I getting the best value?
  • Will they service me after the sale?

    Then you need to understand that your prospects go through a series of information processing steps as they experience your showroom. It goes something like this:

  • Exposure
  • Attention
  • Comprehension
  • Agreement
  • Retention
  • Retrieval
  • Decision making
  • Action taking

    We must learn to treat the showroom and its merchandise as a total presentation. And we need to become storytellers.

    There are six steps to successful visual merchandising. They are:
    1. Visual merchandising is 3-D branding. Your displays must be multi-dimensional and as hands-on as possible.

    2. Think and create from a strategic point of view. Have a plan and then work your plan.

    3. Do your homework. Compare yourself to the best and set high standards.

    4. When you go shopping, study the process.

    5. Use visual merchandising to organize the customer’s experience.

    6. Take merchandising seriously. Be passionate!

    There are several types of layouts for a showroom. Here is a little about each of them:
    Grid layout with linear design: Displays are arranged to form vertical and horizontal aisles throughout the store. Sight lines refer to their view at the end of the aisle.
    Free flow layout: Displays are arranged in loosely grouped, informal, non-linear formations to encourage browsing.
    Loop layout: Shoppers are exposed to a great deal of merchandise as they follow a perimeter traffic aisle with product groupings on the right and left of the circle, square, rectangle or oval.
    Soft aisle layout: Merchandise walls are treated as some of the important store sales generators in the store. Displays are arranged into groups encouraging customers to shop the walls and move easily around the store in wider-than-average aisles.
    Combination floor plan layout: The best features of standard layouts are employed in one overall plan that suits a showroom’s specific strategy.
    Walls as destinations: If merchandise is presented effectively on the walls of the store, the walls become the destination. Traffic patterns are designed to move shoppers toward the side and back walls.

    I’ve probably given you enough showroom layout information to really confuse you, but that certainly isn’t my intent. I simply want you to know that there’s a lot involved in planning a good showroom layout and that there’s good information available. There are also some wonderful professional showroom designers in our industry.

    Remember that prospects walking into your store will look will look left, right and straight back. These three areas should feature prominent/important product displays. Also, the main areas of focus in a display are from two feet off the floor to five feet high. Suppliers pay food stores a premium for this shelf space. This means that you should put your main “sell” products within this three-foot space.

    Next month I’ll conclude this series on merchandising by covering lighting, signage, display build-out, color, accessorization, interactive technology and more.

    I encourage you to put these three articles in a binder or file folder and use them as your starter kit on merchandising.