Use these five keys to create a fresh new design and layout
Online shopping may be one popular way to buy today, but a recent study shows that in-store experiences are still more valuable to customers—if the store makes them feel like they are getting a customized shopping experience.
Consulting firm A.T. Kearney recently studied the shopping patterns of more than 3,000 U.S. and U.K. consumers and found they spent 61% of their shopping time in stores. Even better news for brick-and-mortar stores: 40% of the in-store shoppers spent more than they had originally planned, while only 25% spent more than expected when they shopped online.
Customers today have limited time and budgets, so what compels them to drive to their local Christian retail store instead of ordering online? A personalized, positive experience.
Today’s consumers head to the store for the instant gratification of taking an item home, but also to experience products and to socialize with friends and family. They want to shop in welcoming, inviting retail spaces that engage their senses. That’s why it is critical for retailers to take a good hard look at their stores and see if it’s time for a makeover.
“We are constantly moving things around, creating new displays,” said Susan Lewis, co-owner of Logos of Dallas, which celebrates its 40th anniversary this summer. “I see a difference when I do. I think it is a big deal. When I change things up, I see more movement in product. If something doesn’t work, we move it somewhere else. Just like in real estate, it’s all about location, location, location. I may have an art canvas that’s been on a wall for six months. Then I move it to a new spot, and it sells in one day.”
“What Christian stores need to do is make sure they are rebranding themselves as current, not stuck back in the 1980s and ’90s,” said Emily Fielitz, visual merchandiser and owner of Elynn. “You do that with new colors and signage and by creating display tables. It doesn’t have to take much time or investment. You can do it by reutilizing items that you already have.”
With reality television shows, websites and hundreds of thousands of Do-It-Yourself (DIY) projects on the Internet offering step-by-step advice on everything from complete makeovers to the most detailed displays, design experts say there is no excuse for any store to look dirty or dated.
“We move our store front to back and back to front at least quarterly. That includes books, Bibles, everything,” said Danni Schneidt-Hill, owner of Promises in Billings, Montana. “You know the retail rule: 80% of your customers only see 20% of your product. Just by moving the same product around, customers say, ‘Oh, look at all the new stuff you got.’ It’s not new, but it’s new to them because they are seeing it for the first time.”
Consider the following five keys to learn how you can refresh your store’s visual appeal to new and longtime customers:
1. HAUL IT ALL OUT
“Retail lives and dies based on the answer to the question: ‘What’s new?’” said Bob Phibbs, retail speaker, expert and consultant known as The Retail Doctor. “If a store has not updated in years, I would tell them to do the same thing you see on reality TV shows. Haul it all out. Take everything out of their store and clean it. Clean the whole thing. Honestly, that’s where it all starts.”
Phibbs says the advantages of emptying the store completely are many, including the chance to see old things in a new light, the opportunity to find things you didn’t even know you had and a way to give a fresh look to the store because it sparkles again.
“After that, you can add a new coat of paint or new carpet, but really cleaning everything out is the best first step,” Phibbs said. “Then we take some of the items that were in the back and put them in the front, move the shelves around, replace all the lights. Start with a clean slate, and suddenly you’ll get more optimism about your place.”
Stores should be painted at least once every three years, Fielitz suggests, because of dings, chipping and fading by sunshine and fluorescent lighting. When you paint, stick with the basics on your biggest walls, like an off-white with a little bit of gold in it, a slight brown-beige or a true beige.
“The color of the year, like this year’s Radiant Orchid, is always a fad color and will only last a year or a couple of years at the most,” Fielitz said. “You want to use really good, neutral colors on your main walls and then add what I call ‘super neutrals’ on the smallest wall or an accent wall. Make your accent wall the easiest one to paint, like a wall between two columns. Then you can change it more frequently.”
Super neutrals include true navy blue, vivid red, chocolate brown and deep gray, like the colors Ralph Lauren is known for, Fielitz noted.
“These are consistent colors, year after year,” she said. “Then you can use fabric on a wall or paper accents on displays to add in trend colors like orchid.”
Another key to freshening up your store is to make sure the light fixtures are appealing to the eye. Lights should be clean and bright enough to illuminate, but not glaring. Get to know the pros and cons of different kinds of light bulbs—fluorescent, incandescent, halogen and CFL (compact florescent light bulb).
Light fixtures can easily be created by painting old lamps or lampshades to give them a new look, hanging several shades together (like a mobile) or even making a light fixture from crib springs hung with mason jars or wrapped in Christmas lights.
2. DRAW THE EYE
Once your store sparkles, it’s time to put it back together. If you can’t empty the store, you still need to move fixtures, displays and products often to give customers something new to focus on every time they visit.
Phibbs notes that directing traffic flow with design is important. In North America, people walk into a store and turn right, then walk counter-clockwise.
