Store Design for Best Retail Experience
by: Duncan McArthur
“To succeed, stay out in front of change. You can’t just keep doing what works one time. Everything around you is changing.”
Sam Walton, founder of Wal-Mart.
Sam Walton knew a thing or two about satisfying his customers and the quote above reinforces the importance of embracing change in order to stay ahead of his competitors. If you are a convenience store owner/operator in today’s environment, you need to be constantly looking for ways to provide your customers with the best retail experience possible. This means, among other things, making sure your store is viewed as a destination by your customers, a place where they enjoy their shopping experience.
Sure, big corporate chains have deeper pockets than you and can afford to spend many thousands of dollars upgrading each of their locations, but in my experience, you can achieve outstanding results with very little investment.
Analysis – ask yourself these questions:
- What categories in my store generate the highest profit in margin and dollars?
- Do they have adequate floor/counter space dedicated to them?
- What categories in my store are in decline, and why?
- What do my customers tell me or my staff that they like about my store, and importantly, what don’t they like?
- Who are your competitors? What are their strengths, weaknesses? (could be size, product offering, location, age of facility)
- What does my store look like from the outside? If your location is not inviting to customers from the outside, why would they come inside to make a purchase?
- Do your customers feel safe when they visit your store? Are female customers less likely to visit at night?
- Can I see clearly to the back of my store when I look from the outside? If not, why not. What’s preventing this? Shelving height? Displays? Poor lighting?
- Ask your vendors what they feel your strengths and weaknesses are. Vendors know their business better than anyone and are a key resource as you conduct this analysis.
Now that you have completed your analysis, you should have a good idea as to where the greatest opportunities lie. Now you need to develop a design/re-design plan to maximize those opportunities.
Let’s say that you have identified improved sight lines into your store and an enhanced food service offering as two key areas for improvement. Your plan should include the removal of any displays over 54 inches in height, or replacing existing shelving with lower profile gondolas, again keeping in mind maximum height for sight lines and enhanced security and safety for your customers and staff. Prepare a drawing of your store that incorporates your analysis and achieves your goal for sight lines and food service offerings. Ask key sales representatives for feedback and suggestions. Representatives from companies such as Core-Mark International have expertise in many areas, and can help ensure your plan is a success.
Perhaps you are an independent owner/operator aligned with a major gasoline banner – if so, approach your district manager and inquire about shelving that may be surplus as a result of corporate re-models. Often, these majors will have shelving available for little or no cost. Companies such as McCowan Manufacturing can provide modern shelving solutions for your re-design depending on the budget you are working with. Again, leverage your vendors, who may be aware of other projects that could result in fixtures being available at very competitive prices.
You have identified that your customers are looking for an enhanced food service offering. This could be in the form of fresh sandwiches versus longer life C02 product. You may need to source out a new supplier that can provide these offerings, although if you operate in a smaller centre, this can be difficult. Again, a distributor such as Core-Mark will be able to assist you, and also provide equipment solutions to effectively display your new fresh sandwiches. Or, you may have decided to offer your customers a hot food offering (pizza, chicken, etc.) My advice is to focus on one offering at a time, with food safety and handling as absolute priorities. Working with your vendors, show your customers that you are committed to providing them good tasting food in a clean and safe environment.
When developing your food service plan, think about the add-on sales opportunities that this can represent for your store. For example, most food service purchases will include a drink, or a salted snack. Ensure that these products are prominently displayed near your food service area so that customers are encouraged to make these incremental purchases. Also think about adding some additional lighting (pot lights, track lighting) to highlight your new product offerings.
It is important to balance these displays against making it convenient for your customers to access your new/enhanced product offerings. Too many displays or fixtures can actually hurt sales. Be careful and ensure that you keep your displays well stocked with impulse and add-on products.
Depending on the scope of your re-model, you may be able to achieve it without significant disruption to your business and your customers. However, you might need to consider closing your store for a limited period to ensure the safety of your customers and ultimately a more effective implementation. Select a slower time of the day or week to implement your plan, and consider bringing in extra staff to assist. As well, vendors can be a valuable resource, and can be called upon to assist, particularly with respect to moving/re-merchandising their specific sections as part of the plan. Once you have completed your re-design, and after making sure that it is working as planned, think about a grand re-opening to make sure your customers are aware of your changes. Work with key vendors for product specials, giveaways, etc. Customers enjoy the buzz and excitement that these activities generate.
Start small. A wise consultant once told me that “continuous improvement is better than postponed perfection.” In other words, if you make your project too large and ambitious, you may never achieve it. By working at improving your store in this fashion, you’ll learn more, and ultimately be better with each project. You don’t need to spend tens of thousands of dollars to make substantive changes to your store. Customers will respond positively to change that is intended to make their shopping experience more enjoyable, (and profitable for you). Test, modify, measure, repeat. Best in class retailers got that way by following those principles. Remember what Sam Walton said about change. Good luck!
Duncan McArthur is an independent consultant specializing in the gas/convenience channel. He has over 30 years experience in marketing, operations, and merchandising roles with companies such as Couche-Tard, Shell, Husky and Parkland, working extensively with Corporate and Independent Retailers. He can be reached at DGRMcArthur@gmail.com