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By Brand or By Category?

In the early stages of my running the baby department at Toy House one of our staple companies for car seats and strollers was Graco. They had several nice car seat and stroller combos in great fabrics. I even had a customer drive from Canada one night because we were the closest store to have the Graco stroller in the fabric pattern his wife desired.

Graco also had playpens and highchairs they sold in the matching patterns. My Graco sales rep would beg and plead with me to display the entire collection together. “You’d sell more if you did,” he would tell me.

He was right, too. If I displayed all his items together as a collection, I would sell more … of his stuff.

Customers would then have a matching set of car seat, stroller, highchair, and playpen (not that the car seat or stroller would ever be in the same vicinity of the highchair or playpen).

This does beg the question, however …

Do you merchandise by Brand or by Category? 


Pros: When you merchandise by Brand you are making a statement. “We carry this brand.” Department stores do this a lot. You can find the Levi or Docker section in most clothing stores. This style of merchandising makes it easier for customers who shop by Brand, who come in looking for a specific company’s offerings. It also makes it easier for customers to know what brands you carry and, by relation, what kind of store you are.

Also, you can often get point-of-purchase material from the Brand to help decorate your branded sections. Vendors love branded sections because, like Graco, they know when you create a branded section you will sell more of their Brand.

Cons: One problem is how often a Brand will have products that fit into several categories. Creating a branded section makes it harder for customers to compare similar products from different brands. It also makes it harder for your staff to easily show off two or three solutions to the customer’s problems. The curation process becomes complicated.

The other problem is if you have a branded section you are likely taking those branded items out of your category-merchandised sections, making it harder for category-shopping customers to find those items.

When to use: 

  • When the Brand is strong enough to drive its own traffic to your store
  • When the Brand is willing to give you point-of-purchase materials and help you build the section
  • When the Brand is willing to give you special deals such as exclusive products, better margins, freight or dating programs, etc.
  • When the Brand fits into your Core Values as a store
  • When there is a dominant Brand in your store or in a category
  • When customers come in asking specifically for the Brand, not the product


Pros: Merchandising by category helps shoppers compare brands more easily. It helps your staff curate the selection more easily. It helps you find solutions for your customers more easily. It is far more customer-centric than branded sections. But …

Cons: It is less visually appealing. It takes more work on your end to make the displays attractive and keep them organized and neat. You potentially lose out on special discounts and deals from the vendors. You and your customers have to look harder if you are searching specifically for one Brand. You don’t get to take advantage of the power of the Brand.

When to use: While this style may be more customer-centric in terms of finding specific solutions to specific problems, and your store is hyper-focused on solving customers’ problems, it isn’t always the best method. Use it only:

  • When there isn’t a dominant Brand in that category
  • When you have several different Brands in that category
  • When customers regularly compare Brands in that category
  • When customers come in asking for the product, not the Brand


The best approach is to find some combination of the two. You have to look at each Brand and Category separately and decide which style will help you sell the most product and solve the most problems. For instance, we found our Preschool Department sold best and was easiest for customers to navigate when we divided it by age and development, but Duplo —a LEGO product for preschoolers—sold better when it was in the LEGO-branded section on the other side of the store.

You can even do a branded section within a Category. It gives you the benefit of both worlds by making the Brand stand out in your customer’s mind and giving your customer the chance to more easily compare Brands.

The key is to do your merchandising consciously with thought and design, taking into consideration how your customers prefer to shop those Brands and Categories. Remember first and foremost it is all about the customer.

Build your merchandising around what suits your customer’s needs best.

Then add in one more element—Surprise and Delight. Add fun little things into every display that catch the customer’s eye and makes her smile. It might be a funny sign. It might be an out-of-place-but-totally-fits product. It might be a quote. It doesn’t have to be big or obvious. In fact, the more obscure, the more someone who sees it will be delighted.

At the end of the day your job is to affect your customer’s feelings and mood. A happy mood is a buying mood.

“If shopping doesn’t make you happy, then you’re in the wrong shop.” -Mimosa Rose

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS The Brands spend billions of dollars in advertising to get people interested in them. When you carry a brand doing this, there is value in your store being recognized as a source for this Brand. Customers often called us the “LEGO store” or the “Thomas store” because of our LEGO and Thomas the Tank Engine branded sections.

PPS One other element that will take your merchandising to the next level is signage. It is such a big deal it gets its own post. We’ll talk about what goes into a quality sign tomorrow.

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