Ten Steps to Better Store Design — Visual merchandising changes could increase sales by ten percent.

The design of your store has a huge impact on your success as a retailer. Even some simple visual changes you make immediately can have dramatic results. As designer Brian Dyches of Retail Resource Group says, “Most snowboarding stores could increase their sales by ten percent overnight, simply by changing their light bulbs.” Many other effective changes can be made easily and without major expenditure. Here’s how:

1. Consider the Space.

Is your store long and thin, square, rectangular, or some weird shape? Is it carved out of an existing store or its own freestanding outlet? You can come up with a winning design for any space, but the one you choose must be specific to your shop. The best location for displays, how your lighting is arranged, and many other design components are largely dependent on the size, shape, and sight-lines you are working with.

2. You Only Have Seven Seconds

No customer spends money where they don’t feel comfortable¿and they decide how they feel in under seven seconds. At that point you either still have a chance for a sale, or you can forget them. So get rid of everything that might create a negative first reaction or resistance to entering the store. A common mistake is putting displays right up to the lease line. This acts as a visual block. Leave at least six feet between the entrance and your first display.

The first third of your store makes the crucial first impression. Don’t overload it with displays or anything that blocks sightlines to the back of the store. And, if possible, try not to position your cash register and cash-wrap counter near the entrance¿it works better toward the rear or in the middle of the right wall.

3. Lead Your Customer

Your goal is to entice the customer into the main selling area and then slowly past your merchandise displays to the back of the store. Think of it like a fish trap. What leads customers most effectively is their eyes. Where their eyes stop, their legs follow. The first thing to grab their attention should be your main visual display¿located about a third of the way into the store. This display should feature your most exciting new products, cross-merchandised to show a range of items. Change the display regularly to reassure your regular customers you are constantly updating merchandise. Make the display stand out with a strong spotlight.

From that point should be clear sight-lines to other displays. The eye can only take in eight feet of visual information at a time. Any longer displays need to be visually broken up. This is particularly the case on wall displays. But providing a break is simple by using a contrasting color or product for a strong visual impact.

Almost every customer subconsciously moves to their right. With this in mind, think about the circulation path you want them to make. The best path is circular. Don’t position any display so it blocks the circulation either physically or visually. And never align your displays parallel to the circulation, particularly if you are using a central aisle, or the customers’ eyes run quickly over the display without stopping. Instead angle your displays against the visual plain, but in such a way as to help define the circulation path.

4. Your Most Powerful Tool is Light.

The eye naturally gravitates towards brightness, so make your store increasingly bright as it goes back. The rear of the store should be roughly twice as brightly lit as the front. All your displays should be spotlit. Use quality light bulbs and fittings¿this will quickly pay for itself with increased sales.

5. Use Fitting Rooms Well.

It is always better to have fewer spacious fitting rooms than a greater number of cramped ones. Keep them spotlessly clean. Using soft light and color scheme, flatter the customer. You want them to see how good they look, not the effects of three hours’ shopping. Fitting rooms are a sales opportunity. Use the walls to highlight speci promotions or new product information. Put your logo and store name prominently in each fitting room (as well as around your cash wrap) to enhance your store identity. One effective trick is to use low-cost aromatizing systems to add a familiar and comforting pine scent.

6. Sell The Lifestyle

Snowboarding’s appeal is based in its lifestyle aspects, so sell the whole lifestyle and attitude. It is easy to depict visually. For example, a mannequin standing to attention is going nowhere. A mannequin mounted in a crouch stance on a board is flying. The Chute Gerdeman Group recently designed the Edgewise shop in Beaver Creek, Colorado and used wire mannequins mounted on boards to give an impression of action. The non-traditional use of wire stressed the attitude. The display also provided an opportunity to show the entire lifestyle by showing off the board, boots, bindings, and a complete range of apparel.

7. Cross-Merchandise

Visual displays which mix up gear work better than displays with just one type of product. They provide a connection between the products and show what looks good with what. Your window display is a key cross-merchandising opportunity¿a good display makes an attractive lifestyle statement about your store that will draw in customers; a bad display and they keep on walking. Flesh out your window display with posters or photographs.

