Merchandise your way to profit
Thomas Russell -- Casual Living, June 15, 2006
We have all been to seminars where experts say we need an "ooh—ahh" factor to entice customers to shop at the specialty level. How many of us practice this effectively when we get back home? As specialty retailers, the answer needs to be we not only practice merchandising, but are on our way to perfecting it.
The retail consumer today is sophisticated and demands a great environment. If a grocery store or mass merchant's facility gets outdated, they tear it down and spend tens of millions to rebuild a better, bigger facility. They have to do this to respond to pressures from their competitors at the mass level. How do we compete with this? It is actually easy. The products we sell are more beautiful, exciting and dramatic than anything they sell. So create an environment to enhance the fantasy of those products and you've got it made. The mass needs a beautiful building to enhance their cheap and boring merchandise. We simply need creative displays to support our exquisite merchandise.
Here are my tips, which have led to our greatest successes in merchandising:
Limit the number of "popular price" or import sets you display. The customers buying the "step down" products are not as sophisticated as those buying premium products. They don't need as large a selection because they are typically motivated by price and availability rather than fashion, selection and trends. Fill your warehouse with popular price for availability and go deep, but going broad on imports denigrates your entire floor. Nothing says boring like a sea of the same brown import cast, and it shows consumers what you emphasize so it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Display only enough selection to show you offer a product at that price. You will sell just as much if you merchandise your popular price well, instead of just dumping repetitive sets on the sales floor. An added benefit is since you are less broad, it is easier to control your inventory on imports.
Buy the hottest, trendiest new items in the wildest colors. Dedicate a percentage of your floor to innovations. You may say, "it won't sell and I am not taking valuable floor space to show something so trendy." Wrong! If you don't show the season's best new innovations, you miss an opportunity to wow your customers and set yourself apart.
Every season, manufacturers introduce exciting products, such as: Brown Jordan's Harmony Chaise in sea blue, Gloster's Plantation Sushi set in bright orange, O.W. Lee's copper or marble mosaic firepit with gas logs, Laneventure's Raymond Waites New America in black and white. Those items attracted you to the vendor. Did you buy them? You should have. Buy them when they are new so you are the first to have them on your floor. Fun, exciting and innovative products make you credible to sell fashionable outdoor furniture to your upscale clients. A happy side note is you will actually sell some of that glitter!
Accessorize to enhance product selection. Decide what your store's personality is and buy accessories to enhance it. A few tasteful accessories are worth quite a bit more than a table full of clutter. Your accessories should be geared to the income level of your consumers. As specialty stores, our accessories need to be a cut above. Nothing will cheapen a high dollar set of furniture faster than accessories that look destined for the clearance rack of Steinmart.
No Sea of Brown. What is more boring than a sales floor full of safe colors? We show our offerings in glamorous and fun colors, and then also offer safe colors from inventory. Color is the easiest way to create excitement and evoke emotion. Paint walls and props in bright, clean colors. What emotions do your beige walls and brown furniture evoke?
Hire someone who is devoted to the look and design of your floor. I know my own limitations as a merchandiser, so I hire someone who has real talent. I consult with an interior designer to help pick colors and merchandise creatively. I just hired a full-time staff person whose sole job is display and merchandising. A store of any size can afford this either part time or full time. In fact, in this age of sophisticated consumerism, you can't afford not to.
In retail, we are how we look. You may have the best products and the most fantastic after-sale service in your market, but if you don't attract people when they walk in, they will never know it. If you don't keep up the appearance of your store, a new competitor may see an opportunity in your market. The best way to keep and grow your market share is to be the most glamorous, fashionable source for your customers.