Putting Your Best Store Forward

The layout and fixtures in your store speak volumes about your retail business. When’s the best time to redesign? Should you do the whole store or one department at a time? Where do you get the most bang for your buck? Where do you start? The Gourmet Retailer checks in with store designers and consultants to get their expert advice.

Photos courtesy of Chute Gerdeman Retail
With the sluggish economy, many retailers are cautious when investing in big-ticket items, including a store redesign.

"With economy being the way it has been lately, people are concerned about price but want to present their store in best way," says Anne Wallace, account manager for the New York design firm Hirst Pacific Ltd., which has consulted and executed various store designs and merchandising layouts for upscale brands such as Godiva chocolate, Rockport shoes and Shiseido cosmetics. When describing the look they want to convey, potential clients use two words. "Whether it’s a small boutique or large grocery brand, ‘luxury’ and ‘premium’ are words we hear a lot."

Vintage fixtures, such as this antique scale and the wooden crates, are in vogue. Using these one-of-a-kind items help a retailer create a unique atmosphere and stave off sameness and flatness, says Bess Liscio of Chute Gerdeman Retail.

Most retailers are opting to redesign their current stores, notes Wallace. "There have been fewer openings," she adds. "There have been fewer new ideas coming into market. But at the same time, retailers are saying, ‘We want to keep growing. How can we breathe new life into something?’"

That’s where a redesign comes in.

Because of the economy, "People are just injecting new things into their stores and not doing much in way of major renovations," says Bess Liscio, the VP of visual strategy for Chute Gerdeman Retail in Columbus, Ohio. This more piecemeal approach to store design makes it easier to keep up with trends, react and instantly add excitement to a store.

Not so long ago, store designers used to call the time for a major store design "the 7-year-itch," notes Liscio, who has worked in visual merchandising and retail design for 30 years. But even in the current economic climate, retailers are sprucing up their looks more often with smaller projects. "We call it ‘Botox’ because it’s more of an ongoing process. It’s not a major closing of the store," Liscio says about smaller redesign projects that include an updated window strategy, a redesigned entrance or vestibule, a new area or a fixture change.

Data-Driven Design
Before drawing up a new planogram – or redesigning the entryway—retailers of all sizes need to start by looking at their categories’ past performances, says Kurt Jetta, founder of TABS Group, a Shelton, Conn.-based firm that specializes in sales and marketing analytics in the consumer products industry.

"The best redesign is no redesign if you’re doing it for aesthetic reasons," cautions Jetta. "The first knee jerk thing people do, if things are a little slow, is say ‘Let’s change the store layout.’ And we really have yet to see that type of change have any impact."

"With economy being the way it has been lately, people are concerned about price but want to present their store in best way," says Anne Wallace, account manager for the New York design firm Hirst Pacific Ltd., which has consulted and executed various store designs and merchandising layouts for upscale brands such as Godiva chocolate, Rockport shoes and Shiseido cosmetics. When describing the look they want to convey, potential clients use two words. "Whether it’s a small boutique or large grocery brand, ‘luxury’ and ‘premium’ are words we hear a lot."

Most retailers are opting to redesign their current stores, notes Wallace. "There have been fewer openings," she adds. "There have been fewer new ideas coming into market. But at the same time, retailers are saying, ‘We want to keep growing. How can we breathe new life into something?’"

That’s where a redesign comes in.

Because of the economy, "People are just injecting new things into their stores and not doing much in way of major renovations," says Bess Liscio, the VP of visual strategy for Chute Gerdeman Retail in Columbus, Ohio. This more piecemeal approach to store design makes it easier to keep up with trends, react and instantly add excitement to a store.

Not so long ago, store designers used to call the time for a major store design "the 7-year-itch," notes Liscio, who has worked in visual merchandising and retail design for 30 years. But even in the current economic climate, retailers are sprucing up their looks more often with smaller projects. "We call it ‘Botox’ because it’s more of an ongoing process. It’s not a major closing of the store," Liscio says about smaller redesign projects that include an updated window strategy, a redesigned entrance or vestibule, a new area or a fixture change.

Data-Driven Design
Before drawing up a new planogram – or redesigning the entryway—retailers of all sizes need to start by looking at their categories’ past performances, says Kurt Jetta, founder of TABS Group, a Shelton, Conn.-based firm that specializes in sales and marketing analytics in the consumer products industry.

"The best redesign is no redesign if you’re doing it for aesthetic reasons," cautions Jetta. "The first knee jerk thing people do, if things are a little slow, is say ‘Let’s change the store layout.’ And we really have yet to see that type of change have any impact."


A store redesign is "useless unless you incorporate scientific elements and use information to optimize category size and placement."
— Kurt Jetta, TABS Group

A store redesign, Jetta says, is "useless unless you incorporate scientific elements and use information to optimize category size and placement." Before a retailer of any size decides to tinker with its existing store layout, it should review past category performance including how consumers have responded to past promotions.

