museums&MORE Winter 2011
Make the Most of It

No matter the size, every store has the potential to create a big impact with small changes

I often get questions from smaller stores about how they can make the most of the merchandising resources they have, so I went back to a valuable source of information for the answer.

Kenneth Nisch, AIA, of the architectural firm of JGA has achieved success creating innovative and engaging retail environments for a diverse roster of clients, including the DIA, American Museum of Natural History, the Museum of Art & Design and the Smithsonian Institute. He was also featured in this publication last year and once again agreed to contribute his expertise, this time on effective merchandising techniques to sync the resources of small stores, creating a big impact.

MM: How would you recommend that specialty store retailers harness all of their “touchpoints” to create one uniform message?
KN: Much of the success of creating a clear and readable message on the part of the consumer is to have a plan – and not just one plan, but a sequence of plans that allow a seamless flow from one initiative to the other. By having a plan like this, you know that you are going to arrive at a place of maximum impact, i.e. touchpoints working together.

So often, retailers create “magnificent moments” only to be undone by a conflicting or “less than inspiring moment” that happens to be adjacent to the visual masterpiece. This often comes about because they don’t have a plan in a sense of flow and sequence.

Realistically, it is almost impossible to redo everything all at one time, short of closing down your store for a day or two and sequestering the staff to make these big moves. It really happens as a part of everyday business, with one part of the store or the other getting attention weekly or monthly.

Putting a plan together makes sure that you have a bigger sense of a theme, with the theme being tied together by communication, color palette and/or merchandising techniques so there is a consistency vs. the visual anarchy that is so often found in the gift industry.

MM: What techniques can retailers use to draw people into their stores?
KN: A “call to action” typically brings together multiple sensory elements: visual, verbal – often tugging on emotional chords; or conversely, the technique can be a provocative call to action, the visual equivalent of shouting out “fire” in a crowded room. It can also be done by being very unemotional with highly organized color blocking, use of large-scale visual elements and don’t forget the power of words and messaging as a part of this call to action.

Contrast is also an effective way to call people in. Imagine a large fixture with a single vase, piece of jewelry or artifact occupying the entire visual surface. The drama of “white space” can be effective as it pulls people closer in through an indication that the element is important and worthy of all the space; it attracts the curiosity of the customer, as well. In short, extremes work: extreme messaging, extreme emotion, extreme organization and even extreme minimization all have become effective tools to say, “Come over and look at me”.

MM: Once they walk in the door, what techniques attract consumer attention?
KN: You need to help them create their Discovery Path, which can be organized through a use of well-placed and well-spaced focal points that will pull the customer around in a pinball fashion. These focal points use a number of different visual techniques – color blocking; use of large, bold, graphic imagery; strong understandable and cohesive themes; an effective use of propping as defined “stages” that move the customer throughout the store and pulls them every 10, 15 and 20 feet – essentially from point-to-point in the store.

MM: Should different types of products be placed in different parts of the store?
KN: Retailers often talk about the back of their store being a dead space and the front being the active space and this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy where the new, exciting and fresh product finds its way to the front and the old, leftover, dated product is towards the back. It’s no small wonder that customers avoid this area.

There is really only bad merchandising that makes bad areas. The best idea is to create a series of themed stages and focal points as I mentioned above, so that the store is less about “front and back” than it is about the texture of background and foreground. Consider foreground as the themes and stories that you are looking to tell most. These stories are most effectively made of new and old product, expensive and more accessible product, so that the store has less of an “East Berlin – West Berlin” character to it, with what’s new and what’s old as being clearly visible to the customer.

Creating sections around classifications, candles, jewelry, etc. can be a great idea, but so can creating a section around themes, i.e. romance or naturals, where items are brought together on a cross-classification basis to give them new consideration and fresh interest on the part of the customer. For instance, the customer who was interested in natural or organics can be a candle customer, but may not be a candle customer at their core.

MM: How do color, shape and design play into the sensory stimulation of shoppers?
KN: In the end, we are essentially visual creatures. We have our favorite colors, our favorite flower, our favorite foods – all which are based on the visual and sensory cues that these elements communicate. To that same end, color, shape and design can be used not only with inherent objects themselves, but as well in the ways of the compositioning in which various combinations and products put together.

I was most recently in Australia and visited a store where the sole organizing element is that all the products are white. The fixtures ranged from old, found, industrial objects to white high-tech objects. The merchandise was all white, but ranged from the utilitarian bathroom plunger and beautiful linens to pearls and pet supplies.

In this visual case, the use of white as the unifying element broke down the barriers of common classifications and created a very interesting and compelling treasure hunt of what unique and interesting objects you can find within the space; and how white can be applied to such a wide range of apparently disparate gifts. In this particular case, the absence of color, the minimizing of shape and the simplicity of design all became dramatic in its simplicity.

MM: What role do fixtures, displays, etc. play in effective merchandising?
KN: Placement and flow are key elements within defining the consumer experience. If you think of consumers as hunters or grazers – as practical shoppers and those who are looking for discovery and entertainment – a very different floor plan, choice of fixtures and organization would be appropriate. The museum customer in most cases is looking for entertainment, discovery and gifting, and a flow that allows for more chance encounters, that is less geometric and more organic and that provides a variety of scale opportunities is best.

For example, fixtures that highlight single objects or collections, as well as large scale fixtures that highlight large collections and cohesive product stories would provide the most provocative mix. This would be quite different in a design museum looking for more simplicity and order vs. a museum that has a broader approach looking at telling multiple stories to multiple customers, where adventure and discovery may be key elements of the customer experience.

MM: If space is limited, how can retailers best make use of their walls?
KN: One of the biggest mistakes that retailers make is to think of the store in terms of walls and floors. The most productive spaces in stores are generally floor fixtures, particularly where the customer can circulate in a 360-degree manner. By making your walls act more like floors – by creating peninsulas, projections in using displays and fixtures to create dimension on these walls and creating more of an interactive feel to the walls – essentially they will begin to feel less flat.

So put your hands in your pockets, stand back and look at the type of effect your walls provide. You might be surprised at how some serve to be more interactive. Reach around and examine the approach to the walls. Can they be more efficient, both in terms of housing product and being highly shoppable? Or does it become the “stockroom on the floor?”

MM: Please share one merchandising technique you feel every retailer should implement in their store.
KN: Knowing when to say, “No!” The visual technique most often neglected is the word “no.” Retailers who are creating visual displays are often afraid of white space or editing, or are just afraid of making a singular statement for fear of losing a sale or two along the way. Retailers are much better to reinvent, renew and change, but to do so in a way that is much more edited and concise than decorative and confusing.

By Abby Heugel
Managing Editor

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