22 W hen it comes to merchandising, Val Byrd, Merchandising Manager at NTP-STAG, Inc., reminds readers that people are people. “Consumer behavior is the same whether it’s an automotive shop, an RV parts and accessories store, or a hardware location. The demographics are what’s different. It’s key to know and understand that so you can make sure your marketing strategies appeal to your main demographic,” said Byrd, whose merchandising tips below will prove beneficial year-round. Q : Properly merchandising a retail location can be intimidating, with some showrooms constrained by limited space for product displays and others so large that staff doesn’t know where to begin. What is your advice for helping businesses merchandise within their current means and capitalize their sales potential? A : The mindset in a retail store should be towards making a customer friendly, customer-oriented shopping experience. It’s definitely important to make sure that the store is set up to facilitate this retail operation, but I think the first step is making sure to look at the store from a customer’s point-of-view. That means organization by category, pricing strategy, and product tagging. Organize like-products together to create categories that make sense from the shopper’s point-of-view. When you go to look for corn flakes, you look in the cereal aisle, right?Unfortunately, sometimes we run out of retail space so when a new item comes in, we just stick it anywhere. That’s going to negatively impact sales. Q : For shops overwhelmed with the merchandising process, where should they start? A : I always say, “What is the view from the front door?” If nothing else, shop owners need to make sure that the view from the entrance and through the decompression zone—typically considered the first 10-15 feet when a customer walks in the store—is always stellar, always current, and always organized. That means the end caps—or hot zones—should be maintained. New items and the most interesting or unique products that you have are perfect examples to showcase in these areas. The ABCs of Merchandising New items are truly the lifeblood of a retail store because you’re going to have existing shoppers that come in on a regular basis and, over time, they will memorize your setup. They will know where everything is located so if they want to stop for a routinely- purchased product, the tendency is to walk to that specific location, grab the item, then head straight to the check-out counter. However, if a dealership or a shop is known for bringing in new products or moving things around within the store—even if it’s on a quarterly or a bi-annual basis—it encourages shoppers to actually walk the store and find new items, thereby increasing the size of the transaction. This should be a requirement: consistently looking for new and exciting products that customers would be interested in. Q : Retailers and restylers are master multitaskers, with a seemingly endless number of things to get done in a day. Prioritization is key and, naturally, some items fall to the bottom of the list, like cleaning, dusting, and general tidiness. Does it reallymake that much of a difference in the eye of a consumer? A : Yes, research shows that a clean showroommakes a difference. It should be part of the daily/weekly routine to wipe down window sills, glass doors and windows, products, and shelves. It can be the best product in the world, but if it’s not presented in a professional manner, then it’s going to interfere with sales. Q : Behind the scenes, smart inventory management is at the root of any good merchandising techniques out front. Can you elaborate? A : First, dealers typically get themselves in trouble when they’re not actively engaged in inventory management. So, one of the things I’d say is important year-round, but definitely during “spring cleaning”, is to pull sales history and aged inventory reports to evaluate what is and isn’t selling. And, really, the key is to take action right away. In general, if you have products that have not sold in four to six months, I think they deserve a second look and the questions become, “Is the price right, is the product right for this particular store, and is it in the right store location?” Tweaking price, changing the location within the store, and considering promotional activity are strategies to boost movement but at a certain point, other methods must be considered. Can the product be sent back or exchanged? If not, then a strategic price reductionmay be the next step. Q : Automotive shops are already under a tremendous amount of margin pressure from ecommerce competition, so it’s understandable that many independent shops are traditionally slow to put items on clearance, at least in comparison to big- box chains. Do you have a recommended clearance strategy? A : Many owners think price reduction is a bad word, but it’s just part of retail—a cost of doing business. My recommendation