Work Your Display Area

Over the years, I have visited thousands of different gases and welding distributors with showroom counters in sales areas. At 99 percent of these locations, the sales counter space has been under-utilized. Many of these counters look like junk shops and fail to offer what a customer might need and want. The irony is that these “sales areas” are usually situated in a prime spot in the building with a captive audience and yet fail to capitalize on the opportunities available.


Four employees work the two counters at Purity Cylinder Gases’ 9,600 sq. ft. showroom, where gondolas and pallet racking allow for product expansion.


When planning a counter area, every decision starts with the demographics of the customer. If the counter visitor is nothing more than a gofer, schlepper or warm body, they may have no authority, responsibility or money to make a purchase. If this is the case, the best course of action is to reduce the counter area and add a pick-up window. Let these individuals drive up to the window, receive a cup of coffee and a donut along with the bag of parts and sign the paperwork. If larger objects are included in the “will call” order, they can drive up to the dock and load. Should an add-on be required, they can come in and visit a small counter, will call or inside sales area.

Balanced against this minimalist approach is the reality of the marketplace. Remember, even a laborer may be a potential customer because he is moonlighting, or an apprentice will be moving up as his skills increase. Keeping the laborers out also means excluding their boss and the potential for increased sales and long-term relationships. With these customers, it is important to not just meet their needs, but also to cater to their wants. Proceed carefully and evaluate the space and resource allocations to enhance long-term profitability, not just short-term returns.


Complete Welders Supply’s spacious sales counters have a strong, industrial look.


If there is a sales counter, it makes sense to carry more open merchandise in front of the counter so that the customer can pick some or all of their order on their own. This might not include big ticket items, such as expensive power tools, but should include the most common add-ons. By having the customer pick these items, you can encourage them to buy these products on impulse to fill their tool box, truck or stockroom, not just for a specific job.

Materials that are needed every day are price sensitive. Customers demand the lowest prices and know what your competitors are charging. This drives down margins and creates a market that is based solely on price. Items that the customers want are frequently independent of pricing. For examples of this, look at the price point for roses prior to and after Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day. The ideal paradigm is to design the showroom to satisfy the customers’ needs, while increasing their wants. If in doubt, favor the latter for increased profitability.


A display case offers a variety of helmet choices to Indiana Oxygen Company customers.


Display to Best Advantage
Use supermarket shelving in the center of the floor, just like the mass merchandisers. Keep these shelves fully stocked with all the items that a customer is likely to use. Then accent the area with highly visible signage so that the customer can find things quickly. Plan the store around the customer’s usage with related items stocked together. The goal is to sell the goods, not just display the manufacturer’s logo. A well-stocked counter tells the customers a story. For example, someone who comes in for a die grinder typically wants to see all the offerings—battery-powered, corded and air—not just the products from one vendor. Now add the disks, stones, accessories, safety glasses and other items that might be purchased at the same time.

Lay out the shelving with aisles running perpendicular to the counter, so that the customer must pass through the shelving to get to the coffee pot, vending machines and counter. This takes them past the maximum amount of merchandise. Aisle end-cap shelves are the best sales units. Therefore, reserve these for specials, promotions or impulse displays. The minimum width for a display aisle is four feet, with five feet or wider aisles along heavily traveled paths.


Linweld stores have high ceilings, spacious aisles and bright lights.


Around the perimeter, use standard steel shelving units to enclose the area and maximize the mix of products and displays. Making the backs from pegboard or slat wall increases versatility so that each section can use hooks for face outs and shelves for heavier items and boxed merchandise. Painting the shelves a light color, then accenting the space with a complementary color will add interest and a decorator look. Adding low voltage, Light Emitting Diode (LED) under-cabinet lighting to highlight the display can finish the unit and create visual interest.

Counter and showroom lighting should be a minimum of 80- to 100-foot candles maintained at eye level. Spot or track lighting should focus attention on specific areas or displays. Glare-free down lighting directly over the counter will draw the customers to this area and improve catalog referencing and paperwork. Locate the fixtures carefully to minimize reflections on computer displays.

There are many different designs for the work counter. Some work well, but others compromise efficiency. The most important consideration is that the counter must not hamper the movements of your sales staff. This means locating the counter at a point that minimizes their steps. A saw tooth counter top that is flat on the back side but separates the customers into orderly queues will give the customers a sense of territory and privacy. With a good counter design, the customers will gravitate to their spot every time they come in. This is further attenuated with 36-inch to 42-inch-high work stations and 24-inch areas for passing through heavy merchandise. The counter top then becomes a powerful psychological sales tool for personalizing service.


Clean, neat and plenty of space to move around in AWESCO’s Albany, New York, showroom.


Don’t overlook the area immediately behind the counter. Use the ends of the shelving or back wall for eye-catching displays and special promotions. Above this, use a soffit faced with pegboard or slat wall for posters, banners and manufacturers’ logos. Under-counter displays are generally not productive. Making the counter top from glass risks breakage, and plastic counter tops become scratched in short order. Heavy duty laminate, solid surfacing materials or even stainless steel are the most durable tops. Glass fronts cannot be seen once the individual is at the counter; this surface is better utilized with color or large format graphics.

Avoid using the counter top for a clutter of soon-to-be-cannibalized displays. Use this space judiciously to introduce new products or for impulse items that are replenished frequently. Far too many distributors complain about limited sales counter space without examining their use of the space available. Remember that the goal is to move the customers in and out quickly. Too much clutter slows everyone down. Similarly, unless your service is slow by design, eliminate chairs and stools to encourage the customers to move around.


Red Ball Oxygen’s corporate color is prominent throughout its store.


Red Ball Oxygen keeps similar items grouped together to make shopping easy for customers.


Going Beyond the Layout
The most important aspect of counter design is not the physical facility. Give your personnel the training and encouragement they need to do their job efficiently. This training should include teaching them how to greet people, talk on the phone and support each other. Customers who are addressed by name when they come in the door are more likely to return. Be friendly and courteous to your customers. They deserve this respect and are the reason your business exists. Never keep anyone waiting without acknowledging their presence. Think twice about using the counter staff as inside order takers during peak periods. While they are speaking on the phone, the customer who took the time to come in is standing around getting angry.


Tall display racks take advantage of Quimby Corporation’s 20-foot high showroom walls.


Anyone waiting on the counter customers can handle one customer at a time. Better trained staff can handle multiple customers simultaneously. They do this by having the customer filling out some of the paperwork or encouraging them to move around the showroom until they are called to the counter. Number systems, reservations established through will call and acknowledgment that they are the next customer will enable any trained staffer to increase customer satisfaction and decrease turnaround time, while simultaneously improving the line count of the orders and profits.

If you have built your business on service, then the sales counter is where this service is most visible. A simple formula for success is to:

114i_arrowstraightbullet Get the customers in.
114i_arrowstraightbullet Teach them how to order efficiently.
114i_arrowstraightbullet Keep the customers involved.
114i_arrowstraightbullet Involve them in the order picking process.
114i_arrowstraightbullet Add a line to every order.
114i_arrowstraightbullet Move them out as quickly as practical.
114i_arrowstraightbullet Don’t just satisfy them; thrill and delight them.

All this can be accomplished while selling them just a little bit more of what they need and a lot more of what they want. Training and reiterating these steps and goals will insure that your investment in the counter and showroom will return handsome rewards.

Gases and Welding Distributors Association
114j_footlikrobert Meet the Author
Robert B. Footlik, PE, is CEO of Footlik & Associates, LLC, in Evanston, Illinois, and on the Web at