However, before we begin digging into the dynamics of display, let’s consider the signs that lead us to the displays we seek. It may seem strange to talk about in-store signage in an article about showroom display, but the truth is, simple-yet-well-done signage is at least as important as good displays — some would argue it’s more important.
In fact, when visiting a performance shop, one of the first things that merchandising specialist Vori Kriaris, managing director of Halo Concepts, a division of Naythons Display, looks at is the signage.
He remarks, “Amateur signage is the worst thing you can do for your customers. I’ve seen shops that took a Fram Oil Filter box, turned it inside out, wrote on it with a black magic marker and taped it to the counter. Do you know what that communicates to the customer? That indicates that the price for the part or service they’re offering isn’t necessarily the same every day. There’s something unreliable there.”
That’s not good. Kriaris says that performance business owners want their customers to think of them as an expert with an established business. Poor in-store signage and sloppy displays are detrimental toward that goal.
For an example of excellent in-store signage, Kriaris suggests walking into a store such as Target. “They’re the best at it. The signage is professional. It’s produced, it’s printed, framed and presented. It seems reliable rather than the fly-by-night attitude that handmade signs have.”
Kriaris is very picky about that and with good reason. Poor signage undermines the credibility of everything you are trying to accomplish with well done displays.
“You could have the most beautiful displays in the world, but if you have poor signage, you ruin the effect,” says Kriaris. He adds that there is very little excuse for bad signage these days. Even signage that is created on a PC can be done well.
“Bad signage is just lazy,” says Kriaris. “Understand, signage is what sells your product. Signage is actually more important than display. Having the two of them work together is the ideal situation. But, even if your displays are bad, good signage will allow you to function,” says Kriaris.
Kriaris adds that quality is important for signage large and small, and that includes price tags.
“If you’re going to do gondolas, make sure you have the concave plastic tag frames at the front, so the price can be clearly seen. Also, make sure that all of the individual items are priced. Those, to me, are matters of housekeeping and professionalism,” says Kriaris.
On The Fixtures Themselves
The necessity of well-done signage cannot be overstated, but as Kriaris said, the ideal showroom has excellent signage working in concert with well-arranged, placed and stocked displays. Those displays are placed on an array of fixtures, from slat wall and pegboard to gondolas and end caps.
“It’s not the fixture you choose, it’s how you choose to use the fixture. There’s a great deal of fixturing out there, and fixturing is generally determined by budget. But, an inexpensive fixture can be just as effective as an expensive fixture. It’s really how you use the fixture. Remember, fixturing is just simply a backdrop, and a presentation means to show your product. The product is of the primary interest, not the fixture that shows it.”
When Kriaris says fixturing, he’s referring to actual hardware: shelving, floor fixturing, floor racks, wall systems, cases, etc. Fixturing is the means by which stores put their merchandise on the floor of their showrooms. He adds that the quality of fixturing can range from a Volkswagen to a Bentley. The shop has to decide what is right for their customers and what is right for their budget.
“We do have some very specific pieces that are designed specifically for performance and the aftermarket. Those are wheel holders; we have very specific brackets that hold wheels on slat wall or grid wall. We have items that hold exhaust systems, and if we don’t have them, we certainly have the resources to find them,” says Kriaris.
Kriaris notes that items for the automotive aftermarket are just now becoming an issue. Generally, car parts were sold adjacent to garages, and it’s only recently that his industry, the industry of product display and merchandising, has found there to be a real market for specific display fixtures.
However, Naythons Display isn’t the only company with items to help performance retailers better merchandise their products — though they may be the only ones in their field to do so. Some aftermarket manufacturers have also got wind of the increasing sophistication of performance stores.
J.C. Flugger of Flowmaster in Santa Rosa, Calif., notes they offer large and small banners, brochures and holders, posters, door and floor decals as standard options.
“We regularly will create limited run items such as metal signs, mobiles and counter mats. For a reasonable cost, there are muffler cutaways, clocks and shop stools available. Flowmaster also offers a program called ‘Booth in a Box.’ This is a display that gives our dealers everything they need to do an off-site show to promote Flowmaster. Many of these items can be used later in the shop itself,” says Flugger.
Lou Lobsinger of Proform Parts in Detroit, Mich., points out that one of Proform’s most popular display tools is their Planolog. “We’ve combined all of the ‘A’ mover SKUs in our Planograms into a simple flip chart in-store display catalog. Thus, the Planolog.”
The real advantage of the Planolog is that it allows the retailer to stock only a few SKUs, yet keep all of the popular SKUs in front of the customer. Every SKU is available through a local WD, so the consumer can simply pick up the product the next day. This display to assist counter-service is unique to the automotive aftermarket. Counter-service and the parts behind the counter are important aspects to consider for a performance store’s merchandising, which we will revisit later in the article.
Lobsinger continues, “The retailer effectively offers $20,000 of retail-priced product in the space of a few $6 breather caps. And gosh, in an economy like ours here in Detroit, every penny counts!”
One more potential flourish, Kriaris adds, are digitally printed slat wall. “I could take any photograph, give it to my printer, and he can directly print the image onto a 4′ x 8′ sheet of slat wall. For items that need a little more perceived value, you could put an appealing image on the wall they’re hanging on. You could do something like a drive-in theatre, but you have to choose the photos carefully. The images printed on the slat wall can interface beautifully if you pick the right one. Something such as Route 66 stretching out to the horizon, a photograph of that would really be nothing more than road, desert and sky. You take four rims and place it on that as a background, and the customer gets it. All of a sudden, the product is put in its environment.”