“If your cashiers are in front and on the right, you have a situation where your customers who want to pay constantly have to cross through other customers just entering your store,” Phibbs said. “This limits and degrades the shopping experience.”
Keep crowding down by creating lots of open spaces and aisles. Break up your bookshelves into smaller sections. Four-foot sections are ideal, with focal points of color in the middle.
“You want to think about the 4-foot space,” said Sherry Morris, marketing manager for Carpentree. “Think: ‘How do I design this 4 feet?’ rather than just having rows and rows of bookshelves. You can add garland, Christmas lights, something to draw the eye.”
“Often, the gifts area of a store is so distinctly different than the book section that it looks like two different stores,” Fielitz said. “Break it up, have callouts. Sometimes the gift side looks like so much more fun, while the book side looks like a library. You don’t want to buy gifts at the library. Make it easier for customers to walk between your rows by adding a little seating area, or hang artwork on the ends.”
“If you never do anything else in your rows and rows of books, redo your endcaps,” Schneidt-Hill said. “Put a chair on the end with a night table and a candle with an open Bible or a book. You can do so many fun things with your endcaps.”
3. REUSE WHAT YOU HAVE
Rustic and vintage looks are extremely popular, and experts predict the trend will stay due to tighter economic times, a concern for the environment, the popularity of DIY and the nostalgia factor. That makes it easy for retailers to create new displays without a lot of cost or time by simply using things they already have or buying inexpensive items at garage sales, flea markets and thrift stores.
One example is turning wood pallets into walls, stacked displays and backdrops. They also can be cut to make shelves, tables and benches.
“We have stacked pallets and made a garden area, screwed them to the wall, painted them and done all kinds of things,” Schneidt-Hill said. “We’ve taken springs from a baby bed and hung them from the ceiling, then hung items from it. You can use old boxes, books, just about anything to add interest to a display.”
“Right now, everything is rustic, very vintage,” agreed Vicki Geist, co-owner and buyer, Cedar Springs Christian Stores, Knoxville, Tenn. “We have a little area upstairs where we just keep everything we might use. We have a little school desk and other things we can bring down as we need them.”
“You can get old books [or magazines], like Reader’s Digest and encyclopedias, and use them to display jewelry and gifts,” Fielitz said. “You can stack a few and hang them as a shelf. Hang them like a mobile with a light in the middle, and you have a new fixture.”
Fielitz said Goodwill stores and Habitat for Humanity’s ReStores can be treasure troves for retailers wanting a new look. Old plywood, lumber, windows, doors, dressers and drawers can be converted into shelves, tables, signs, room dividers and jewelry display cases. Buckets, wooden boxes and crates of different heights add depth and interest to tabletop displays. Ribbon, greenery and floral arrangements also can add warmth and color.
“A lot of stores still have the glass with brass or chrome shelving units and display cases and those just look outdated,” Fielitz said. “Sell them on Craigslist and use the money to buy some antique night tables, end tables, cabinets or fireplaces. With things like that, you can spray-paint them and do just about anything.
“Take a log and cut it into 8-inch, 6-inch, 4-inch and 2-inch risers to use as jewelry displays instead of putting it under glass,” she added. “Customers really need to see and feel the merchandise. When it is under glass, the perception is that it is too expensive or that it is cold, not inviting. It will sell better when it is more accessible.”
“A lot of my display pieces are antiques or garage sale pieces,” Schneidt-Hill said. “Right now I have two really rough sawhorses. I took an old door and put wooden boxes on top and greenery around it, then added cross vases and picture frames. It didn’t cost me anything. The old door was in my garage.
“I use accent pieces, like a guitar sitting in my music section. I’ve used badminton or tennis rackets, baseballs and footballs during sports seasons. I have a little plastic basketball hoop I put on the back side of the door, then put a table in front of the door and add a sports devotional on it.”
Schneidt-Hill says even if a retailer is extremely design-challenged and feels like he or she doesn’t have any artistic talent, simply try something new.
“You don’t have to do the whole store,” Schneidt-Hill said. “Start small and you’ll find it is easy to do. Get your staff to help. We’ve had contests for the one who can bring in a certain item from their house.”
Geist agrees that even little changes can make a big difference.
“I went and bought some paint rollers, and we turned them on their side and put bracelets on them,” she said. “Last year, we had some pieces of plastic grass and put that on the table with the jewelry on it for spring. At one of our stores, they put gift bags with the tissue paper already fluffed up in them on display right near the registers. There are about 12 different ones, and they sell constantly. We also bought some big white frames with no glass or back, and we hang those on the wall behind the registers and highlight a book or CD or DVD inside to draw attention to that product.”
4. COLOR IS KING
A splash of color often helps sell product.
