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Laurie Rudd

Tap into the power of presentation

Visual merchandising valuable in selling today’s consumers

It’s no secret challenging times are upon us all.

Lloyd-Flanders’ Calypso Collection stages a birthday party vignette.
Lloyd-Flanders’ Calypso Collection stages a birthday party vignette.

One secret to rising above the challenges lies in the ability to reemphasize the marketing basic known as visual merchandising or more simply, presentation. Inclusive of product mix to personnel training, quality presentation today can deliver a powerful punch for the specialty retailer.

“In 2009, retailers will realize that customers won’t give second chances after less than 'fabulous’ experiences because (they) don’t need to,” retail marketing and operations expert Barbara Farfan wrote in a recent blog. “Suitable alternatives for consumers abound, including the alternative to not consume at all.”

Farfan went on to predict the success or failure of stores will result from individual transactions, one at a time. “Retailers will be forced to get back to basics,” Farfan said.

For any retail operation this means starting at the beginning by realizing who is buying, and presenting the product accordingly.

In the specialty furniture sector, the customer is affluent, educated, discriminating and, unfortunately, in shorter supply.

Whitecraft’s Nantucket
Well accessorized within a showroom for Whitecraft’s Nantucket, life is a beach.

“Traffic is limited in most retail stores, so it is imperative to put your best foot forward,” said Mike Runnells, sales representative and Summer Classics’ Shops director in Montevallo, Ala. “Product presentation has become more important than ever before. The consumer wants to shop in an exciting store.”

Visual presentation can create this excitement.

“Our dealers are finding that with the higher-end consumer that is buying, overall better presentation is required,” said Rory Rehmert, vice president, sales and marketing for casual furniture manufacturer Pride Family Brands, Fort Lauderdale, Fla. “It is no secret that more product is sold where there is a good representation of a collection, quality signage and quality accessorized displays.”

All are basics for success in any economic environment, but especially for the specialty retailer navigating the challenges of today.

Presentation basics

Summer Classics’ Shops program
For Summer Classics’ Shops program, it is all about presentation.

Retailers’ ability to design and layout the sales floor to emphasize the best features of the products carried as well as provide vignettes of a caliber to excite a consumer into making the purchase can only spell success and satisfied customers.

“Presentation is extremely important. Always has been,” said Chad Scheinerman, owner of Today’s Patio, with five locations in Arizona. “Average presentations will no longer work for the higher end consumers.”

Whitecraft, North Charleston, S.C.- based outdoor furniture manufacturer, also recognizes the importance of presentation and appearance. “Our warranty cards rate as to why (a customer) bought and what they bought,” said Bill Herren, marketing director. “Ninety percent listed appearance as the reason.” But, appearance or presentation is a broad term encompassing many aspects of the retail experience. For the specialty retailer, beginning at the basics to create interest includes a concentration on collection depth, signage and accessorizing.

Collection depths

presentation creates add-on pillow sales.
Always important at Today’s Patio stores, presentation creates add-on pillow sales.

As the increasing number of entries into the industry’s Design Excellence competition shows, manufacturers are constantly adding and updating their designs as well as creating more new and unique pieces to build upon lines. There is no doubt product is available for presentation.

In today’s climate, taking greater advantage of this wealth of product is a commitment those who succeed appear willing to make.

“Dealers that are constantly updating their displays and presenting complete collections are realizing the best sales results,” Runnels said.

“Even when watching inventory levels, letting the amount of floor pieces decline is a mistake,” Scheinerman said. “Retailers have got to find a way to show complete collections.”

n-store display in California Patio’s Rancho Mirage
In-store display in California Patio’s Rancho Mirage location includes accessories for Pride Family Brands’ furniture lines.

It comes down to another basic of retailing of which the casual industry must not lose sight. “The more the retailer shows, the better the chance of selling,” Whitecraft’s Herren said. “We are finding that many new dealer orders are including more than one collection for the floor.”

Retailers exhibiting multiple collections not only present line depth, but also illustrate a consistent quality available across a line. This is especially important as retailers work with the custom ordering often required by the upper-end consumer.

“Over the past few seasons, the amount of business being done as a direct result of customization has grown significantly,” Rehmert said. “This fully illustrates the higher-end consumer is seeking specific looks and designs, in fabrics and finishes that complement their homes and environments.”

Situations do exist today, however, where it becomes necessary to decrease inventory levels within retail stores. In this case, the space available could actually benefit the presentation of remaining items.

“As inventories have decreased, I am seeing more attention being paid to better displays,” said Bryan Echols, sales representative for Lloyd-Flanders and Meadowcraft. “Deeper displays in fewer lines are possible to highlight specific collections and also feature additional items not normally shown.”

Using signage

When space or budget limits the display of complete or multiple collections, an alternative for dealers is a display using signage. Both retail and manufacturing experts recommend using photos in a home environment and signs to provide as much information as possible for pieces not displayed.

“In my capacity with Lloyd/Flanders, we have been promoting the usage of informational signage for the last several years,” Echols said. “I think it is important when a consumer invests the time to shop our floors and look at our product that we let them know all information that is available on our collections.”

Signage within displays is a valuable tool for a consistent flow of information, however there are some precautions that need to be taken into consideration. “The signs must always be done in a tasteful manner so that they do not detract from the overall visual display of the collection on the sales floor,” Echols said.

For the high-end consumer, signage must be of a similar quality and message as the product, Runnells warned. “One of the mistakes I believe some dealers make is displaying a full collection and then putting up a price sign,” Runnells said. “Price point signs should generally be used only on price point sets and clearance or sale sets.”

Accessorizing well

Beyond the collection presentation and the informative signage, retail displays require dressing to entice and engage the upper-end consumer. “Accessories are a must,” Echols said, “and not just outdoor accessories.”

To illustrate Lloyd/Flanders’ point of view with regard to the necessity of accessorizing their product, Echols recently made a presentation to dealers and their sales personnel using photos. The first image was void of accessories while a second photo with the same collection was well accessorized. Those viewing the photos saw such a difference that they did not think the photos were of the same group.

Whitecraft’s Herren is a big proponent of utilizing accessories for meeting the style requirements of consumers, however he notes challenges. “Accessorizing outdoor product is difficult, but the better it looks the better the chance of selling,” he said.

Sensual appeal

a tropical presentation for Whitecraft’s Rio
Overhead draping structures create a tropical presentation for Whitecraft’s Rio.

Presentation, often referred to as visual merchandising, does not always have to be visual. Creating an inviting experience can include sounds and services.

“Adding to the ambience of the store’s atmosphere is effective for today’s customer including a soft music selection in the store,” Runnells said. “Having a local radio station with constant commercials only adds a distraction and takes the customer’s attention away from spending time shopping in a retail furniture store.”

In addition to a well-presented, well-displayed and accessorized store, having competent, well-trained and professionally dressed sales personnel also will be recognized by a savvy consumer and can lead to quality sales. Everything working together can create that needed fabulous experience for every potential customer.

Appearance, presentation, merchandising are all retailing basics and tools of which successful retailers have not lost sight.

“There are folks that are doing a good job in all the areas of presentation, and they are the ones who were successful before and who will be successful going through this time of challenges,” Rehmert said.

Going forward, all casual retailers have the opportunity to build on presentation practices and the lessons learned during these times and discover how powerful getting back to basics truly is.

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