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5 retail and merchandise display ideas to boost store sales

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“If they found out they had something I needed, they’d toss it out the backdoor before they’d sell it to me.” That’s what my grandmother uttered every time she entered a poorly merchandised store. Chances are the retailer actually had exactly what she needed, but the cluttered product displays and lack of functional store fixtures made finding anything nearly impossible.

Don’t let granny or anyone else complain about finding what they need at your store. Follow these tricks for keeping customers engaged and driving sales through excellent store design and merchandising.

Consider Your Customers

“What our customers want is more than a generic product supplier, they want a curator,” says Karl Aguilar, manager of Papenhausen Hardware in San Francisco, CA. A common mistake is poor organization. “Lots of retailers rely on the manufacturer to dictate their merchandise, so they end up with a huge collection of wares that just don’t make sense for their customer base, like snow shovels in a place where it rarely snows.”

Tell a Story

“For example, pair gourmet items with serving pieces and napkins,” says Tony Doles, owner of T. Hee Greetings & Gifts in Dallas, TX. He displays those items on antique furniture to create a look. This technique is called cross-merchandising, and it can really boost sales. “The effect is to engage the customer with your products using items similar to what they have in their own homes. That helps our buyers find products more easily.”

If you have a product that truly requires a custom display, such as greeting cards or jewelry, opt for a special display or counter-top fixture.

Be Realistic About Floor Space

“For a hardware store, we are super tiny,” Aguilar says. “We have to pack in our merchandise tightly and effectively.” That means shying away from the large planogram-type displays and instead using smaller fixtures that fit well in the store. “Sometimes you have products that simply don’t sell,” admits Aguilar. “It’s better to put those products on sale, or even give them away, than have them take space on your floor that could be used for a strong seller.”

Keep It Fresh

While it’s always good to keep a base of standard strong sellers in stock, fresh new products and displays are the lifeblood of building sales. Update inventory and displays frequently to keep repeat customers coming back to your store in search of a new find. Holidays—and not just the obvious ones—are great excuses for new displays. “We never miss a theme for the holidays,” insists Doles. “Whether it’s Derby Day, Cinco de Mayo, even Ground Hog Day, we come up with something.”

Use non-seasonal products to fill out a seasonal display with thematic colors, signage and key product pairings. When the holiday has passed, you won’t be left with a ton of seasonal items to put on sale. “We only dedicate about 30% of our store to actual seasonal items.”

Be Deliberate About Display

“Avoid putting out too much of the same thing,” says Doles. “It takes away the uniqueness of the item for your buyers.” Instead, store the extras in your backroom to avoid looking “too deep” in one particular product.

And don’t spread your product mix too widely across the store, cautions Kate Stottlemyer, vice president of operations for Tweed, a gift and home store in Richmond, VA. “A customer may want to buy more than one of a single item, and you don’t want them to have to go hunting around your store. Plus, it can create a nightmare for your staff.” For lower-priced items, keep five to eight on the floor, but show variety in color and style. Limit high-end items to two. Merchandising pros refer to this as the “one to show and one to go” rule.

My grandmother, true to her promise, never would re-enter a store that had broken the basic rules of good merchandising. But you couldn’t keep her out of stores with effective displays and good merchandising. Learn from granny and use merchandising and display to keep customers coming back. Contributing Writer

Carolyn Evans has a long-running passion for innovative products, great design and interior decorating, and is a believer in retail therapy. After a session of reading insightful cocktail napkins, she decided to leverage her experience with start-up companies and financial institutions to build a career as a retail consultant for independent stores and young gift and apparel manufacturers across the Southeast. Evans is a graduate of University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Carolyn resides in Chapin, SC.