“Color is king,” said Rick Segel, owner of Rick Segel and Associates and author of The Retail Sales Bible. “Just look at a presentation of towels in a big box store. It’s the color that sells you and not the product.”
“Add color touches to displays to bring out the colors on books and CDs,” Geist said. “Keep colors together and give it a clean look, not jumbled. You can buy wrapping paper and tear a little bit and put it on table displays.”
Wrapping paper, tissue paper and fabric are great ways to add color that is cheap and temporary. Gift wrap can be wrapped around flatwall, put in picture frames, torn into confetti and taped around endcaps. Tissue paper can be transformed into flowers on the wall, stuffing for gift bags, padding inside boxes and used in many other ways.
“All of my flatwall has some kind of something on it—paper, material, tissue, those kinds of things are easy,” Schneidt-Hill said. “And if you already wrap gifts for customers and have that 495-foot bolt of wrapping paper, how much energy does it take to use some on your flatwall and then put holes where you hang things? There you have it, a new look for nothing.”
“Last year I decided turquoise was my color, and I used just plain wrapping paper with a sheen to it,” Logos’ Lewis said. “I bought rolls and rolls of it and put it behind displays, under countertops, behind plexiglass. I covered pedestals with little splashes of color throughout the store. It was a fun way to refresh things.”
“I just spent time in Branson (Missouri) and walked a row of gift stores, and I went into one where everything was just kind of stuck out there,” Morris said. “Then I went into a really beautifully arranged store, and the difference was amazing.
“The store was filled with what I call ‘vignettes,’ where they started with a framed-art piece on a wall or table or easel that set a color tone, then brought in all kinds of product—lotions, scarves, jewelry—all done around color. It was just beautiful and felt good. People wanted to shop, and they were buying. The other store had basically the same things, but all they were selling was candy and some lower-end trinkets. You need to do some vignettes that set the stage with the products you have.”
5. SHARE THE MESSAGE
While it’s easy to get ideas and step-by-step instructions, especially with the advent of Pinterest.com, it can be more difficult to create your brand. Your design should tell your story, with the emphasis on the categories that are your specialty. Customers should be able to see and hear your story, to experience your mission and ministry through signage, products with a message and personal touches.
“The two biggest trends in the world are spirituality and giving back,” said Steve Slaughter president of gift company Halle Joy. “That’s why we create products with a message with every piece. When a customer sees our jewelry, it tells a story of hope or a story of grace. And when they wear it and someone notices it, it is an opportunity for them to share the message.”
Slaughter said Christian stores who see their story as their brand and develop their strengths and specialties can offer a more customized experience to their shoppers.
“Instead of chasing promotions, stores should be building their brand,” Slaughter said. “When you go into Home Depot or Fossil or Pandora, you recognize the look, the brand. When a store starts pulling together fixtures and creating their own look, they are developing their brand. People say not to sweat the small stuff, but when we design a new line, we sweat everything. We want our pieces to look good from the front, the sides, the back. We have an eye on the current trends. We pay attention to detail, and everything has to be inspired by Scripture.”
Slaughter said customers are attracted to messages of hope and grace, and Christian stores give that hope when they share their story through inviting displays.
“Stories unite people, stories create multiple sales, stories create loyalty,” he said.
Retailers should know their community’s story too.
“Know your community, so you can do lifestyle events,” Schneidt-Hill said. “If you live in a golf-loving community, set up a mini putting green and let customers try to get a hole-in-one for a coupon. Have a basketball shoot on your lawn during basketball season. Figure out what your community loves, know its story, so you can bring them in.”
“I let local artists tell their story by bringing their pieces in on consignment,” Lewis said. “There is no financial risk to me, and it gives the artist a chance to display their work. It also freshens up the store.”
Giving a store a design overhaul can be work and fun, retailers agree. And it is crucial for any store wanting to stay competitive today.
“It does take effort and energy,” Lewis said. “I look at the industry magazines as often as I can, and I am always looking for new ideas wherever I am. Whether it’s the mall or a restaurant, I look for creative ideas. I always have my antenna up.”
Lewis said if you can’t do it yourself, enlist help. She gets assistance from a designer she met at church. Other stores use community college fashion and design students who want to add new displays to their portfolios.
“I also seek the help of my staff,” Lewis said. “I will ask my younger staff what appeals to youth. I try always to be open because I feel like with merchandising and displaying things, it can always be done better.”
“Change your displays once a month,” Morris said. “Try to look at your store with a fresh eye. Go for that quaint factor, not the ‘typical’ Christian bookstore.”
“A common mistake is thinking a business has to be in dire shape to need a makeover,” Phibbs said. “That isn’t true. Stagnant sales show up before declining sales. You want to make changes while customers are still coming in the doors. As long as you are thinking forward, that’s fun. If you’re not thinking forward, you can’t compete.”