Showroom Standouts

Aug 10, 2010

Retailers that put some thought into their merchandise displays benefit from increased in-store sales.

In today’s competitive retail environment, revenue-minded suppliers primarily offer packaging designed to achieve one objective-make the product stand out among competitors’ products, catching a customer’s attention.

When analyzed on the basis of an individual product, that strategy is a great way to quickly turn merchandise. In the multiple-product-line showroom of today, however, that strategy can all too often create a visual din over which the average customer can hardly hear himself think.

In the words of L.J. Lobsinger, Jr., national sales manager for Specialty Auto Parts USA and co-founder of Detroit Muscle, both of Warren, Mich., customers “go into any chain store today and there’s information overload only a Nintendo-addicted teenager could love.”

To create a showroom space that is simultaneously eye-catching and a pleasant and engaging place to spend some time-which should be the goal of any established speed shop-business owners need to put a great deal of time and mental energy into showroom design. That hard work can pay huge dividends, says Lobsinger.

“A good showroom display will act as a company salesman, demonstrating the features and benefits of the product from the consumer’s perspective,” he says. “Your customer doesn’t care about turns or margins, but he does care about what solution the product offers, be it a new look, better performance, affordability, etc.”

Bill Tichenor, director of marketing for Holley Performance Products, Bowling Green, Ky., agrees. He notes that plan-o-grams, point-of-purchase (P.O.P.) and other showroom displays not only communicate what a product’s features and benefits are, but also illustrate trends regarding which products are selling within a product segment.

“(Showroom displays are) an effective way to show consumers what is new and/or hot sellers,” says Tichenor. “They may not even know about a new product until they see it in a store.”

But, when you are looking to create an inviting showroom experience, just the vast number of product displays on the market alone can be a bit daunting for a shop owner.

Fortunately, there are plenty of resources available to guide an owner in this process, and many of those resources come from warehouse distributors and the product suppliers themselves.

Barbara L. Tolbert of On the Edge Marketing, Lake Forest, Calif., a manufacturer and importer of a wide range of automotive-related and officially licensed products, notes that her company offers dealers a wealth of display options for its products. That includes combination displays that showcase a featured product, catalogs, marketing sales sheets, plan-o-grams and other elements, “all on one display or a 4-foot section.”

All of this, she says, is done with a specific eye for graphic elements that will motivate customers to buy.

“The best solution for key product displays is to position a colorful graphic poster in the display stand,” she adds, because, “customers remember 80 percent of what they see and 20 percent of what they hear.”

Setup for Success

How important is an attractive showroom setting? Brian Murphy of BBK Performance, Temecula, Calif.-who also co-owns a pair of retail performance centers with his brother in Florida and California-explains that for brick-and-mortar stores, what customers see is usually what they buy.

“Statistically, 70 percent of showroom sales are impulse buys,” he notes. “It’s the ‘gotta have it’ factor. For shops to compete with the Internet and mail order houses, they need to have items that are presentable and on the shelf, ready to sell. It’s all about instant gratification.”

As most shop owners with a bit of history in the business under their belts will tell you, more than simply selling products, a shop today can benefit greatly by creating a space that customers love to go hang out in.

The sales, logically, only improve when such a space is created, and more time spent in the shop often equals more money spent, according to Holley’s Tichenor.

“A successful store owner or manager will make his store a cool place to hang out, where consumers can immerse themselves in their hobby,” he notes. “It should be bright and clean, with interesting parts and signage that get them excited to be there and will make them want to go home and work on their car. When they are excited to work on their car, they buy parts.

“Plus, when it is a cool place to hang out, they will come back more often, which leads to more opportunities to sell parts,” he adds.

Lobsinger agrees, noting that like any other business, a speed shop showroom should be kept fresh and up-to-date. Considering the rapid pace of change in the industry, credibility often comes from staying on top of fast-moving trends.

“For starters, if you’re not stocking the newest stuff, your display is fast asleep,” says Lobsinger. “The best dealer displays are those utilizing companies with full-color packaging, signage, giveaways and contests, and promoting the newest products.

“Far too often I’ll see performance displays of the same old brands, same old parts, same old song and dance, like it is still 1973 or something,” he jokes. “And these dealers wonder why they can barely keep the lights on? The real sales dollars and profits are found in the newest products.”

In addition to showcasing the newest products, today’s showroom displays should have a healthy focus on layout to succeed, says On The Edge’s Tolbert. She notes that the areas surrounding the checkout counter provide especially fertile ground for countertop and floor-standing displays.

