Business Makeover: Selecting Better Merchandise and Visual Merchandising the Store
By Bob Phibbs
Thanks for following this aspect of my services as a retail consultant, This is the third installment of the business makeover I conducted over the past two months in New York. You can read part one here to understand the business and read part two here to learn about the cleanup.
We’d cleaned, lightened and fixed up the physical store and removed the old merchandise. Now we had to renew all the existing merchandise.
We had to transform the appearance of the private-label jams, spreads, relishes and jellies, and honeys into something special. We cut 5” squares of gingham fabric and affixed them to the jars with black rubber bands. The colors of the gingham squares color-coded each product’s category.
The heavy earthenware plates and mugs, emblazoned with local city names that had previously been hidden, were cleaned, regrouped by city and visually merchandised around the store.
Next, we had to buy new merchandise that would stand out, would not be shoppable at Wal-Mart or other retailers to our south and would definitely appeal to our weekender customers from New York City.
The strategy, if you remember, was to concentrate on the fact that we provided fresh produce from the farm, fresh baked goods from the oven, fresh nursery stock and flowers and unique accessories that told a story.
We had to get customers to linger and consider a wealth of interesting, locally made products.
We’d found an old, wooden elementary-school desk in the attic, cleaned it up and positioned it prominently just inside the doors then used it to display fresh flowers.
Because the store had mostly featured items that appealed to women, we decided to establish a guy presence. We created a guy world on the right and a gal world on the left, then looked for distinct merchandise that filled each world.
Of course, anyone could shop in either area, but the distinction helped us to purchase specific items and group them together in the new worlds.
Jared, the manager came up with the idea to make a chandelier from three beer bottles from a local brewery to hang over guy world.
Gal world would have the Grumpy Girl handmade soaps with fun names and colorful bath bombs which we displayed in and around a clawfoot bathtub. New signature soy candles were placed on a nearby table.
We found an old mannequin that stood perfectly by by the bathtub, then added some white cotton drapes and a fern to make the bath area appealing.
Guy world would feature our salsas, hot sauces and other complimentary items from New England. I discovered “Fartless” brand products including chili, cornbread, popcorn and more. Perfect for guys and with a bonus of a laugh. We ordered Lightfoot’s soap – a legendary hand-milled pine soap from Rhode Island.
We needed to get the average ticket higher so we looked for companion products that could achieve that for us.
One of them was the addition of the ThunderShirt for dogs. At $39.95, online or in-store, we would not be price-shopped. Several local vets had recommended them for animals with separation anxiety and fear of thunderstorms. As the owner of a dog who wore one, I knew they worked. As a bonus, the display came with a plush beagle wearing one. We also purchased all natural dog treats from the number one organic pet treat manufacturer in New England. And thus we created dog world.
We placed the heavy brass scale we found in the attic right in the middle of an old table to be ready for use as our new fruit world.
Old bookcases that were too low, heavy and deep were turned over and stacked to create a display in the corner to hold heavy glazed pots ready for container gardening.
After our wonderful carpenters stained the old counters and a few more tables, the store started looking very special. It had stayed true to its heritage, but now filled with new merchandise - .. merchandise that had a story and a personality to match that of the Black Horse brand itself.
When you get the energy right in a store, magic happens...
We were looking at partnering with a local antique center who could provide us with tables we could use as display fixtures. And then one day, a young man showed up who hand-built antique replica furniture out of pine. “Could we use some of his overstock?” he asked.
“Why sure!” I said. I went over and saw his pieces, selected a range and asked about one in particular that was made on spec. It would be perfect to anchor guy world! Could they transport it? They could ... tomorrow.
Now that we had all the pieces for the retail store, it was time to look at how the produce could be featured into different worlds as well.
Using three different sizes of working carts from the farm, we visually merchandised them to be able to create levels of interest for the produce where we could combine and feature various combinations throughout the year.
The neon starbursts that had been used to price all of the produce were removed. All produce prices would be printed on sheets of paper then placed on clipboards and placed around the store.
I’d like to say I had a grand plan before I began visually merchandising the store. I’d like to say I knew in advance where all the display tables would go. But I didn’t.
I knew in general where things had to fit, but I had to try something and move it again and again and again. I had to be in the area and walk the pathways through the store to see what worked.
Tips For Your Own Business Makeover
Develop a strategy that will guide your choices in both merchandise and in visual merchandising effective displays.
Be ruthless in selecting what merchandise gets to stay.
Find a way to update old merchandise, then clean it and price it.
To create interest, organize worlds of products, not categories.
Walk through your store to see how it feels with the new configuration and be flexible to change it until you get it right.
We were starting to see the store come to life in remarkable ways.
Where would we get the employees and how would we train them with just ten days to go before the big reveal and opening day?
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