The trends, the issues, and productive business
Advice to vendors on packaging and racks.
By Lisa Kanak, The Cropper's Coprner (April 18, 2005)
How a store is laid out and merchandised is probably the most
important visual aspect of our business. It sets the tone for
traffic flow. It determines how much product we can comfortably fit
into our stores, and can dramatically affect our sales for the
better or worse.
Yet merchandising is often times the afterthought. We purchase
first, and figure out where "it" will go later. Then, once
"it" arrives, we discover "it" won’t fit in
the space we thought it would. We need to create more space or
worse, we crowd "it" together so that most of the packages
are buried, or difficult to get to.
In our store, we had one product line that was heading to
oblivion. During one of our marathon merchandising weekends, we
created a custom spinner rack using the pieces we had purchased from
Display Dynamics. In about 45 minutes, I had each of those
"poor performers" on that spinner rack. The result? Most
of those "poor performers" began to sell out. Now, instead
of discontinuing the line, we are only eliminating a small portion
of it and replacing its poor performers with newer products.
Merchandising matters. It’s a fact. Product placement affects
sales. If people can’t easily see, touch, grab, or find what they
are looking for, they will ignore it – even if it is the exact
product they ask you for.
Manufacturers know that product has to be seen in its best light
in order to achieve the maximum sell through. Many manufacturers
have answered this issue by providing specialty racks for stores to
display their products.
Problems with racks.
How much time and effort is spent designing racks to fit product?
Each trade show we attend, we are amazed at the number of
"new" custom fixtures that have been designed to
"fit" this or that product line. What about the racks we
purchased last year? They are now languishing in a back room, or
packed with product it wasn’t designed to hold.
Each time I tell my father we need to replace one of our fixtures
for something else, my father says, "buying fixtures is just
like pouring money down the drain." However, without proper
fixtures, product does not sell as well.
Our store is moving towards generic racks that can be used for
specific size ranges of products. We have a slat-wall background,
with adjustable spinner racks, slat wall spinner racks, slant wall
racks, waterfall racks and these nifty flip racks. We can switch out
the products easily. Fixtures can be moved to create a different
product arrangement. And best of all, because we know how much each
fixture can hold (from a dimensional point of view), we can create
merchandise slots to be filled with products. Couple this with a
point of sale that tells me what products we’re selling a lot of,
or not selling enough of, we can determine which slots need
replacing – and which slots should be kept.
Talk about being able to know our inventory – know our store’s
real product needs, and being able to go to a trade show with
confidence with a shopping list, and not being worried about buying
too much (or too little).
There is just one cog in my "perfect display" framework
– product packaging. Poor product packaging throws everything off.
In fact, we have cut products from our sales floor for that reason
Poor product packaging – something that takes up "too much
space" compared to the price point, looks unappealing, or does
not display well – can affect dramatically affect sales. Yet, it
is one thing that simply takes a bit of prior planning from the
Simply stated, retailers don’t need more special racks – we
need merchandise that can hang well on generic, easy-to-find,
easy-to-replace (should they become broken), easy to move, flexible
One of our least favorite sizes (especially for stickers) is 8 ½
x 11; that size takes up a huge amount of horizontal space. Our
favorite, and most popular sticker module size is actually about 6 x
12. With this sizing, we can fit 5 neatly across a 30"
waterfall rack – with just the top 1/3 of the sticker design
showing. We also know that this size sticker means I can fit 50 skus
in a 5’ tall, 2 ½’ wide space, with my top rack at 6’ high.
Conversely, when racking those 8 ½ x 11 stickers, my available
SKUs drop to 30 total designs on a waterfall rack – and if placed
on a slant-wall rack, the number only increases to 32. Where
stickers are "king" (as they are in our store), low
inventory investment (since we purchase 6-12 of each design), and
high turn rates lead to higher profits. So as retailers, we want to
fit as many stickers as neatly as possible onto each rack.
If 8 ½ x 11 were the only other "standard" size we had
to worry about, this wouldn’t be as problematic. But it seems that
when it comes to stickers, nothing is standard. Stickers come in all
sorts of package sizes. And, they become difficult to merchandise,
plan-o-gram, and generally "fit" into a display space.
What can be even more frustrating is when a product intended to
hang is packaged just a hair too long for slat wall – or is sized
a hair too wide to fit neatly on a standard spinner rack. Instead of
tightly fitting products, we have excess white space. For retailers
"excess white space" is synonymous with "wasted
space." And, the sad fact is, most products don’t have an
"excuse" for not merchandising well.
Advice to manufacturers.
Manufacturers can help solve these problems. My suggestion is to
look at how package sizing will affect the way it is merchandised.
Re-think your sticker module dimensions. Dimensions do matter. Many
times, an 8 ½ x 11" sticker sheet could be split into two 5 x
12 sticker sheets – re-sizing a sticker design up or down
slightly, or even adding a couple of extra "fluff" pieces
is all that may need to be done. Or, if creating two complimentary
packages isn’t in the game plan, simply extend the width an inch
and a half, fold the sticker sheet in half, and package it in the
same space as the single sheet.
Heidi Swapp introduced some innovative packaging concepts –
products were folded at perforation marks in quarters. Honestly,
customers will purchase an alphabet module that does not have the
entire alphabet shown. If you’ve seen the innovative rub-on
packaging from Making Memories (all you see is the uppercase and/or
lowercase A) – it’s incredible. I can fit more than 30 SKUs of
their designs & colors on the side of one standard spinner rack.
Try that with an 8 ½ x 11 package! Of course, the best part is that
they all sell and sell and sell.
Also, make sure the packaging doesn’t "curl" when
hung. Curling stickers are difficult to see, read, and just look
cheap. If you’re going to package them, it does pay to have that
thin piece of cardboard backing – of course since many
manufacturers are going to cardstock stickers, the backing is a bit
less necessary. Make sure the top 1/3 of the sticker gives a clear
indication of the items on the remainder of the sticker mod. If a
sticker has to be completely visible to be purchased, it’s taking
up a lot more space than it can ever pay for.
One last tip: develop suggested plan-o-grams using standardized
racking systems for product lines (partial line plan, half-line
plan, or entire line plan – i.e., store-within-a-store).
Plan-o-grams and signage using standardized displays will be less
costly – and much more useful than a one-season, custom fixture.
If we can keep slat wall, spinner racks, and waterfall racks in
mind when we develop packaging concepts, it will allow for less
wasted space, make it easier to slot products, purchase products,
and sell them.
So, please manufacturers, get out of the racking business, and
onto the standard merchandising bandwagon. Keep a slat wall spinner
rack in your design area, along with a standard waterfall rack, and
a small piece of slat wall. It will help you see what customers see
– before the product goes into production and into the
Spending a little more time on package planning, and less money
on display design will enable your retailers to spend less on
specialized racking and more on your products – or putting some
profits away for a rainy day.
(Note: Lisa operates The Cropper’s Corner in
Fredericksburg, VA. Email her at email@example.com.
To read previous Memory columns, click on the titles in the
right-hand column. To comment on Lisa's ideas, email firstname.lastname@example.org.)