To get you started, here are 26 of the ABCs of store design to prepare you for business in the coming millennium:
Aha! -- When customers view your store for the first time, they form an immediate impression -- about what you sell and to whom you sell. What "Aha!" effect does your store present? Does it do justice to your operation?
Bathrooms -- Like it or not, bathrooms are an important customer service. Cleanliness is essential. But why stop there? Your bathrooms provide an excellent opportunity to express your store's personality.
Case in point, there is a small chowder house on the Oregon coast that not many people know about. We remember it because the bathroom signs left an indelible impression in our memories. They read, Gulls and Buoys. An Italian restaurant plays a radio news broadcast -- spoken in Italian! -- in its restrooms.
Cash-wrap -- With the amount of money spent on trying to get customers into stores, we're always amazed by how many people overlook the cash-wrap area. What do customers peer into behind the counters while their transaction is rung up? Don't leave your customers with a cluttered, littered final impression of your store. Be sure to keep this area clear of all unnecessary distractions.
Display fixtures -- Even though the initial cost may be greater, try to build-in flexibility with your fixtures. That way, they won't have to be redone every time an inevitable change occurs within your store.
Employees -- When a customer walks through your door, they not only encounter the ambiance of the store, they encounter your employees. Be sure to select people who present the image you're trying to convey and who closely match the ages and lifestyles of your customers.
This matching of employees and customers can be done in part by scheduling. Typically, senior citizens shop weekday mornings; working moms shop evenings and weekends.
Flooring -- The three top flooring choices continue to be carpet, wood and tile. Which type best suits your needs and image?
Carpet is relatively inexpensive, available in a wide variety of colors and textures, comfortable to walk on, and has sound-absorption properties.
Wood offers the warmth and richness of a natural material, excellent durability and is reasonably priced.
Tile is available in a wide assortment of colors and patterns, is extremely durable and provides low maintenance.
Graphics and signage -- With a proliferation of print shops and the advent of computer technology, retailers no longer have an excuse to display hand-written signs. At little or no cost, retailers can create professional looking graphics and signs.
Three points to keep in mind when creating your own graphics and signs are: professional, consistent and clear. Be sure all your messages convey these three things.
Housekeeping -- Bad housekeeping leads to a bad image. Are there boxes in the aisles? Is merchandise getting dusty? Are the windows dirty? Too often, stores seem less inviting than they might be. This is easily remedied by making housecleaning a priority everyday.
Involvement -- The more access a customer has to merchandise, the greater the chances that a sale will be made. A customer who can see, touch, hear, taste or smell a product becomes involved and is more likely to purchase it. For this reason, you should try to have as much merchandise accessible to the shopper as possible.
reJuvenate -- Give your customers a reason to come back to your store. For example, change your displays every once in a while. Move them around, change the theme, display new or older merchandise.
What you change doesn't matter, just make it your goal to create fun and excitement by changing something regularly!
Know-how -- Your sales staff should be knowledgeable about your store, the merchandise you carry, and the services you provide. Customers today increasingly demand service. The more your staff can assist customers with their purchasing decisions, the more sales you will make.
Lighting -- Good lighting adds drama to your retail stage. It can enhance a product's appearance, accentuate a special display and create the proper mood.
There are four principle objectives to store lighting: 1) Establishing the store's image; 2) Attracting shoppers into the store; 3) Providing the right sales environment for the product (if the product is removed from the lighted display for closer inspection); 4) Facilitating the closing of the sale.
Music -- Music should be selected to appeal to your customers, not your employees! Be careful not to put your customers to sleep or blow them away with volume and type of music you play. And try to be sensitive as to where speakers are located in the store.
Notes -- Get yourself a three-ring notebook and start taking notes! Every time you spot an advertisement, window display or storefront that catches your eye, write it down in your notebook. Soon it will be filled with ideas and plans you can use throughout your store.
Odor -- Few retailers even attempt to appeal to more than one or possibly two of the five senses (sight, smell, sound, taste, touch). Think of how many stores you've entered that had unpleasant odors . . . and how fast you walked right back out!
Price -- You might not have thought that price has anything to do with store design, but it's an important part of your store's image. Off-price retailers, with their warehouse look, use the theater of retail to underscore the sense of value. Compare that to the marble floors and posh fixtures of upscale specialty retailers.
Quality -- Quality sells merchandise. Every aspect of your store must validate the quality of your merchandise. One way to achieve this effect is by displaying merchandise in its natural environment. The mood surrounding a display can easily reflect the perceived quality of the merchandise.
Repetition -- Repetition is an easy way to make almost any product look good. For example, try displaying up to five decorative rods in a row. Or, add variety by using the same curtain design in five colors.
Repetition allows customers to focus their attention on one or two items at a time.
Sight-lines -- Sight-lines are the most under-used lure in many stores. The goal with sight-lines is to draw customers into the store. Try using wall panels to create partial departments, or create nooks and crannies allowing the customer to explore and discover different merchandise assortments and displays.
Thirty feet -- Countless studies and inventory reports have shown that 25 to 35 percent of sales from any given store come from the merchandise that is displayed in the first 30 feet of a store's entrance.
Many retailers refer to this area as the core of sales activity. Therefore, merchandise should be placed in such a way as to draw customers into your store.
Unique -- Try finding your uniqueness, your own personality -- and use as many dimensions of the theater of retail (merchandise mix, appealing to the five senses, etc.) to provide a distinctive experience for your customers.
Variety -- The spice of life! To spice up your store, choose one wall that will be repainted every season. Paint it yellow in the spring, green during the holiday season, and even orange in the fall! Or paint the door pink for the month of February. Be sure to maintain a schedule for things to avoid getting static.
Windows -- As the owner or manager, you view your window displays head-on, your customers view them at an angle while walking parallel to the store. The orientation of the window display, therefore, should allow the merchandise to be seen when approached at an angle. Keep in mind that a window display is a customer's invitation to come into the store.
eXcitement -- Make your store a distinctive shopping experience. Shoppers have grown weary of the same merchandise at basically the same price no matter what store they enter. The opportunity today is in the theater of retail -- the art form of the total shopping experience. Customers remember not so much what they bought, but the experience of buying it.
You ask why? -- Anyone can be a retailer. Those that will prosper, however, must be merchants. A merchant resourcefully uses all the tools available to him or her to appeal to the right customer.
Zero in on the future -- The opportunity today is in the art form of the total shopping experience.
Use all the ideas presented here from A to Z to keep your customers entertained and interested in your store. And be sure to revisit all these points every six to eight months!
Richard F. Outcalt and Patricia M. Johnson, Certified Management Cons-ultants, are principals of Outcalt & Johnson: Retail Strategists. A Seattle, WA-based consulting/speaking team. They provide an array of strategic retailing services to owners and presidents of retail businesses. For more information, call (206) 623-3974.