How you present products defines a big part of your store’s image to your customers. That customer, remember, is used to shopping elsewhere and judges you by his experience up and down the High Street. So you can’t rely on your knowledge or pricing - you have to deliver the ambience, too, which means look hard at your shopfitting.
Small retailers commonly put off investing in new shop fittings. It’s disruptive, it feels like dead expenditure and the temptation is to put money into areas that will show a more tangible, instant return. What’s more, the existing kit is presentable (sort of) and it’s always done its job. So the store interior gradually ages and the image degrades with it.
But where do you start?
You could go to an exhibition. Here you’d see a huge range of businesses, all featuring the latest materials and creative ideas. I’d recommend going to a general show rather than one focused on sports retail. The main annual show is Retail Interiors.
In the meantime, you could contact a trade association. The Shop and Display Equipment Association (SDEA) have over 200 members and a helpline 01883 348911 to enable you to find the right supplier. If you’re planning a more bespoke refit, perhaps designed by an architect, you might prefer the National Association of Shopfitters on 01883 624961.
Both organisations’ websites are useful resources. SDEA are at www.sdea.co.uk and NAS are at www. shopfitters.org. Both list members and provide hotlinks to their sites. Since visual effect is a key element of shopfitting, being able to see examples of work from a range of suppliers without moving from your desk is very convenient.
Naturally, however, the most common start point is to go shopping. Nothing beats wearing out some shoe leather on a selection of High Streets, seeing how other people have done it. In the process, you will, hopefully, pick up some useful ideas. Shopfitting manufacturers invariably put their names somewhere on their output so you have a decent chance of tracing the supplier. Even if you don’t have a name, SDEA will put out a trace to its members based on a detailed description.
Where should you spend your money? All the designers start with one word: lighting. (Correction: they get to lighting when they’ve stopped wittering about corporate ethos, ambience and environment). Think of every specialist store you enjoy - the lighting will be good. You need a mixture of ambient and focused lighting to create that light, airy effect and then concentrate customer attention on key areas, special offers etc. If you can isolate this as the weakness of your premises, you’re lucky, because the cost of righting this wrong is relatively low and easy to implement.
Unfortunately, improved lighting shows up other weaknesses, starting with shelving, which is a deeply boring subject on the face of it. Now, you might plan for customers never to see your shelves, and quite right too. However, they are the salesman’s version of the dumb waiter. You need to get shelving right.
The fact is that there’s a Santa’s sackful of choice. Flexibility surely has to be the key word. As fast as you might think you’ve got the arrangement of your shelving right, manufacturers come up with new brands, new products. Your shelving has to be able to respond to these prompts.
Anyone selling you shelving should also be able to supply coordinated dump bins and a range of ancillary items. The whole package should be idiot simple to use. If the salesman can’t show you how to put it up and knock it down in a few minutes, it’s not as simple as it could be.
In the same terms, is it lightweight? Naturally the sales blurb will claim that it is easily movable. By one teenaged staff member or the Gloucester front row? Only if moving the system around is easy will you get best value from its flexibility.
Number of aisles and number of shelves is highly subjective. When does open and airy start to look empty? When does busy-looking become crowded? You might think that more shelving means more products on display, means more sales, but it doesn’t always follow - look at Next: lots of open space and lots of customers.
The height of each aisle should reflect your typical customer. Because he/she doesn’t have arms like Twizzle, it’s pointless stacking product high. Since women are a growing proportion of your customers, think in terms of the height and reach of the average woman. Be conscious, too, of the height and reach of your average four year old. You can’t keep those fiddly fingers away from your tasteful display, but you can protect yourself from little hands getting in the wrong place. Dump-bins are helpful here - kids can see in and use pester power to help sales but they can’t reach in.
Width of aisles is based on the same practical considerations. As much product as possible should be in the eye-line as the customer walks down the aisle centre. Aisles should reflect what’s merchandised there: is there enough space to swing a racket?