Why Every Manager Should Understand Design and Visual Merchandising
As managers, whether on a store level, a regional level, or a company-wide level, a large part of your performance is evaluated on the basis of sales numbers. You are expected to make decisions that in some way, shape, or form are going to reduce costs and maximize sales. As such, you’re likely keenly aware of the need for a highly experienced, highly trained, highly efficient, and highly motivated sales staff. People who are creating a welcoming environment for the customer; guiding the customer to the products and services that you want them to see; assisting the customer in a gracious, exciting, and pleasant shopping experience; educating the customer about the features and benefits of your products and services; making a connection with the customer and getting them excited about your product offering in a way that creates loyalty, and above all, generates sales.
Let’s say that your sales are not up to par – whether it be in one particular area, or store-wide. You gather your sales staff for a meeting. Your average sales person at this meeting works 40 hours per week, so they’re on the floor roughly 50% of the total hours that your store is open each week. Given the size of your store, the number of staff you have on the floor at any given time, and the number of customers you have entering the store, each sales person talks to an average of 1 out of every 3 customers if they’re lucky. You whip your staff into shape, give them a few new tips and tools to augment their sales pitches, and off they go. And sales go up. A little bit. For a while. Not high enough; not long enough. Why, you’re wondering? What did you miss? You missed the one salesperson that is in the store every hour of every day — the one salesperson that greets and interacts with every single customer that walks through the door and engages them on both an intellectual and emotional level — the store itself.
Your store’s design elements – the space planning, fixtures and casework, signage and graphics, visual merchandising, lighting – should be your #1 salesperson all by itself. If a customer has 10 questions over the course of their shopping experience in your store, the store itself should be answering at least 7 of them, leaving the store staff to handle the higher level sales questions that simply close the deal. Your store should be your #1 Brand Ambassador, providing an image and feeling of your brand that connects with your customer on a gut level and makes them want to buy something – anything – just to take that feeling home with them. As a manger, you obsess over what your sales staff are telling customers. What messages are they sending? What language are they using? Where are they guiding customers? How are they representing your brand and your product offering? Have you asked the same questions about your store? How can your sales staff engage your customers and get them excited about your brand and your product offering if the most powerful salesperson in the store is standing behind them not supporting what they’re saying? Or worse, contradicting it?
We’ve been designing retail stores for over fifteen years. It is our love. It is our obsession. We’ve designed stores that have increased sales by as much as 300%. Admittedly, that is rare. But increases of 20% to 30% are not rare. If just one of your sales people could single handedly increase storewide sales by 20%, would that be something worth focusing a little time and attention on? I’m not suggesting that every store or regional manager needs to become an expert at store design and visual merchandising by any means. I’m simply suggesting that, on the scale of unconscious incompetence to unconscious competence (moving from not knowing what you don’t know, to knowing what you don’t know, to knowing what you know, to not knowing what you know) it pays to move up to a point where you at least know which questions to ask. You may not know exactly what the solution to your store design and visual merchandising needs is. You may need some help with that. But identifying the problem is 80% of the battle. Coming up with solutions is less important than knowing what questions to ask in the first place.