Make an Excellent 1st Impression with Store Layout

Make an excellent 1st impression with your store layout

Cris Willis

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So far, we have discussed the importance of planning your events and promotions, hiring and training your store associates, and buying the merchandise you need for your store this 4th quarter. If you missed any of that, go back and read the previous blog posts.

This week it is time to make sure that your store is set and looks fantastic for the holiday season. We will talk about the overall look and feel of your store.

Susan Negen, with WhizBang! Training says that “Visual Merchandising is a Marketing Tool”. It is not decorating and making your store pretty. Visual Merchandising is the business activity of presenting products and services to your potential customers to make them eager to buy them. This is your in-store marketing effort.

I can tell you from personal experience that our store did not understand this concept for many years. We thought of our store as a museum. Once we created a beautiful display, we wanted it to stay that way so everyone could enjoy it. We were so proud of our “look,” and that was our focus. Can you believe that we would not sell decorations from our Christmas trees because then the tree would not be as pretty?  Many times, we refused to sell something to a customer because it would ruin the display. We would offer to special order it or hold it for them when we were done with it. Thankfully we wised up! There was a time you could get away with rookie mistakes like that in retail, but those days are gone.

We had to change our thinking, and you might need to as well. Bob and Susan Negen, with WhizBang! Training teaches the concept of The BIG SWITCH. You must fall out of love with your store and your products and fall in love with your customers. Put your customer’s wants and desires above what you want from your store environment.

You will have lots of new customers shopping with you this season, and you only have one shot at making a great first impression. So, go, do your store walkthrough now and make some good notes.

Let’s take a look at some concepts you need to think about when it comes to your Visual Merchandising this holiday season.

Does your store answer these 3 questions for your customers?

Do you have the products they want to buy?

This is not an article about your product assortment. I will assume that you know what your customers want and carry those products. Now, you need to make sure your customer sees these items in your store.

You most likely have most of your merchandise displayed by item where the customer can pick it up and buy it. These products are usually placed on shelves, pegs, racks, hangers, etc. It is critical that you never have empty pegs, shelves, fixture arms, tables, bins, or any other kind of display hardware.

Here is a very basic rule, but I see it all the time in stores. When customers see an empty spot, they feel like the merchandise has been picked over, and they missed out on the best items. Train your associates to fill the inventory back in, rearrange it to look fresh, or remove the empty pegs or displays.

You might also have some vignette or what I always called “boutique” displays in your store. This area may “highlight” some products and is not necessarily meant to be picked up off the display. It is presented to show how these items go together or how a customer might use them.

Here are some tips on making your displays visually appealing to your customers

  • Put the items you want/need to sell at eye level. These might be your best sellers, your high-margin items, or it might be your overstocked items you need to move.
  • When merchandising on a wall, things look better displayed in vertical groups than in horizontal groups.
  • Use props, fabric, paint, and more to make your display POP!
  • Stack it high and watch it fly. Mass out a bunch of the same item. This will attract attention and give the customer the sense that it is a hot item this year.

Tell a story with your display. This can be a color story, like a table with pink and red items that could be used as Valentine’s gifts. It could be a fun theme to catch the customer’s eye. Every year in our Christmas Shoppe entrance, we had a WOW display that the customers loved – customers loved the moving musical bears, the Christmas train, the life-size Nativity, and more.

Group items together to tell a Stocking Stuffer or Gift Giving story. Have a table for Gifts Under $20, Tween Gifts, Men’s Gifts, Functional Gifts for Everyone, etc. You can even wrap up some of them for the perfect grab-and-go gift. One of the keys to this display is to have good signage so that the customer understands what it is.

Your use of signs in your store is very important. Signs can help turn browsers into buyers. You can communicate so much through great signage, they are silent salespeople.

Some retailers only use merchandise signs for sale items, but signs can do more.

  • You can highlight key features and benefits of an item on a sign
  • You can describe how to use an item on a sign
  • You can suggest who would like this item on a sign

Ensure that your signs are simple and easy to read, do not make them too busy or fancy. It is essential to be consistent with your look to match your brand. Design a couple of basic templates that you can use for all of the signage in your store. Using a program like Canva, pick at most three fonts and a couple of colors to use on all of your store signs. You can change them for the season or holiday but be consistent within each season or holiday.