“The layout can make a big difference in how well a product sells,” she says, adding that ideal spots for standalone displays include “at a parts counter or in the middle of the retail floor where you have to basically trip over it. High-traffic areas are going to sell your products better than (having products) stuck on a shelf where nobody can see them.”

Lobsinger agrees that placement within the showroom layout is a prime consideration for shops.

“There’s no question the end-caps and counter displays do the best overall, and you’ll want to be sure your most profitable product displays are at eye level, easy to find and promoted throughout the store,” he says, while cautioning shop owners from overdoing it and creating unnecessary clutter.

“As a manufacturer, we do everything we can to make our boxes, displays, etc., all look better than the rest, and as a retailer you have to be sensitive to going overboard with this kind of stuff,” he explains.

Book By Its Cover

BBK’s Murphy says his company has also invested recently in updated product packaging that helps retailers by looking good on the shelf.

“Packaging means a lot,” he says. “We went to four-color displays that better-show what people are purchasing. When they are considering a higher-priced item, they expect the packaging to reflect the value of the product. Our updated packaging has helped us get more product into stores.”

For shop owners, one way to keep a display front-of-mind, even when it is not front-and-center, is to educate counter staff to direct customers towards certain areas of the store, or even specific displays.

“I always tell our retailers to be sure their counter staff and sales personnel point out the displays by telling them, ‘Have you seen the new Ford Racing display? Take a quick look and come on back and we’ll register you for our monthly giveaway,'” says Lobsinger. “Even if it’s a life-sized picture of Danica Patrick, it’s still not a real person. Effective product displays have effective salespeople (behind them).”

In addition to promoting the latest products in an organized, strategic layout, an effective showroom today should also be kept fresh. Seasons, sales trends and the interests of local customers all change over time, and with it the showroom should evolve as well.

To do that, says Holley’s Tichenor, a shop owner needs to know his or her customers well.

“The owner or manager should get to know the consumers in his area and pick products that serve their interests,” says Tichenor. “Is there a local drag strip or circle track in (a shop’s) area? Are there a lot of rat rods or are muscle cars hot in their area? Change it up and continually work on it to see what works best. (A shop’s) warehouse distributor or the manufacturer can also give direction on what are AAA-movers and what to have out on display as well.”

On The Edge’s Tolbert suggests that the most effective showrooms tap-to as great an extent as possible-directly into the desires and focus of its target audience. Knowing what drives the customers to walk through the doors in the first place allows a shop owner to utilize that passion for racing and performance parts to the shop’s advantage.

A shop should strive to, “Make the customer feel at home, and make him want to purchase these featured items that you might have on display,” she says.

What an Experience

Thinking beyond the automotive aftermarket, Lobsinger relates the goal for a well-designed speed shop showroom to the shopping experience a customer receives at non-automotive big box stores.

“Your showroom should constantly be evolving with the newest, most profitable products. Best Buy and Borders are great examples of a unique shopping experience wherein every visit you find something new and something you ‘must have,'” he says.

But no matter how nicely your showroom is set up, and how good the displays within it, nothing beats an educated salesperson to guide a shopper through it, says Lobsinger.

“Put your sales reps to work and have them tell you what’s working in other retail stores,” he says.

Lobsinger notes that beyond having a strategic layout, plenty of race track imagery and a well-trained staff to guide customers around, a showroom should also be clean, with a “featured products” section, and the right kind of displays.

“Clean it up,” he suggests. “This should be obvious, but if you have products or product displays with dust on them, clean it up or send it back to the WD. Secondly, designate an area for featured products. Here you’ll showcase new products as well as those profitable products putting money back in your pocket. And finally, make sure your display follows these three rules: It’s exciting, it has something new, and there is a compelling call to action.”

Murphy compares a store’s showroom appeal to a visual ad for the company.

“Showrooms are very important,” he says. “They are your window to the consumer. They act like an ad in that they tell your story in a visual manner. If it offers a professional appearance, then it speaks well of the business. Think of it like the cover of a book-if it looks presentable, people will want to see what’s inside.”

By following these basic rules a speed shop owner can create a clean, inviting shopping experience with the latest products, avoid the cluttered look of so many chain stores, and fashion a retail space that taps into the root desires of its target audience. With that considerable effort, of course, comes the reward of more and more happy customers.