Showing Off

Nov 21, 2009

Eye-catching displays are crucial for strong retail sales, but stores need more than just a lot of signage to increase profits.

“Appealing to the customer’s sense of adventure and sport is paramount to selling product,” believes Mike Staples, of Naython’s in Philadelphia, Pa. “Bold display and a well-organized selection translate into sales. In contemporary retail environments, everything should address the customer’s impulse to buy.”

Since most products are purchased on impulse – about 90 percent, according to On the Edge Marketing owner Brian Horowitz -“ a good display is very important. “It’s critical – especially for impulse buys, but also for core products.”

On the Edge Marketing is a unique company that creates marketing tools for its customers, tailoring displays to fit different kinds of stores.

“We cater to the outdoor market through sports stores and to the garage market through automotive shops because speed shops don’t get the garage market.”

Stores are “stoked,” he says, about his products – such as interlocking floor tiles for a race shop look or neon signs and clocks for a traditional speed shop look – because the diversity allows them to “hit different niches.”

Location, Location, Location

A good display begins with good positioning, which is why Horowitz relies heavily on end caps, where he places products with the highest margin, highest volume and highest turnover rate.

But with floor space in high demand and wall space just as hard to come by, creative options can make an important difference.

Performance Corner/TruckGear’s national director Kirk Walker lists the options his Kansas City company offers, such as 25-30 planograms, but says the most successful display unit is the self-standing podium-style point-of-purchase order center. Consuming a mere two square feet of space, the multi-function unit serves as a distribution and order center, capable of accommodating a 600-page clip-in catalog for consumers to flip through. A hollow center column provides storage for additional take-home catalogs. The unit also holds monthly sales fliers.

“Store owners like it,” Walker declares. “It’s a great way to pick up add-on sales without using up counter or shelf space.”

“Displays can be hard to place,” explains Tim Messer of Gardner-Westcott. “Some guys put them on the wall for better visibility; others like units with a storage factor that can hold a variety of merchandise. Our inventory includes a variety of items to dress up a car, in different finishes and head styles. A low counter unit allows consumers to see the quality of our stamped hex caps and the variety of head styles. It also provides a place to store a quantity that’s easily accessible.”

Using no floor space, Gardner-Westcott’s J1-pop5 countertop unit is very popular. Available in hand-polished, chrome-plated brass “for durability and bling,” it rivals the Northville, Michigan company’s four-sided floor unit. The units can be custom-made, but are also available in 16 pre-made configurations for generic Ford, GM or Chevy merchandise. There’s even a metric p-o-p unit.

Best use of space is a consideration when selecting a display unit. “A lot of dealers use p-o-p units when space is tight because you can get so much product on them,” Messer points out. “Every retail jobber should display his wares the best way possible. We offer variety and choice so each jobber can select what sells for him.”

Raison d’etre

Walker agrees that, ultimately, it’s up to the individual jobber to decide which display works best. He acknowledges that it’s getting more difficult to place displays because retail space is at a premium. Therefore, a display “has to have real value. If it sells product, it gets space.”

A successful display must be eye-catching, functional, make good use of space and serve a purpose. For Messer, whose company carries the largest inventory of specialized fasteners, that means displays that spin around easily and packaging that grabs attention. Although Gardner-Westcott hasn’t changed the package design on its engine kits for 10-15 years, he points out that “we’re the only company using bubble pack for throttle return springs,” adding that retailers have to “make sure it’s eye candy to attract the consumer.”

Display Tips

Shop-worn merchandise and dirty or damaged displays can send consumers running for the door. “Cardboard doesn’t last forever!” Walker laughs. “When it gets dirty or weak, it needs to be changed out.”

Staples insists that a store must be organized, clean and visually appealing. Worn carpet, burned-out lights, trash and “anything sitting on the floor” detract from a display. But the most important part of a good display, he says, is a well-lit showroom. “Knowing the difference between ambient and display lighting is crucial.”

What’s in the spotlight is just as important as the right lighting. “A lot of guys say the best way to bring customers in is to change displays,” Messer reports. “In the after-market, it’s important for manufacturers to take a hard look at what the retail customer wants.”

