Spring 2008
Rethink Your Store’s Back Room By Lynn Switanowski Barrett

Beauty is not just reserved for the front of your store. Having a well-organized back room is the biggest key to helping you effectively order, process, store and distribute merchandise to the selling floor in a quick and efficient manner. Plan it properly, and your back room can be the nerve center for your store’s operations. Plan it poorly and the resultant time wasted in looking for disorganized materials and products, can be a detractor from doing business at your store.

Here are some things to remember that will help organize your back room operations.

Plan for Christmas all year round

Plan the back room storage needs based on the maximum number of units you will need to contain merchandise at the busiest time of year. Determine what size merchandise you carry, how it stacks and what size storage units you will need.

Map out a floor plan for the maximum storage needs you will have and make sure that you have enough shelving to accommodate those needs. Do you have bigger boxes than normal during the holiday season? Make sure your shelves will accommodate the various sizes and that your sales associates will quickly be able to see what merchandise is inside the box when replenishing the sales floor.

It’s all about space

Save space. Build high; add moveable fixtures to increase capacity where possible. Use fixtures that can be added to and rebuilt to house more or less merchandise, depending on the time of year and your space needs. If you have older sales associates, think about how high you stack merchandise and how easy it is to reach. Remember, your goal is to have the merchandise stored efficiently so that it can be replenished in a timely manner. This means that everyone should be able to restock, not just the part-time employee who is tall enough to reach everything.

Flex like you mean it

Add flexibility to your storage space by using adjustable wall-mounted shelving to keep merchandise off the floor and easily accessible. Think about freestanding wire or wood shelving units, placed back to back, for the center of large storage rooms. These can multiply your storage space and then be moved away when not needed.

If you can afford to redo your store, opt for wide center aisles in the back room. These will allow you a lot of flexibility. During peak inventory periods, wide aisles can be used to accommodate your store’s temporary storage needs. You can set up temporary fixtures in the aisles, or simply use pallets. When inventory levels are lower, the wide aisles offer lots of room to maneuver around your back room.

Remind me, replace me!

Create a highly visible storage space for key products that sell quickly. Make it easy for your employees to get to it. Having this space in a visible location will also allow you to monitor inventory levels on this profit-producing merchandise and allow you to place reorders before running out.

Premium processing

Make sure to carve out a well-defined and user-friendly space for processing incoming merchandise including unpacking, pricing, assembly and shipping. Make sure it is an open area with enough space to unpack incoming shipments, and to accumulate shipping materials that will be thrown away once the items have been unpacked.

Action plan

Create a time and action plan for putting away merchandise—this will go a long way to helping your back room stay beautiful. Alternate this task among all your sales associates on a weekly basis. It’s important that everyone participates so that your entire staff knows where merchandise is stored, and that all employees feel as responsible as you do for processing the merchandise. The back room is the lifeblood of your store and everyone who works there should feel the same. If you have duplicates of many items that you don’t need to open right away, or you have so much that you can’t find space on the shelves, your storage fixture plans need to be addressed; otherwise you are buying too much.

Quiet time

Create a quiet office space for working on order writing, making phone calls and handling vendor appointments. Choosing merchandise is the key element for success at your store—give it the attention it deserves. Install bookshelves above the desk so that all your critical information is close at hand. Don’t forget a computer hookup.

In the news

Carve out a space for communicating critical store news to employees. Make it a store policy to have employees check this space daily. Things to include: daily sales goals, and information on upcoming marketing events and vendor training sessions. Add a section for personnel awards and announcements. You have a salesperson of the month program, don’t you? Share the news with everyone. Tell your employees how much they matter to you and how important they are to the success of your business.

Eat and greet

Keep a kitchen area for employees—little refrigerator, bottles of water, etc. Little treats can do a lot for morale and keep employees in the store instead of running to the deli for extended periods of time. It’s money well-spent.

Brighten it up

Your back room is not a dungeon; think of it as an extension of the front of the store. Take pride in it, so that your employees will, too. Brighten up dark space with colorful paint, lighting and wall art (vendor posters work great, and double as sales training tools).

Map it

Hang a map of your newly reorganized stockroom near the door to the store. Always keep an updated map listing where all products can be found in the back room. This lets all employees quickly locate where inventory is stored so that customers are not kept waiting in front. Make someone responsible for re-writing the map when there is a move in the stockroom. Writing the map on an erasable board is a great way to save time.

Lynn Switanowski Barrett

Lynn Switanowski is founder of Creative Business Consulting Group, a Boston-based retail consulting firm. The consulting group works with retail businesses to create and implement profit-improving sales, marketing, and inventory management strategies. For more information, call 617.437.9191 or email lynn@cbc-group.net.

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