With this past performance data in hand, retailers should apply it to their store layout and optimize certain categories. In addition to placement, retailers should consider the category’s size. "What is the right amount of coffee vs. tea cereal and other branded foods? The data is out there. You don’t have to go on gut," Jetta says.

Retailers that use a point-of-sale system may have this information at their fingertips. "If you’re capturing data now, that is best source of info," Jetta says. Surveys, trade associations, market research data that is available for purchase are among the resources that retailers should consider using, he says.

Category Placement
In addition to category size, retailers need to evaluate departments’ placement within the store.

One tip is to group complementary items adjacent to one another. Think coffee and tea and brewing accessories together, knives and cutting boards, baking mixes, bakeware and cake decorating items. For example, specialty teas have a high cross-purchase effect with coffee pots. Merchandising the two together can translate into a sales increase of 10 percent or more, Jetta says.

"The neighbors all have to make sense to one another," adds Liscio. "You have to think about how the buyer buys it and combine the things that make sense."

Redesign Magic
Before planning a redesign, "the No. 1 thing a retailer can do is shop," says Wallace. "Be out in the field. And see what other retailers, not just the competition, are doing."

It’s imperative that retailers are able to communicate their store’s vision and how they want customers to perceive the store. And retailers need to think about the way customers are shopping and what’s important to them, agree Wallace and Liscio.

In order to tackle a redesign, a retailer needs evaluate the entire store and observe how customers move through the store. "We have to imagine a full shopping experience," says Wallace. "How do things look? How accessible are products to reach, and how easy is it to find the cash wrap? You have to consider the layout."

When getting down to the nuts and bolts of store design, retailers need to consider the best-case and worse-case scenarios. "What happens when the store is full? Can everyone get to what they want? Is there space for people to line up at checkout? Is everything visible?" asks Wallace. "When the store is empty, how does it look?"

Simple changes can have big impact. And the good news is they don’t have to cost a lot of money. "If you change up the flow of traffic in the store, you can have a profound effect with little or no cost," says Wallace.

With redesigns, Jetta says he sees some retailers adding more perishable categories and moving away from mainstream packaged products.

Before undertaking such a drastic shift in retail direction, retailers should assess their strengths. "Unless you’re good at managing categories and shrink, this could be a pitfall," Jetta says. Instead, Jetta suggests that retailers consider expanding their bakeries, which is responsive to more space and complements a variety of gourmet retail formats.

Wide-Open Spaces
When redesigning a store, the retailer’s instinct may be to cram in as much as possible. This can have an adverse effect. Instead, retailers should think about incorporating open space to creating a store that is welcoming and easy to navigate.

"Not enough attention is paid to open space, and open space can be critical to store design," says Alan Guinn of The Guinn Consultancy in New York. "Nothing looks worse that a crowded shop, with floor-to-ceiling products, and narrow, skinny aisles—and people having to coordinate when they can walk down an aisle."

It may seem counterintuitive, but Guinn advises retailers to reduce the number of aisles and SKUs rather than to force customers into an uncomfortable aisle situation. "Discomfort with the shopping process will speed up their shopping experience, and if you are like most gourmet situations, you’d like to keep them in the store for as long as possible because that is indicative of increased sales," he says.

Problem Areas
Proper lighting is essential to creating the look and feel of a store. However, improper lighting along with illegible signage are two of the most common problems with store design, notes Hirst Pacific’s Wallace, who admits one of her pet peeves is signage that’s not legible from various angles.

When doing a store redesign, retailers should consider adding energy-efficient LED lighting, Guinn says.

"You may see some lumens diminished in presentation—indeed, you may want to add some additional fixtures— but your power bill should decrease significantly," he says.

Colors
Retailers shouldn’t feel obligated to decorate their stores in their logo’s colors, notes Liscio, reflecting on one retailer that had gone overboard with a two-tone decor .

If you’re stumped on a color palette, Guinn suggests primary colors yellow, beiges, a full-range of greens, especially around produce. "Green is never a bad color format to use," he says, adding that, "If you use large scale motif photos within the store …focus them on green elements."

For prepared foods, maroons and reds and to a lesser degree, yellows, are hot. Red is "the color of food purchase," Guinn notes. "Psychologically, you consume more around red colors."

Bakery elements tend towards off whites and browns, but, according to Guinn, "there’s no logic behind it." Instead, he suggests incorporating color splashes to create a fun atmosphere.

Whimsical color palates can add sparkle and interesting elements to institutional-style equipment such as coolers.

Creative Fixtures
While paint and wall coverings are an affordable way to update a store’s look, a retailer’s storytelling comes through with the fixtures throughout the store, notes Liscio.

