A Recipe For Merchandising Success

Are your customers hungry to shop
at your store?

I love cake. And merchandising is like cake. How? A cake recipe uses many ingredients that are combined and baked to make something quite different and hopefully delicious from their original forms. Each of the ingredients has its own qualities and some of them can be enjoyed individually, but it’s the mixture and cooking of these elements that make something quite special. Only then can the result of the combination be truly enjoyed. Merchandising is like that too. While each of the facets has its own virtues, when properly combined, they provide a unique result and experience.

So what exactly is merchandising? Merchandising is the way you create and maintain an environment in your store that meets or exceeds your customers’ expectations and needs, optimizes the presentation and appeal of your goods and services, and promotes maximum purchasing (and profits) in your store.

Organization rules in this display. Helmets and accessories are gathered in one location, along with technical specs for various helmets.

Organization rules in this display. Helmets and accessories are gathered in one location, along with technical specs for various helmets.

Staple Ingredients
Creating an environment in your store is like laying out the staple ingredients for your cake. With a cake, the basic elements are flour and eggs, butter, sugar, baking powder and milk. Each of these correlates to the basics elements of merchandising.

▪    Navigation (flour and eggs) — Your customers already have been trained by established successful retailers (Wal-Mart, The Home Depot, Best Buy, etc.) to look for department or category signs when they walk into the store, so they can easily find the goods they seek. It’s one of the most basic ingredients. When a new customer walks in the door, does he know where to go to find what he needs?

▪    Organization (butter) — Even if your store is small, you still have categories in which your customers shop. Do you have all your safety gear grouped together? Are the safety glasses, helmets, gloves, jackets and hard hats located on the same gondola or in the same area of the store? Do you have the MIG consumables near the MIG machines? Are the grinding wheels next to the grinding motors, the drill bits by the drills and the saw blades next to the saws?

▪    Traffic Flow (milk) — How do your customers travel through your store? Many welding stores have customers coming in two entrances: those through the front door and those bringing cylinders to the dock. Is your counter centrally located so all of your customers get exposure to targeted merchandise on their way to see you? Do you have the highest-volume showroom products in the highest traffic areas with the most exposure? You may have a variety of customers, but they all have common needs—gloves, safety glasses, jackets, helmets and beverages. All of your customers can use these products, so make sure they have high exposure in high-traffic areas. (I bet some of you have MIG consumables, valves or specialized drill bits in these areas, and they rarely move off the hooks.)

▪     Appearance, Cleanliness, Reduced Clutter (sugar) — Sure, you’re rough and tough because you’re a welding store, but that’s no excuse for dust, dirt, garbage and clutter making your store and merchandise look bad. Your store doesn’t need to be as sparkling as a ladies’ perfume counter, but you should at least clean the dust off the merchandise that you bring out of your storeroom. Sweep your showroom floor each night after closing, and clean your counters and glass entry doors. And with all the traffic in your store, mop the floor at least once a week.

▪    Authority (baking powder) — Do you hire people who know welding? If not, do you train  them? Do you offer classes, demo days or instructional videos to your customers? Can your customers distinguish your employees by their professional appearance in the showroom from your other customers?

Flooring, lighting and fixtures combine for a bright appearance, free of clutter, in this Norco store in Meridian, Idaho.

Flooring, lighting and fixtures combine for a bright appearance, free of clutter, in this Norco store in Meridian, Idaho.

Special Ingredients
Optimizing the presentation in your store are the “special” ingredients that differentiate your basic cake from the other stores your customers can choose to visit.

▪    Show the Product (cream cheese) — When you go shopping for a TV or a computer, what is more appealing to you: a row of brown boxes with serial numbers or a row of TVs or computers on display where you can look at them and check out the features and performance? Your customers have come to expect this with the other purchases. They want to see this in your store, too.

▪    Simplify Presentation (nuts) — Your products should be arranged in their categories to address your customers’ needs. Don’t just use your showroom as a warehouse and arrange all the parts in numerical order. Group by use or function. As an example, don’t just have rows and columns of gloves. Create sections for stick, MIG, TIG and work gloves. Make sure to give the customer a good, better and best option. And make sure the most sought-after items are at eye level.

