November 2, 2015

By Misty Wilfing

No matter what you’re selling, a disorganized store filled with cluttered shelves presents an unnecessary barrier to customer purchases. Whether you’re looking to clean up your current space, expand, relocate, or increase your inventory, it’s important to keep your store organized with high volume, high margin products prominently displayed. A few small changes can have a big impact on your bottom line and offer a pleasing shopping experience for both your human customers and their and non-human companions. Follow these simple tips to maximize your retail space.

This Way, Please

A common challenge of retail stores is designing an organized layout. Many spaces start with a clear arrangement in mind, but as inventory changes, that organization disappears. Take a moment to consider the path you want customers to take and which products should be featured on that path. The route should pass all of your products in order to maximize sales, but special offers and popular items should be featured prominently.

Three of the most popular retail layouts are: racetrack, power aisle and free flowing. Before deciding between the three, consider the following to ensure you pick the right layout for your store.

Racetrack Layout: The racetrack layout features a racetrack aisle that circles the entire store. The interior and exterior of the main aisle will feature different sub-layouts, which allows for the maximum exposure to products on perimeter walls.

Free Flow Layout: The free flow layout is the most common type of layout for specialty or small retailers. It also allows for the most creativity, which can generate a unique feeling for your brand that will keep customers returning. In a free form layout, there are no set aisles or straight lines. This encourages shoppers to move freely throughout the store and be exposed to various products and displays.

Power Aisle: The power aisle layout has the fixtures parallel to the walls and is commonly seen in grocery or big box stores. This grid system allows the customer to begin in one corner of the store and navigate each and every aisle while shopping. An added benefit of the grid layout is that end caps and outposts can be used effectively to draw attention to special promotions or sales.

Which Layout is Right for You?

The first thing to consider when choosing a design is the shape and size of your store. Racetrack configurations are generally not effective in small stores, whereas free flow layouts work well with limited floor space. Products that require strict organization (pet food, aquarium chemicals, etc.) are better suited for a power aisle or racetrack design over a free flow layout. Boutique and independent stores can benefit from the free flow layout, as it sets them apart from the larger chain or big box stores.

Once you have settled on a layout, experiment with it so that featured displays or walls are visible in high traffic areas. Most importantly, do not become attached to your layout design, as it may be necessary to adjust the layout based upon the preferences of your customers. For example, if you notice that shoppers routinely pass over a section of the store, it may require you to alter your floor plan to make the flow into the section more natural or appealing.

The most important consideration is the experience of your customers. While your products may be better suited for a free form layout, if this set-up hurts the customer experience it is better to rely on a more traditional layout.

Make a Good First Impression

The space directly inside a store’s entrance is known as the “decompression zone.” It is important to keep this space open and clear of obstacles so customers develop a feel for the overall layout without being distracted immediately by products.

One method for balancing an inviting entrance with a sales opportunity is to place a display 10 to15 feet away from the front door. The display should be well organized and show customers the types of products they can expect throughout the store. Nesting tables are a great choice for entry displays since they lend themselves to displaying almost anything.

When deciding what products to feature, look for new inventory and sales items that will make customers excited to explore the rest of your space. Premium, unique offerings will set the tone for customers’ experience and differentiate you from your competitors.

Don’t Neglect the Checkout

The space where customers pay is often overlooked when it comes to layout and planning. It’s important to make checkout spaces easily accessible and clear of obstructions to turn browsers into paying customers.

With the right displays, you can maintain organization while still displaying small, inexpensive items that customers are prone to buy impulsively. Frequently purchased items, gift ideas, and small items that might get lost in your aisles are a great place to start. Treats, cat laser pointers and other small toys may work well in a pet store’s checkout area.

It is important that a customer has enough space at the checkout. For example, pet stores may need more space between counters so that two- and four-legged customers all fit comfortably. An unprofessional and cramped checkout counter dissuades purchases and decreases your sales. It also creates a negative lasting impression of your store at the end of the shopping experience and could stop shoppers from returning.

Choosing the Best Displays

Once you’ve chosen the layout and types of displays that are right for your store, it’s time to turn your attention to finding the right product. Below are a few features to consider before purchasing your new fixtures.

Quality Build: Be sure to note the quality of the construction and materials when shopping for fixtures. Your customers will interact with your displays every day. Choose strong, premium materials to give customers confidence in your products.

Durability: Cheap fixtures can often cost more in the end due to repair and replacement costs. Think of fixtures as an investment in your company that can benefit your store for years to come.

Customization: Custom solutions are a great way to gain an edge on the competition. You can choose specially sized and shaped fixtures to fit your store’s odd spaces, and match the color to your existing color pallet. Ask potential manufacturers about what customization options they provide to see what’s right for you.

Delivery and Customer Support: Make sure you find a fixture manufacturer that has a reputation for on-time delivery and strong customer service. Check rating websites like Yelp, Angie’s List or even Google when starting out. Asking for a list of references to call can help you understand the experiences others have had when working with a particular company.

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