During a recent shopping trip, she saw fine china displayed on wooden pallets, a look that’s worthy of a gourmet retailer because of its "homemade, artisan feel."

In addition to fixtures that evoke an industrial look, vintage fixtures are in vogue. Gourmet retailers may want to consider merchandising with butcher block tables or showcasing aprons on dressmaker forms, Liscio suggests. Using unique fixtures helps a retailer create a unique atmosphere, and stave off sameness and flatness, she says.

One common mistake is trying to use the same fixture to do multiple things. "There’s no way one fixture can do everything," Liscio says. "A store needs to have a ‘fixture rhythm’ where different fixtures do different things." Doing this, she says, "gives a landscape that draws (the customer) in."

The Not-So Distant Future
Experts interviewed by TGR agree that technology will play a greater role in the future of store design.

"It will help reduce cost, help control customer response, and define the overall look and feel of the shop," Guinn predicts.

Guinn says he’s expecting to see wheels of cheese with RFID tags at check in, and computer touch screens at the deli counter to replace the take-a-number wheel. (For an in-depth look on the delis of the future, read Design Down the Line on page 19.)

He says savvy merchants will implement a smart phone app for custom-weight measured items like cheeses, so they can be weighed and ready when customers arrive.

Some convenience stores have already implemented touch-screen sandwich ordering stations, Guinn points out. Development of order-and-take away apps for tablets and smart phones can’t be far behind—and may be in widespread by year’s end, he estimates.

Bottom-Line Impact
When calculating the project cost, retailers need to account for lost sales during and immediately after a redesign. The first month after a redesign, most retailers experience a 5 percent or so decrease in sales, simply because they don’t know where anything is, Jetta says. After the dust has settled, most retailers see a 7 to 10 percent increase in sales after a redesign, Jetta says.

Store Merchandising Do’s and Don’ts

Do:

  • Tell compelling stories with your products. Cross-merchandise items that make sense together and go together. Convince the customers that they need all the products even though they may not. Bring tabletop and specialty foods together for a big win (serving dish + linen napkins + serving spoon + pasta + sauce + cookbook = more sales). Add the unexpected: music CDs—think Italian music while cooking and serving Italian food.
  • Look for interesting pieces that can act as fixtures while adding personality to your space (kitchen tables, butcher block islands on wheels, etc.).
  • Try spotlighting to emphasize new or promotional merchandise. Focus the spotlights on the product and criss-cross the beams of light so lighting hits the merchandise evenly. Make sure lights are not aimed to shine in customers’ eyes.
  • Rearrange product displays every few months (or more often) to freshen up the store. Pay extra attention to the storefront.
  • Bring residential fixtures or furniture into the store. Baker’s racks and picnic tables work to help your customer feel comfortable.
  • Vintage is still in style, so retailers are going to tag sales, coming up with clever and inexpensive ways to display merchandise. An old steamer truck or wood-burning stove could be fun and add visual interest. Even using ladders to hang table linens on is unexpected.
  • Use chalkboard paint to create a large blackboard wall calendar and populate it with timely tips. ("Time to plan for holiday parties" or "Don’t forget a hostess gift"). What better way to promote products listed on your TGR In-Store Events calendar!
  • Give’ em space. Place fixtures so it’s easy to shop with a cart, wheelchair or baby stroller.
  • Appeal to all the senses. Enhance the mood with music and scent. Add TVs and keep them tuned in to Food Network or the Food Channel.
  • Add entertainment. How about a gift-wrapping day? You supply the gift-wrap and an "expert" to give your customers creative ideas.
  • Accommodate the customer’s non-shopping companion. Give them a place to hang out. This could be as simple as a comfortable seating area for the customer’s spouse, child, parent or friend. Make it look homey and residential. Serve mulled cider or other seasonal beverages.

Don’t

  • Assume your customer has any idea what he or she is shopping for. Blend the shopping experience with an educational component that both broadens product knowledge and fosters brand loyalty. If you’re already offering cooking classes, how about adding a gift advisory service?
  • Assume products will sell without enhancing the display with appropriate props that make sense.
  • On the other hand, don’t overpower the merchandise with visuals and graphics. The merchandise should always be the hero and visuals and graphics should enhance.
  • Take it all too seriously. Have fun and let it show in your store displays.

Bess Liscio is the VP of visual strategy for Chute Gerdeman Retail. Since 1989, Columbus, Ohio-based Chute Gerdeman Retail has created award-winning retail brands and has more than 150 awards including four Store of the Year awards for Kiva Spa, M&M’S World Orlando and Barbie Shanghai. The firm’s client list includes Kohl’s, Levi Strauss, Sheetz, Shopko, Swiss Farms, Target and Tween Brands.

[via GourmetRetailer]

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