October 2, 2014
Merchandising — The Supermarket Approach
You know that feeling you get when you walk into, say, one of those big-box home improvement stores? Your brain almost immediately starts up with “Oh, I want that. And that. And that. And that one, too!” That’s merchandising — successful merchandising at that. It’s the retailer art of putting out the goods in such a way that every customer who walks through the door has that “I want that” experience (hopefully several times over).
Merchandising can be a massive undertaking for large establishments — think those wonder stores like Cabela’s and Bass Pro Shops — and big, national chains like that generally have a staff of merchandising experts who’ve spent a lot of college tuition learning how, when and where things sell to consumers. Now, you may not be a store with 180,000 square feet to play with (that’s the reported square footage of the Cabela’s store in Kansas City), but that doesn’t mean you can’t successfully align the products in your store in a way just as profitable to you.
Think Like a Grocery Store
Grocery stores across the nation are set up in a most distinctive way. New products and those quick to expire are upfront — produce, meat and deli, as well as those special weekly offers like five bags of chips for $10, which are often set up in the shopping cart area to make you buy before you even get in the store. At the back of the store are the things you need every week — milk and eggs — and in between the front and back are the dozens of aisles of all those semi-necessary items. Grocery stores are set up this way on purpose: It is almost impossible to go to the average market for milk without putting a whole lot of other stuff in your cart on the way to the dairy aisle. Your firearms store, no matter its size, can use this same approach and just as profitable.
New Products Up Front
The newest products immediately go up front, with signage that screams “NEW FOR FALL!” “JUST ARRIVED!” “BACK IN STOCK!” Now, before you protest, that display doesn’t have to be the entire stock of whatever it is that’s new. Say you have an area of the store that has several clothing racks. Obviously you don’t want to move those racks to the front of your store, but you could certainly put a mannequin or two with the newest parka or waders at the front of the store, complete with those “NEW!!!!” signs, perhaps a chalkboard or dry-erase board with the technical pertinents from the hang tag and directions to ask a store associate for help with fitting. (If you really want to get creative, you can also have your staff wearing samples of new arrivals like boots and clothing, complete with a “name” badge that says “Ask Me About The New Wondercamo!”)
What about new guns, knives and other items you normally keep in locked cases, how do you display them at the store entrance and keep them secure? One way is to have a small, secure and well-lit display case that’s used at the front of the store only for the one or two guns or knives fresh to the market and new to your store. Again, you’ll want to add the appropriate signage and tell your customers these are the most recent arrivals to your store — think “New Product Center,” just realize that “Center” doesn’t have to be big to be well-done.
If investing in a special display case isn’t an option or your store space won’t accommodate it, then try a simple arrangement of those chalkboards/dry erase boards (much like restaurants use to list their daily specials), along with color fliers that show the new item and list its specifications. Most manufacturers have hi-res, full-color images of all their new products available for the asking, and it’s a simple thing to create a flier, print them out and place them on or next to those boards at your store entrance so that they immediately grab the attention of everyone walking in the door. This solution also works for smaller store layouts and those that don’t have an open concept entrance, when those chalkboards and fliers are placed in the areas where the new merchandise resides. For instance, you probably have a rack of various eye and ear protection. When you get a new brand or design in stock, you could place a chalk- or dry-erase board at the end of the display case or a small easel with a flier or card on top of the case announcing the new product right alongside the actual item.
You can also use the front-of-store concept with special sale items, those that will be on sale for a short, clearly defined amount of time. In fact, just as the produce section of your grocery store changes every couple days, this front-of-store area should be one that sees frequent rotation regardless its use for new items or those on special sale. Why? As consumers, most of us want the newest thing available. By rotating new items, your regular customers will learn that you truly are stocking the newest merchandise available. As for short-term sale displays, these create a sense of urgency with your customers; they know that sales and supplies don’t last long because the display is constantly changing, so they know to take advantage of a sale when they see it.
Reliability in the Middle
Contrary to the front-of-store displays, the majority of your store display space should be “reliable.” This is especially true of businesses that have expansive and diverse inventories — you do not want your customers frustrated because the cleaning brushes were on the left side of the store one week and are in some hard to find corner on the right the next. Again, the grocery store is the example. The cereal is always on Aisle 3 because the customer who buys cereal each week is going to be very unhappy when he has to look for it. Consumers like reliability in the stores they frequent. Your customers go to your store because they know they can find the things they want. That doesn’t mean they don’t want new things, just that they don’t want to hunt for the regular stuff.
End of Trail Ammo
And that brings us to the milk and eggs — or, in most of your stores, the ammunition. Most of you, with the exception of case ammunition, undoubtedly have your ammo shelved behind your display counters. That helps deter theft and it makes organizing the many boxes necessary to have on hand easier. But having your ammo at the back of your store is what makes the difference, because every customer who needs ammo — and they all need ammo — have to go past the shiny “NEW!!!” things, through the displays of things they need/want sometimes (and those things that likely don’t carry your more important profit margins) to get to it. That’s a lot of temptation. How much? When was the last time you saw a grocery store close?