Merchandising is your pathway to creating more sales and repeat business
By Curt Larson
Merchandising is everything visual that creates an irresistible buying atmosphere. It includes what you put out for sale and how you display to support the sale. Think of stores you have visited, where you enjoyed the atmosphere, the displays were inviting, the colors bright, the lighting was pleasing, and the merchandise was neatly displayed. The signs made it easy for you to select your purchase, and the mood was “just right.”
While outdoor power equipment dealerships come in a variety of sizes, shapes and colors, there are important steps that you can take to adopt a merchandising approach that will help you sell more products and services and build repeat customer traffic. While you have to work with the space you have, make the space work for you. Store presentation and image are important. It doesn’t mean “Big Budget” to have a presentable store facility. It is care and attention to detail!
There are two types of merchandising that you need to address: Retail Merchandising and Visual Merchandising.
Retail Merchandising is the first step. The most important element of Retail Merchandising is establishing your product mix. It speaks to the brands you sell, the variety of products, and how they are all connected and presented. Do you sell opening price-point, mid-market and premium products? Do you sell premium and mid-market only? Are you offering walk-behind mowers, zero-turn riding mowers and handheld products? Do you focus on accessory products? Service?
David A. Faxon III, president, Faxon’s Outdoor Power Equipment, Bowling Green, Ky., takes great pride when it comes to merchandising.
Merchandising woven into Faxon family fabric
As a fourth-generation retailer, David A. Faxon III, president of Faxon’s Outdoor Power Equipment in Bowling Green, Ky., said the importance of proper merchandising was bred into him.
“My great grandfather had a grocery store, my grandfather opened and ran a Western Auto store, and my dad took over and grew the Western Auto store that I grew up in as a child and young adult,” said David (pictured above). “If dad didn’t have a feather duster shoved in his back pocket, he wasn’t properly dressed; he was constantly cleaning, organizing, and pricing inventory. Dad’s Western Auto store was in an older building in downtown Bowling Green, and it required a lot of restoration over the years, but he always had the best-looking store on the square.”
Since establishing Faxon’s Outdoor Power Equipment in 1992, David has done his best to follow in the footsteps of his great grandfather, grandfather and father when it comes to merchandising. As a result, he has managed to successfully grow his business from renting and living in a 2,500-square-foot facility to building and owning a 15,000-square-foot facility with more than 8,000 square feet of equipment on display from his eight current vendors (Billy Goat, Cub Cadet, Ferris, Grasshopper, Honda Power Equipment, Karcher, Sno-Way and Stihl). Despite his successful 20-year run, David knows that he can’t get complacent when it comes to maintaining and merchandising his store.
“If my 85-year-old father came in here and saw dirty displays and/or what he used to call ‘holes’ (empty spaces), I’d get a boot in the ass or, at the least, that disapproving look and tone of voice that leaves me completely guilt ridden,” David said.
For more information about Faxon’s Outdoor Power Equipment and to see additional photos of its well-merchandised showroom, visit www.faxonpower.com.
— Steve NoeBrands
Clients/customers come for the brands. They look for brands that are recognized and trusted, so select vendors that can supply good brand-name products. Make good use of branded display materials to showcase your major vendors. Why not capture the goodwill that their advertising and promotion has created? Match in with their color schemes and fixturing. Put their recognized logos and brand names together in your facility. Often, these company and brand logos are available at no cost or minimal cost. Lean on your territory managers to help you. It is mutually beneficial.
Selecting companion products is an important way to build add-on sales. Place bar-and-chain oil near the chain saws, special pre-mixed fuel near the handheld products, bagger kits near the riders, and prepared tune-up kits near the counter. Extended warranty sales materials, as well as winter tune-up and storage specials should be promoted.
Make the connection to companion products logical, easy to understand, and easy to buy. Place them where they are easy to see and purchase.
The second merchandising step is “Visual Merchandising.” This means your entire building, showroom, customer lounge, service counter, grounds and parking lot, and yes, your public restrooms. What do your customers see when they come to your store? How does your facility show itself physically? Customers need to find your facilities neat, clean, well lit and inviting.
