As consumers become more picky, updating the look of your store has never been more important. Sam Andrews reports.
An old friend — an agricultural engineer by trade i.e. he fixed tractors — once revealed his top tip for buying Land Rovers.
“You don’t want to buy an ugly one,” he ruminated sagely. I paused thinking this may be taking me into territory I perhaps didn’t want to go. “Well, it’s obvious isn’t?” he continued. “If it looks like a pig’s arse, then it probably is — buy a pretty one, mate, someone’s taken care of it.” The lesson is equally true of a shop, if, to the consumer, it looks like a pig sty then they are not going to put on their wellies to find out if it is full of… In tough times, it is easy to put off an investment in shopfitting when there is so much else to worry about but a look at the most successful retail outlets reveals that they rarely look shabby.
“It is unpalatable perhaps, but the guys that are prepared to spend a bit — and are doing it well — are finding it successful or that is what we are being told,” says Brian Watts of shopfitting suppliers RED Displays, which specialises in entertainment software racking.
Andrew Ackroyd of shopfitting firm AMA Displays has personal experience of the improvement refurbishment can bring. Around three years ago, he bought his own video rental shop. It was, he says, a shabby, dusty store that smelled of damp and had a turnover of around £250 a week. Ackroyd spent around £10,000 on a three-day refit and set about an advertising campaign in the local paper.
“Turnover went over £1,500 in the first week we reopened,” he reveals, “and even though I sold it after three years to the lad who ran it for me, the turnover is still averaging around £1,000-1,200 a week. The problem is that too many indies are basically still living in the 1980s in terms of the style and décor of their stores.” Watts says business is good — RED has worked on thousands of outlets in the past five years — and he is not so convinced of the general depression surrounding retail.
“Because we work very closely with retailers, I have many conversations and yes, clearly it is difficult out there; some shops are closing but it’s not all doom and gloom. The people that are doing well, or should I say acceptably well, in the current climate are the ones that are prepared to change the way they operate and are prepared to make their shops look very presentable — the days of the shabby retailer are numbered.”
Shopfit for survival
It is this realisation that has led market analysts MBD to predict that demand for shopfitting services will grow cumulatively by 34% between 2004-2009, despite the retail slowdown.
UK retailers spent £1.7 billion of shopfittings and interiors in 2004 out of a total of £3.4 billion on designs and refits, a figure that represents 1.3% of retail sales.
“Certainly you need to run quite fast to stand still,” says Watts of the need to keep investing in retail infrastructure.
There is, however, no formula for how much a store should invest.
“We get asked that all the time,” he smiles. “It is as long as a piece of string.
We did an exercise on this to see if we could do a cost per square foot but it is quite difficult particularly if it is an existing shop. Most customers don’t wish to spend an awful amount, which is understandable, but then we try to work with them and their ideas to provide a cost effective solution.
Both Watts and Ackroyd agree that there is no substitute for experience when it comes to advising on store layouts.
“Anybody can sell a shopfit service but I would always advise a retailer to go to someone who has fitted a lot of stores — we’ve been going since 1988.
The display is paramount, the décor and presentation is paramount and if they have a few stores then branding is important as well. Get the branding wrong and you are stuck with it for the rest of your trading life,” says Ackroyd, whose firm offers a branding design service with 3D visualisation, alongside a full in-house manufacturing capacity.
Watts, whose company also offers 3D design, stresses the need for flexibility. “Every store is different and a fresh approach is required each time. There are some basic ‘rules’ that apply, but sometimes even they have to be discarded if needs must and squares have to be thought out of,” he says “DVD is the big thing for us at the moment, obviously, and it is moving very fast. In the traditional music shop, DVD can account for up to 40% of the space now.”
Bespoke or standard
Of course, to look really different, a store used to have to wince and employ the service of a bespoke shopfitter. Cash would pour out and the retailer could only really justify it if it was selling high margin products.