Pointers For Showroom Layout
Once the fixtures and various POP are in the shop, the next question surfaces, “Where do I put these things?”
“Oddly enough,” says Lobsinger, “I’ve received a lot of great advice talking to shop owners in other industries. Maybe it’s that fresh perspective, but at the end of the day, all retailers have the same problem: selling popular products at respectable margins. Be it shampoo, sway bars or soda, I might suggest talking to local retailers in vertical industries.”
That’s a helpful suggestion that all of the contributors to this article concur with. In the meantime, Kriaris has some tips that will aid in the organization and grouping of products on your showroom floor.
“Less is more,” says Kriaris. “What is really important in a showroom is clarity of product. How you group or departmentalize your products adds to that clarity. For example, you have the exhaust department, the rim department, the radio and stereo department and so on.”
Kriaris says the first thing shop owners need to think about are their departments, making sure to keep like product together. Keeping like product together shows the customer the price points available in those products. Hopefully, when you or a member of your staff is showing the customer any part or system, they are able start on the left with the least expensive part, and then work their way right towards the higher end parts.
“Customers have to be able to compare the features in relation to price, and it is incumbent upon the performance retailer to make that as easy as possible to do in the store. This is no different than in any retail business,” says Kriaris.
Eye level is the best level, and from there, going up is better than going down. Kriaris notes that in supermarkets, manufacturers vie desperately for eye level on the shelves; anything above or below is secondary. Eye level is where you want to place your most important products those with the best margins, those you most want to promote or those that you most want to clear out of the store.
“My advice to most retailers is to go into a supermarket. Supermarkets are brilliant at merchandising. They’ve been doing it for a long time, and they know how to do it,” says Kriaris.
As mentioned earlier, Kriaris notes that automotive retailers are different from most others in the fact that many of the products they sell are not on the showroom floor. They are kept in a backroom behind a service desk that customers approach.
“My suggestion is to carefully establish what items are kept behind a service desk (salesman assisted sales) and what are self-service and/or impulse sales, which are on the floor,” says Kriaris.
Despite the need to keep many products behind the service desk, Kriaris says it’s critical to make sure the showroom floor looks full. Empty space doesn’t just look awful, which is bad enough, it gives the appearance that you don’t know what you’re doing even worse.
“I just saw this place in central Pennsylvania that was the ugliest car parts store that I’ve ever seen in my life. They had these vast aisles with three head gaskets handing on pegboard. That’s a terrible waste of space. Bring out more windshield wiper fluid; stock up on oil; do something, but don’t waste space on items like that! No one is going to come in and buy a head gasket on impulse,” Kriaris.
Change It Up
Another merchandising strategy retailers may incorporate to aid sales and keep their showroom fresh is to change things up from time to time. Opinions vary on how to best do this.
According to Flugger, in order to keep it lively, a showroom should be reorganized at least twice a year, preferably every quarter.
“This also allows you to clean out and clean up each display. This can be done as simply moving items from the bottom shelf to the top and vice-versa. New promo items, literature or catalogs can be replaced,” says Flugger.
Flugger adds that seasonal displays are very important for spontaneous sales and impulse purchases.
“These items should be moved up front and be visible. Winter time should promote anti-freeze, wiper blades, ice scrappers, RainX, etc. Summer time should promote waxes and car care products, seat covers, floor mats, dash and window covers, etc.,” says Flugger.
Throwing his opinion into the mix, Lobsinger says, “A good shop will have a static area of popular sellers that needs only annual updates to the display based on what their WD is recommending. You should also have a ‘new products’ display as well as a seasonal display. I teased a local jobber last holiday season about his Christmas lights display, and his response said it all, ‘Everybody loves an impulse buy.’ I have no empirical evidence to back this up beyond simply being a consumer myself. I love to see it when stores take the time to get in the spirit of things,” says Lobsinger.
Lending credibility to those assertions, Kriaris notes that all of the big box retailers do this.
“When you walk into any of them, what they’ll have in the main aisle, right in front of you, are those things which will seasonally fit your car. If I were to walk into an Auto Zone right now, their main swing aisle named so because it changes with seasons or promotions will have coolers that plug into the cigarette lighter and folding chairs. In the dead of winter, they have windshield wiper fluid and salt,” says Kriaris.
He again points out that it’s a good idea to designate one area of the store to use for specific promotions, seasonal and otherwise. And, Kriaris notes that it doesn’t matter what kind of categories you’re selling. Seasonal merchandising applies to almost everything, one way or another.
“Every store is departmentalized, and that’s probably 4/5 of the store, but you should absolutely plan on 1/5 to 1/3 of the store as a swing area. That empty space should pull from all other departments to create another department,” says Kriaris.
Kriaris cautions that when setting up a seasonal display, it’s important not to remove product from its usual area. To do so confuses consumers, particularly male shoppers, who are used to looking for product in a certain area and become impatient when they can’t find what they’re looking for. Instead, use the swing area to increase the amount of stock on the floor.
The idea behind merchandising is to help the products that need help.
“There are some items that unto themselves are insignificant, and they need display,” says Kriaris.
To that end, when Kriaris is advising performance shops on their merchandising, he always recommends that they have an engine or vehicle on display.
“You at least need an engine on display. That’s what makes the store exciting. Now, let’s say we’ve got exhaust systems or wheels — these kinds of products respond more to glamorous display. Those areas can be dressed up to make them look more important than the item is itself — that’s what display really is. Display is increasing the perceived value of the item. The customer doesn’t have to know how much the shop pays for items wholesale; what they have to think is what it is really worth. It is incumbent upon retailers to increase the perceived value,” says Kriaris.