Freshening displays is especially good for frequent customers. “Good stores change displays and move things around to catch the eye of their customers,” Walker explains. “We advise retailers to rotate their displays or at least change out pieces of it.” Not refreshening is a mistake, Messer agrees. “Leaving bare spots shows either a lack of inventory or a lack of interest.” Both are detrimental to sales.

Bare and static are out; dynamic and busy are in. Presenting the busyness of the business attracts customers. Horowitz considers it important to draw them in with neon signs and TVs broadcasting racing, which demonstrate the speed, energy and passion of the industry and encourage consumers to buy.

Energy and motion also make dynamic displays. Walker recalls a K&N filter display that involved a functioning fan and a ping pong ball. “It was eye-catching and demonstrated the product. It showed its value.” Interactive displays often draw interest because they require consumer involvement.

“It’s hard to say what mistakes people make because everyone has different goals,” Walker speculates. To do their job effectively, displays have to be in place, stocked and functional. His sales staff checks to see if the displays are up and placed well in high-traffic areas.

Walker says it’s easy enough to evaluate the effectiveness of a display by listening to customer comments and having conversations with shop owners: are they using the display? are people taking the catalogs? are they selling more product? “If sales are increasing, the displays are doing their job.” In general, he believes displays are effective, recalling one occasion when he set up a p-o-p in a shop. “Before I left, five or six customers took catalogs.”

Similarly, Messer says a quick method of determining the success of a display is by looking at how often a store owner reorders items. “If [a display] is not generating money, don’t keep it,” he advises. However, he believes the money it costs to buy a point-of-purchase unit is well worth it and will pay off. “We provide the best quality p-o-p units. They’re simple to put together and they’re durable; they hold up to the weight of the product. A lot of thought goes into their operation.”

Innovation often leads to successful sales. Messer notes that Gardner-Westcott was the first to put engine sets in shrink wrap. “Skin pack is the best way to protect heat-shrink kits; it keeps them contained so they don’t get scratched or marred in transport.” Transport is one thing; sales is another. The biggest mistake retailers make, Horowitz believes, is “having things in white boxes where the customer can’t see and feel them. Just like they say ‘If you show it, you can sell it,’ it’s also true that if they can touch it, they’ll buy it.”

But they can’t buy it if it’s not in stock. “Not restocking displays is a sure way to lose sales,” Horowitz confirms. Not pricing items can also deter a customer. Lack of easily visible pricing loses sales. “People don’t like to ask,” Horowitz says.

It does no good for them to ask if the staff can’t give them a good answer. Regardless of how attractive a display is, Staples warns of another sales killer: under-informed and inattentive employees.


For new retailers, Staples advises seeking professional help from an experienced store planner. “There are three main elements to renovating or creating a new retail interior: store planning/design – working with the customer; store fixtures – delivering the new interior fixtures; installation – assembling the new fixtures; and visual merchandising – placing product properly. This should be a fluid process managed by an experienced project manager. If these processes are managed by the storeowner or different vendors, the results can be disastrous. Try to find a company that has the ability to deliver all four components. The most basic store can be made exciting in the hands of an experienced merchandiser. Window display, interior product placement, price point and signage all play a part.”

Horowitz has a simpler suggestion: go to toy stores! If you think about it, automotive after-market items are “big boy toys,” so it’s logical to look to a toy store for ideas. “They’re the best merchandisers out there because they have the hardest market to sell to: kids.” Toy stores work hard to group items and create hands-on, interactive displays. “You can’t over-think it.”

“There’s no perfect scenario,” Walker rationalizes. While large chains typically have a “cookie cutter” plan, most of his customers are individuals. They can turn to distributors and manufacturers for display assistance, or they can look at their competitors’ stores, trade magazines and Web sites. He recommends they pay attention, be aggressive and experiment. “See what sales are doing. A lot of education is trial and error.”

Other education comes from manufacturers’ reps, who conduct seminars and shows to demonstrate the product and educate dealers on the proper way to address retail. “A lot of independent dealers procure ‘stuff’ but not knowledge,” Walker says. “In this market, you have to be educated.”