Two years ago home entertainment stores may have thought about it but the price deflation hitting the market means that their main option is the kind of standardised racks that make every retailer look the same.
Not so, says Watts. RED offers a range of displays that can be adapted to most needs, giving retailers a standard solution while maintaining an impression of bespoke shopfitting.
“For example we wanted a product with flexibility and adjustability. Curved or straight; smaller, fatter, higher, wider… So we developed a range which we call Adjustable Multimedia that is basically the same product but so adaptable that it looks completely different,” he says.
Ackroyd argues that in some cases a store will have little option but to opt for the bespoke service. “It all depends on the shape of the shop and how awkward the walls are to fit out,” he says. “We have to have a look first and advise accordingly.” Free standing displays, for example, are OK, he continues, provided the store has room for them. “But they often protrude more than flat wall displays,” he adds. “Where we are different is that we have a factory and manufacture everything in-house from painting, woodwork to finishing off and we are very flexible in producing what each shop demands.”
What do consumers demand?
In a recent report into shopfitting, research agency Mintel found that many retailers’ store layouts have irritated, mainly older, shoppers by making it harder for them to find what they want — apparently the result of attempts to make shopping more of a leisure activity.
“The majority of us do not actually find shopping an enjoyable experience, and this is surprisingly true of both men and women,” said Mintel. “Clearly shoppers are looking for efficient stores, where they can find what they want, pay quickly and get away promptly.” That said, Mintel found that on the whole, younger consumers like to take the time to browse around and often spend more money than they plan to.
The shops consumers enjoy spending most time in, said Mintel, are music and entertainment stores for men and clothing stores for women.
“Stores gearing towards younger shoppers should create space for shopping with friends, catering for the social nature of shopping trips for these consumers,” said Mintel.
Watts agrees that encouraging consumers to spend time looking is crucial. “Some shops like to display DVDs so that you can flick through them, others hate it, some put them spine on but the vast majority are going to be in a flickable format to encourage browsing,” he says. “DVDs lend themselves very well to that unlike VHS.
“But then we know from talking to people that most customers are very, very lazy and 90% of the time they ask for what they want at the counter, even if they know it is in the rack. What we try to do is put a lot of product face on, particularly games.” Ackroyd suggests ensuring that island racks are not too high so that people can see the displays on the wall is a valuable lesson in presentation.
Likewise, keeping the window displays down, helps people see “what is going on inside the shop”.
“We make professional poster holders to keep PoS material in,” he adds, “so many stores present it in the wrong way with Blu-tak on the window or taped to the counter. Fortunately, a lot of our customers have broken away from the larger chains and realise how important it is to display properly even things like posters but we still get a lot of people who haven’t got a clue.” For Watts, doing something is better than doing nothing. “Look, at the end of the day, even if you simply move your product racks around it will attract more customers” he says, adding that the investment rarely doesn’t pay off.
Ackroyd says that retailers simply have to look at updating their stores if they are to thrive. “They have to try to modernise and stand out from the crowd,” he says. “Too many video rental stores, for instance, still display in those old, poxy, plastic panels, which get dusty and cracked — they should go for slat wall or curvy stands that look fantastic. They make the whole store look more modern and retailers don’t have to spend a fortune to make the store look more exciting — we can clad the existing counter in fresh materials that make it look brand new.” Both Ackroyd and Watts are convinced that their services bring real benefits to r e t a i l e r s fighting for c o n s u m e r attention.
“When you do a shop, it is lovely to get feedback,” Watts says. “We’ve just refitted a shop that was the poorest performer in a small chain of five and now it is turning over as much, if not more than the best.”
Those wanting more information might want to check out The Shop and Display Equipment Association (sdea), which offers a guide to the UK retail display industry at www.shopdisplay.
org. sdea also offers InfoLine, a telephone information service, which helps retailers source particular products, services and suppliers — call 01883 348911.
AMA can be contacted on 01924 0507217; RED can be contacted on 01733 239001