Back in 2005 I started working on a plan. Our store had two major bottlenecks for traffic that made it hard for customers to navigate the store during peak times. Those bottlenecks also made it hard for the staff to navigate, especially with a cart full of merchandise to replenish the shelves. I was reading Paco Underhill’s still-relevant book Why We Buy for the sixth time and knew it was time to revamp the layout of the store to allow for better traffic flow, better sight lines, and better organization of the store.
It took me an entire year, an entire pad of graph paper, a full ream of printer paper, and several hours with a measuring tape in my hands walking up and down aisles before I came up with a new plan. In May of 2006 we closed the store for three days and moved everything. I mean everything. Every single shelf was dismantled and moved elsewhere. The hobby and baby departments traded places. The cash registers and gift wrap counters were moved. The main aisles were widened. The departments now flowed with rhyme and reason. There was room for customers, for shopping carts, and for the staff to restock the store.
Then I went to work on training the staff how to restock and straighten the store. Every day in every aisle we had someone on the team going up and down looking for lost toys, returning them to their homes. Even on the busiest of days we made sure to get up and down each aisle straightening, dusting, and replenishing several times a day.
A new, better layout was only one piece of the puzzle. We had to keep those aisles clean and neat and organized. My grandparents and parents had taught me this one truth about merchandising …
Messy aisles cost you money.
Although messy aisles are the norm in most of your competitors, they hurt your sales both short and long-term. If you only give attention to your aisles and displays in the early morning or after you close, your store gets progressively messier as the day goes by and your on-her-way-home-from-work-got-time-for-one-quick-stop customer gets to see you at your worst. That’s not the image you want her to share with her friends. That’s not the way to WOW her with surprise and delight.
One simple thing you can do this holiday season is assign one staff person every hour for Floor Duty. That person’s job is to spend the entire hour doing the following:
- Finding misplaced items and returning them to the proper area.
- Straightening up messy displays
- Picking up litter, empty boxes, empty displays, etc.
- Fronting all the items on the shelves and pulling them forward to the front edge of the shelf
- Filling major holes in displays with back-stocked merchandise
That’s five simple things that even a seasonal employee can learn to do.
Here are the benefits to you:
- Helps deter shoplifting. Yes, having a staff person on the floor going up and down the aisles makes shoplifters uncomfortable.
- Helps you find lost items. It is one thing to have software that tells you that you have one item in stock. It is another to be able to find that item quickly to please a customer.
- Attracts a different level of customers. Transactional customers are willing to paw through messy bins and displays to find their treasures. Customers who shop based on relationships and trust are more attracted to the stores that show they care not only about the customer, but also about the products.
- Helps your customers get the assistance they need. Customers with questions are always more comfortable asking the busy shelf-stocker than the busy cashier, the crowd of employees talking about last night’s party, or the salesperson waiting to pounce.
- Helps you increase sales. If you only wait until tonight or tomorrow morning to replenish, you are bound to lose sales because not all customers will ask if you have any in back.
- Helps you train your staff on the products you sell. The more time they spend on the floor stocking and straightening instead of trapped behind the cashier’s fortress, the more they get to know what you sell.
Best of all, you will definitely stand out amongst the competition. The big box stores don’t have the staff (or apparently the desire) to keep their stores clean and organized. The category killer chains typically stock late at night or early in the morning. The minimum-wage gum chewers never leave the cash-wrap.
Even if you don’t have Pottery Barn merchandising skills, this one move of keeping someone on the floor constantly straightening and cleaning all day long will raise the perceived level of merchandising in your store well above that of the competition. That’s how you win this holiday season.
PS Yes, it is in your best interest to have your best salesperson out on the floor at all times. But even having a raw, green seasonal employee that knows how to get answers and solve problems is better than not having anyone out there at all. If you can, buddy up your best salespeople with your seasonal staff and let the newbies learn from the best.