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Solving the Merchandising Equation

My dad had a super power. It was merchandising. He could take 400 square feet of product and fit it into 280 square feet of space with room left over. And it would look amazingly good! I think he would be a master at Tetris if he ever gets a handle on using a computer or video game console.

He didn’t need a plan-o-gram. It wouldn’t have worked in a store like ours anyway. The stock was always changing and always in need of rearranging. He could just look at the boxes, visualize it, and make it work.

I used to always say, “My dad is spatial.”

The Groovy Girl aisle

The challenge to our merchandising was our long aisles of shelves. We were closer to a grocery store in design than a boutique store. But unlike a grocery store where you might start at one end and snake your way up and down each aisle until your basket was full and your list complete, in our store we had to create visual pictures to draw people into each aisle.

I likened merchandising to a trying to solve a complex equation with several variables. We were trying to accomplish all of these goals at once with each aisle:

  • Organize everything by Category
  • Organize everything by Brand
  • Organize everything by size and color
  • Organize everything by price
  • Eliminate any wasted space or gaps between products
  • Make the first four feet of an aisle visually compelling and inviting
  • Make sure the bottom shelf products were visible and easy to read
  • Put the most profitable items at eye-level
  • Put some kind of visual break in the middle of the aisle to draw you into the aisle (either through color or shelf positions)

My dad could do all those things instinctively. I had to teach myself this skill through trial and error, through understanding why each of those bullet points was important so that when compromises needed to be made, I knew where to make them.

Morris Hite taught me something that always helped.

“Advertising moves people toward goods. Merchandising moves goods toward people.”

First and foremost your merchandising needs to be eye-catching.

You need to get the customer interested in wanting to see more. You need displays that “pop” and draw the eyes their way. Because of the design of our store with our long aisles, I focused on the first four feet of an aisle (the only part you can see while walking down a main aisle) and the visual break in the center. The rest fell into place after that.

Endcaps, tables, and free-standing displays are a whole different set of challenges. Along with being visually compelling and neatly organized, these need to tell a story. It takes a different set of skills and talents to make powerful displays that tell a story.

I never acquired that skill. I was more in the category of, “I’ll know it when I see it.”¬†Fortunately I had some people on my team with a better eye than mine. I turned them loose on endcaps and free-standing displays.

Not everyone on your team will be skilled at merchandising. Some can learn. Others won’t. Cultivate the good ones, the ones with an eye for design and storytelling. Turn them loose on your store.

For everyone else, teach them to Stock, Straighten, and Dust.

  • Stock: pull all items from backstock out to the floor and make sure there is an ample amount of each on display.
  • Straighten: put items back where they belong and pull them to the front edge of the shelf
  • Dust: (yeah, this needs no explanation)

While bargain hunters (transactional customers) are willing to dig through heaping messes of products to find the best deals, your Relational Customers will lose trust if your store is a hot mess. You’ll lose sales when your customers (or even your sales staff) cannot easily find what they need.

There is an art to properly merchandising your store. There is also a science. Paco Underhill, in his book Why We Buy, outlines the science quite clearly. I read that book six times in the year I spent working on plans to completely remodel the store. It is worth reading (again).

By the way, normally I start a topic by discussing the “why.” Today I started with the “what.” Tomorrow I’ll tell you why those first four feet and the visual break in the center are so critical. Stay tuned.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS I hate stores that are a hot mess. I won’t go in them. My mom is the same way. She gets physically ill in messy stores and won’t go back no matter how good the deal. But we both love stores where the merchandising style could be called “whimsy.” Surprise and delight us. You’ll win. (By the way, we aren’t alone. There are many shoppers exactly like us.)

PPS Yes, there is a FREE eBook on the Free Resources page called Merchandising Made Easy. You should check it out.

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