Is it easy for your customers to move around your store and find what they are looking for?

Remember, we are thinking about what is best for the customer. When you reset your store for the holidays, you must consider the best traffic patterns for customer flow. Especially this year with social distancing, make sure there is plenty of room for customers to move around within the store.

I suggest you have a set policy in your store for your aisle width. Then measure your aisles regularly. We maintained 5 ft at the entrance and a minimum of 4 ft for a major thoroughfare and 32 inches just about everywhere else as the ADA requires.

Stand at your front door, then at the register, and any other important area where your associates work. Make sure you can see throughout the store and that your customers can see you from there. You need to be strategic on where you put tall displays in the store. Store congestion will make your customers feel uncomfortable, and they will leave. Your store’s layout is a critical factor in how easy it is for your customers to find what they are looking for. Make it easy for them.

Do customers get bogged down in your register line? We used to have three registers, each with its own line. You know that awful feeling when you get in a line, and all of the other lines seem to be moving, and yours is not? Everyone always hates to be “in the wrong line” it does not leave a good taste in your mouth. Finally, we wised up and designed our check out where there was 1 line that fed all three registers. This was so much better. No one was ever stuck in the line that was not moving. Let’s face it some customers take longer than others. Maybe they are buying a lot (hooray!), and sometimes you have to find a price or handle a return, and it just takes longer. Remember to think about what is best for your customer in every decision you make about your business.

Directional signage is another key element in helping your customers find their way around your store. These are the large signs identifying important areas of your store. These key areas of interest and departments should have a professionally made directional sign that is placed up high to be seen from all around the store. It might be placed on a wall or suspended from the ceiling. These signs need to be easy to read with simple, straightforward words that clearly describe the area. For example, you might have this kind of sign for the fitting rooms, check-out, restrooms, a department, or a brand name.

Now, take a walk through your store from the front parking lot to the back of the store. Look at it through the eyes of a first-time customer. Make notes of any signage that needs to be updated, look for any empty spots on your displays, check out your aisle width, your directional signs and make sure each display is set and ready to go. Correct these items this week and be prepared for the holiday shoppers.

Is it fun for your customers to shop in your store?

Do you present your merchandise in unique and experiential ways for your customers? Do you have some focal displays throughout your store that POP? How is your window display? Does it entice customers to come in and shop?

Here are some ideas to make your displays fun and engaging that will catch your customer’s attention.

  • Use color to make it stand out. You can paint a wall or hang or drape some fabric to
    add texture and movement.
  • Add props. You want your merchandise to be the center of your display, but the
    addition of some props can draw your customer’s attention and make your products
    stand out. (Hint – look on Pinterest for lots of great ideas.)
  • Feature movement. If you have any products that require batteries, make sure you
    have one on display with batteries so that customers can see it in action. Or have a
    video playing in the display on a small device showing how to use or wear the

Things have changed with COVID this year, and you cannot have food sampling and serving as we did in the past. But you can still use your creativity to create a demo area in your store from some product. This is one area that brick-and-mortar stores have over online shopping. There is no substitute for a customer actually being able to try out the product.

Let customers try out a game by taking a sample out of the box and teaching them to pay. Have a scarf tying station where you can demo all the ways to wear them. Let customers try on clothing and then mix and match jewelry to go with it. Have a table where a customer can set it to demo the placemats and dinnerware. Or have a coffee table, bookcase, or fireplace hearth where customers can demo their home décor looks. Again, consider using videos in your displays showing how to use your cookware or power tools, or whatever it is you sell.

Make a plan now for how you will display your key items these next weeks through Christmas. Your visual merchandising needs to be consistent with your brand while making your products POP out to your customers.

Next week, we will discuss all of the ways you need to offer to your customers to shop with you this year. As the virus continues on the increase, you need to make sure that your customers can shop with you in a way that makes them comfortable.

Cris Willis

Cris is a business coach for independent retailers. With 25 years of experience owning and operating a family business, she now guides retail owners to make smarter decisions regarding inventory management, marketing, sales training, product assortment, and more. When not at work, she loves to travel the country with her husband in their motorhome.

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