Vulcan Industries

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Custom displays make small spaces great.

When it comes to retail spaces, it seems that downsizing is here to stay.  New stores and remodels of existing locations are focused on increasing sales and improving customer experiences in less square feet.

While there are multiple drivers to this trend, there are a few factors that really stand out:

  • No more backroom inventory: Product suppliers are more responsive and can ship more quickly than ever before, minimizing the need for the retailer to maintain high levels of replenishment inventory.  Most retailers are striving to keep shelves stocked with “just in time” shipments as opposed to having a backroom stocked with extra inventory
  • Location, location, location: Building a retail presence around a smaller footprint gives a business the flexibility to develop locations that are more accessible for their customer base, particularly in urban areas.
  • What was old is new again: In the days when “mom and pop” stores ruled retail, service was much more personal and stores were an important part of every neighborhood.  National and regional retailers are striving to achieve this dynamic with retail environments that recreate a strong sense of community.

Even though retail spaces are shrinking, keeping the right mix of products in-store is as critical as it has always been, regardless of the number of locations or name recognition.  Chuck Lee, Director of Creative Strategy at Vulcan Industries says “80/20” is still the rule. “There’s a saying in the industry that 80% of your sales come from 20% of your SKUs. Stocking that 20% is critical in the downsized retail environment.”

Equally important is what you do with the items in a retail store where space is at a premium. In Chuck’s experience, retailers face a number of challenges when they decide to put themselves into a smaller box and “one of them is storage, because in the past a retailer had a back stockroom that was up to 50% of their space, but now retailers have realized that’s wasteful and have decided to either convert some of it to showroom space or have chosen to get rid of that storage and put their stock on the showroom.” Having less stock and moving it onto the salesfloor makes a lot of sense, but to do it right takes careful consideration.

There’s a good case to be made for custom displays and fixtures being even more important in

a restrictive retail space. A retailer doesn’t have as much space to do the things like showcase a new product. Chuck emphasizes the need to have a well thoughtout plan, and in his experience, the best solutions typically involve custom fixturing because in a small store “the stock designs just don’t work anymore, you waste too much space and you have to fit too much stuff together in a closer space.” Chuck goes on to say that “custom displays allow you to maximize the space that you have.” Knowing the need to be smart with every square inch of space, a fixture designer can create unique solutions that work with the space and enhance the retail customer experience.

For instance, say there’s unused space under a display that can be transformed into stock storage. If considered at the beginning of the creative process, this area can be designed as a cohesive element within a custom fixture. This type of custom store fixture has the added benefit of making it easier to replenish items since the stock is right there. At its core, a custom fixure is built from a more inquisitive process, as Chuck puts it, “we know the standard way to display something, the question is, is there a better way to display that allows us to get more onto the same footprint?” Whereas a typical stock fixture might hold 10 items, a custom design could perhaps double that capacity due to the fact that the designer has the freedom to create the best solution for a specific need.

Yet another way custom retail displays improve the small store environment is in the use of technology to enhance the customer experience. “Maybe there’s five SKUs that you want to demonstrate but don’t have room for, a touchscreen for those products could be placed on a display,” as Chuck noted, customer’s could then view the display to learn all that’s relevant about those products. The information provided would take up only minimal space. Sending product information to the customer’s phone is another rapidly growing use of technology that can overcome the limitations of a smaller space.

The options continue to expand for retailers as the technology matures, there’s even the possibility of custom displays that can suggest other products. Perhaps it’s an apparel rack with a monitor that can suggest color options based on the item you just pulled off the rack. And if you liked what you saw, you could order that color at the monitor. That’s the type of solutions custom fixtures can give small space retailers.

Cost is always a concern. In general, a custom display will cost more than a generic alternative, but the cost can be reduced through the use of high volume materials and processes. Other things that should be factored into the purchase are the branding benefits custom fixtures can provide a retailer. The ability to add color and graphics to a custom display allow it to become an avenue for brand reinforcement. A custom fixture or display can also be designed with flexibility in mind that allows the retailer the option to reconfigure for seasonal merchandising or new product categories, it can even be made to foldup for storage or become an entirely different component in the store—like a table. With a custom display you pay a little more, but you get more as well. As retailers continue to look to downsizing their store footprints, custom displays and fixtures will also continue to grow in importance.