8. Use the Boards Snowboarding’s huge visual advantage is the boards themselves. Their graphics already depict the tone of the visual environment you want to create. So use them as a major decorative feature. Too often retailers just stack the boards vertically.

“Snowboards are high price-point items,” says Bill Travis of the Ski Industries Association. “They have traditionally been marketed by manufacturers as unique items, and that’s the way they should be sold. Just stacking them on the floor takes away from their individuality.” A system where the boards can be wall mounted but easily taken down, or vertically floor stacked facing outwards helps utilize the boards’ graphic appeal.

9. Hands-On Selling

Dave Schriber, Burton’s marketing coordinator, thinks retailers can be too design conscious. “Sometimes you can sacrifice practical retailing considerations to design ideas. It might be an assault on a designer’s sensibility, but snowboarders themselves understand that buying is a hands-on experience.”

However you stack your boards, they have to allow easy access so customers can handle them. The same is true for bindings. Bindings can be simply laid out on a table so they can be tried on with a pair of boots and easily compared to other bindings for size and weight.

10. Tell the Technical Story

Many boards have information stickers attached. And boots have spec cards placed inside. Hang tags are common. As Schriber says, “Almost every piece of merchandise has a technical story which is essential information to convey to the customer.” So let them know the story. But Brian Dyches warns: “Don’t make the store feel too technical or you will intimidate new customers. Regulars will keep coming back anyway.”

Matthew Kreitman writes about leisure business for a variety of international publications. This is his first article for SNOWboarding Business.

Visual Merchandising On a Budget (Sidebar)

The main requirements of good design¿attitude and creativity¿are completely free and can be found in abundance in the snowboarding world.

“It doesn’t cost you anything to clean up the sight lines in your store and put together some cross-merchandising,” says Chute Gundeman’s Terry Carpenter.

At Edgewise in Beaver Creek, Chute Gundeman made use of cheap MDF particle boards stained in bright colors to contrast with the graphics of the snowboards in a wall display. Pieces of carpet were added to provide more color, a contrasting texture, plus extra protection for the boards.

Various standard display racks can be converted easily for boards. Good protective use can be made of pipe cladding that can be painted. Avoid chrome racks and pegs¿they smell of discount retailing.

Found and discarded objects can also be used effectively as the basis for displays or to cover wall area. Camouflage netting covers dark corners and can be used for hanging items.

“One owner we found had made a display system out of old bedsprings,” reports Carpenter.

Make use of anything manufacturers supply. Also ask for design ideas from reps. They see a range of different stores and also have an interest in seeing their products displayed as well as possible. At the end of trade shows, go around to different booths and ask if any exhibitors are leaving behind any of their display equipment.

Trade shows are also a great source of ideas for merchandising displays. The manufacturers pay designers big money for displays that must stand out from the competition in a limited space. Take pictures of the best displays for new ideas.

To learn more about general retail design, read Retail Store Image or Visual Merchandise and Store Image magazines. For cheap ideas and labor, try your local design college. They might be interested in your store as a design project. Student designers are often eager for practical projects to work on that they can add to their portfolios. And students might turn out to be more in tune with your customers than more established designers. Offer old stock in exchange for manual labor.

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Found and discarded objects can also be used effectively as the basis for displays or to cover wall area. Camouflage netting covers dark corners and can be used for hanging items.

“One owner we found had made a display system out of old bedsprings,” reports Carpenter.

Make use of anything manufacturers supply. Also ask for design ideas from reps. They see a range of different stores and also have an interest in seeing their products displayed as well as possible. At the end of trade shows, go around to different booths and ask if any exhibitors are leaving behind any of their display equipment.

Trade shows are also a great source of ideas for merchandising displays. The manufacturers pay designers big money for displays that must stand out from the competition in a limited space. Take pictures of the best displays for new ideas.

To learn more about general retail design, read Retail Store Image or Visual Merchandise and Store Image magazines. For cheap ideas and labor, try your local design college. They might be interested in your store as a design project. Student designers are often eager for practical projects to work on that they can add to their portfolios. And students might turn out to be more in tune with your customers than more established designers. Offer old stock in exchange for manual labor.

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