Visual Merchandising includes the following: product displays, lighting, paint color, point-of-sale materials, signs, CD players, store fixtures, and slat wall. Because dealerships vary so widely in size and shape, the common denominator is how well you can make your products look inviting and appealing. The goal is more sales. Improving the customer experience will build repeat business, as well as increase sales dollars and loyalty. While you have to work with the space you have, make the space work for you.
Signage – neat and professional (inside and outside)
Making use of printed signs enables customers to find their way through your store and answer many of their questions. Use your personal computer and printer to create neat, crisp and professional signage. Never use hand-printed sign cards. Remember that signs are “silent salespeople” and are used to help customers understand key features and benefits. Clearly provide information about what a product can do and the benefits customers will receive. Inform your customers of what a product costs and what it will do to make them money or save cost and time. Take advantage of vendor-supplied hang tags, placards, store banners and logo material. These products typically are inexpensive and add a professional touch.
Signs should spell out the benefits of your products and “how the product will improve the customer experience.”
The front of the building roadside should have clear and visible signs. The entrance should be well lit and clean. The front glass should be clean, particularly the entrance door.
The service counter is a critical place to display companion products and accessory products. Use signs and displays to remind customers about special offers and new products that you may be stocking. Avoid clutter that can give a crowded and disorganized look. Make it easy for your customers and personnel to conclude and “write up business.” Avoid congestion at the register.
The building exterior and outdoor signs should be clean and painted. Peeling paint and dirty windows send a bad message about your business. Clean up your parking lot often, have bins to dispose of trash, and empty the trash bins regularly.
Restroom facilities should always be neat, clean and sanitary. Dirty restrooms are a real “turn off” and send a terrible message to customers — particularly women.
Getting more from sales and special events with coordinated merchandising efforts
We all conduct sales events, open house events and vendor demonstrations that are designed to boost store traffic and generate new business. These large budget events require long-term planning and significant promotional cost. The reward is capturing new sales and getting new and fresh customers to visit your store. Prepare a budget and event plan.
To make the most of your invested cost, prepare and utilize a “Visual Merchandising Plan.” That Visual Merchandising Plan should include the following guidelines:
1. Merchandise displays should be laid out and prepared in a clean and attractive manner. Equipment should be displayed in a “dress right dress manner” with adequate space between units — avoid overcrowding.
2. Use banners inside and outside to promote the event. Create a festive buying atmosphere that is welcoming and memorable. Use factory or distribution reps to boost your workforce.
3. Make sure that stock levels are full on your gondola and wall displays. Use platforms to raise equipment on display higher and closer to eye level.
4. Counters and checkout areas should be organized. Have plenty of space for sales personnel to write up sales orders. Avoid stacked papers and piled work orders that may look messy.
5. Make sure that professionally prepared signs are guiding guests to food, demonstration areas and restrooms. Use signs and hang tags to provide guests with product information, product features and benefits, special prices or offers, comparative data, and selling or lease terms.
6. Make sure your premises are clean and free of dust and dirt. Restrooms should be clean and the parking lot free of debris. Clean up trash and empty boxes and shipping crates that may be near your receiving area.
7. In-store lighting should be bright and shop facilities swept and clean.
Budget for merchandising
The amount of your budget for Visual Merchandising does not need to be extravagant. It is what you do with your dollars, the creativity and good taste that really matters. Customers recognize improvements, paint, clean windows, improved layout and improved organization. These steps don’t cost a lot and do make a difference. Aim for an atmosphere that is inviting, and your clients/customers will return and recommend their friends visit you.
Curt Larson is founder and president of Curtis Research Associates, LLC, a business development research and distribution consulting firm that specializes in serving industrial, outdoor power, marine and construction equipment manufacturers and distributors, many of whom utilize dealer networks. Larson possesses 35 years of extensive experience in the outdoor power equipment industry. Prior to establishing his consulting firm in 2003, Larson worked 17 years for Briggs & Stratton Corporation, where he served as an elected officer and held three vice presidential positions in sales, marketing, distribution and customer support. For more information about Curtis Research Associates, LLC, visit www.curtlarson.com.