▪    Maximize Product Value (spices) — Your customers are not buying the products just because of the technical specifications. They are buying them because of the job they do, the value they provide in helping them complete their job and the way they feel when they own that particular product. Do yourself a favor, and at least do the following for your higher-priced items:

  • Make sure they can see the brand name of the product.
  • Provide sales support literature for the product.
  • Let them try the product.
  • Show the product in a real-world application.
  • Cross merchandise your product—display accessories with the product.

▪  Convenience (vanilla) — This covers a wide variety of elements of your store experience.

Arco Welding Supply’s counter is in the middle of the store, forcing customers to look at items behind the counter. A TV is tuned to CNN or a ball game.

Arco Welding Supply’s counter is in the middle of the store, forcing customers to look at items behind the counter. A TV is tuned to CNN or a ball game.

It’s an underlying richness that adds a special something, as vanilla does in a recipe, from access to your parking lot and the amount of spaces (both in the lot and at your dock) to the hours of operation and the days that you do business. Do you have extended hours on any days? Are you open on Saturdays or Sundays? The dad who wants to build go-karts with his kids may want to buy his supplies at your store, but he can’t get there during the week before 5:00 p.m. So he’s making do with the lack of selection and expertise at the big box store. And in turn, he’s teaching the next generation that professional welding distributors are not places for the hobbyist to shop.

▪  Enjoyment (chocolate) — Do your customers like coming to your store? Are you offering them something outside of your products and services that they enjoy when they come to your store? Like chocolate, is there an ingredient that they like regardless of the location? Easy solutions are cold water, fresh hot coffee (not the reheated bitter swill from this morning or yesterday), free soda, doughnuts in the morning or popcorn in the afternoon. Take it a step further and have a large TV mounted to the wall with the Weather Channel on when the weather is changing and the ball game on so your customers can keep tabs on their favorite teams.

Distributors describe their showroom do-overs in”Extreme Showroom Makeovers

Now that you have all the basic ingredients in place, you need to bake them. In merchandising, this is the support provided by your advertising and customer communications, drawing customers into the store to taste your completed cake. (That’s a whole different topic.)

The Finishing Touches
Now that the customers are in the store and all of the elements are in place, promoting maximum purchasing is the icing on the cake, and you’re the one who gets to scrape the mixing bowl and lick the beaters to enjoy the extra profit. The ingredients for merchandising frosting are:

▪  Endcaps (frosting) — These are the areas of your store that can and will generate the highest sales—if they are used correctly. This space is the most coveted in all of your mass merchants, to the point of manufacturers paying for endcaps at Wal-Mart, Target and other stores. Use these endcaps to promote true impulse items or to feature promotional and advertised specials. Remember to do it right, though. If it’s just regular merchandise, it’s like adding food coloring to lard and spreading it on the cake.

▪  Sales Signs (sprinkles) — Depending on the retail environment, the use of sales signs, or “as advertised” signs, will temporarily raise sales for those items 10, 20 or 30 percent. As you change your promoted items each week or each month, move the signs around the store, and you’ll notice your customers seeking them out like a child asking for the piece of cake with the most sprinkles.

▪  New Product Demos (whipped cream) — Product demos are like whipped cream. They work with each type of machine that you sell in your store. Demo your welders, saws, drills, grinders, generators, coffee pot, water cooler and popcorn machine.

Time to Eat
Take a look back at the elements that make up merchandising in your store(s). Are you offering your customers the cake they want? Have you ever even asked them what flavors they like best? Or do you just have piles of ingredients for them to rummage through? Make them a cake that makes them crave seconds, makes them come back another day for another slice or, better yet, makes them tell everyone else how tasty their experience is shopping at your store.

Gases and Welding Distributors Association
Andy Stawski Meet the Author
Andy Stawski is commercial market manager for Miller Electric Mfg. Co. located in Appleton, Wisconsin and on the Web at www.millerwelds.com.