Gary Johnson, Invista’s marketing and communications manager, feels the most important question to ask when designing a store layout is, “What kind of store is it?”
Is it a retail specialty store? Perhaps it is more of a warehouse or cash-and-carry type of business? A drugstore? Johnson says a lot depends on what is really trying to be accomplished while customers are there, noting how sometimes racks and displays are arranged in a certain way to form a path for the shopper to follow once entering the store. “The reason retailers do that is for displaying some go-to products or popular products—usually outside the flooring category.”
For example, Johnson says drugstores usually do this by placing the pharmacy at the back, using the aisles as a type of “drive-thru” lane that exposes the customer to additional merchandise displayed in specific ways to promote impulse purchases.
Jaime S. Ong, De La Salle University’s chair of marketing management department, college of business and economics, noted in the research study, “Store Layout and Customer Flow,” how grocery stores keep meat, fish or dairy products—the items that 80% of shoppers usually buy—placed in the back of the store to allow customers to walk through other aisles to reach them. “In contrast, a boutique will group merchandise and fixtures into patterns that allow customers to see all clothing categories from any point in the store. At one glance you know where to find blouses, skirts, sweaters, slacks and accessories.”
Ong also mentions the right-turn bias that exists not just in grocery stores, but movie theaters, auditoriums and the like. “You instinctively head for the right-hand side, which fills up faster. So retailers stock their newer, full-priced items on the right-hand sections. Disney stores pull you—or rather, your offspring—all the way to the back wall, where a huge video screen features animated cartoons and familiar kidsongs, surrounded by all those irresistible toys, tapes and T-shirts. Since you hardly ever go back the same way you came, you pass by other goodies displayed on the other side of the store.”
According to Leendert Tange, Storeage partner and co-founder, in an Enterprise Innovations article, “Why Store Design Matters,” he discusses the impact of the Internet and the competitiveness to make a brand unique, noting how catching the consumer’s eye with good store design is the first way to distinguish itself from others. “Becoming the retail brand of choice is the ultimate goal, and in a world where the Internet is dominating the options for price comparison and even convenience, design has become the most important tool to connect to the consumer’s heart. It makes the retail venue distinguishable at first sight; it is the tone-of-voice and tone-of-image that transmits the common values with the consumer.”
However, Yunchuan “Frank” Liu, a University of Illinois business professor, notes the Internet doesn’t always win the battle. He mentions in phys.org’s article, “Study: Store layout an important variable for retailers,” how although consumers live in an information-rich environment where they know just about everything about a product before they handle it, they know virtually nothing about the item’s unique fit until they are in the store.
The flooring industry is constantly adapting and changing, and within the past 10 to 15 years, there have been some major—and minor—changes in ways stores and showrooms are laid out.
Mara Villanueva-Heras, vice president of residential marketing, Armstrong Floor Products, says while the smaller players in today’s economy can’t always afford a larger showroom, these smaller spaces tend to be more targeted and less overwhelming.
Katie Raymond, independent channel marketing manager for Armstrong Floor Products, added, retailers today are looking for more simplified showrooms with fewer brands and less complexity. But now, there’s a new way to spotlight products: Retailers that are focusing on being regional. “A regional focus on a show floor with a larger format of the products themselves gives more inspiration.”
Tange also notes the same thing, stating, “Good design needs to be locally relevant. It allows the local flavors to speak.”
Johnson notes how when things get overwhelming, it’s important—especially today—for a “cool-down” period when entering a store. “One thing we tell retailers is to give the shopper a ‘cool-down zone’ from the time they are approaching the store, then physically entering, and then the time when they mentally enter the store.”
What the cool-down zone means is how in day-to-day life and its common frustrations, maybe a shopper just barely missed the store while driving in, then had frustrations in the parking lot for various reasons, and the list goes on. These frustrations are still in mind when she enters a store, and customers need about 10 feet of “breathing room,” he says, or open area before truly entering mentally—whether they realize it or not. This serves as a cool-down period to begin paying attention to merchandise.
Johnson says this aspect of having of a 10-foot area at the entrance is needed because “on-sale posters or banners in the front door, where you think people would be paying attention are sometimes not noticed until a person is about 10-feet into a store, when the mindset shifts from ‘How I got here’ to ‘OK, I’m here now and need to do what I came to do.’”
A strategy some retailers employ to get customers to slow down as they enter the store is to place an attractive display near the entrance, he explains. “This will allow a customer to slow down or stop, holding them for a minute, which allows a sales associate to notice her and engage.”
Keeping a customer at a comfortable level to make a decision is a very important method employed by retailers as a store is laid out. Villanueva-Heras says it’s about getting to a simplified offering. “When retailers have everything under the sun it’s too overwhelming. The question becomes: How do I get them in and make them comfortable in finding the right solution?”
Johnson also notes how overwhelming it can be when retailers offer a few thousand types of the same product. “To help in each one of those areas there may be one product highlighted. Maybe this product is more popular. Retailers know which are their best sellers, so be sure to draw attention to them.” There’s a better chance this is the product the shopper will be interested in because it has been made easier for her to focus on as well as providing her with a starting point.
If you don’t already know what you’re looking for, it can add a layer of stress to the shopping experience. According to the Dealerscope article, “Selling with Style,” the Apple Store is an electronic retail success story because it employs good design. At the Apple Store, you can see how it makes its customers feel comfortable while hanging out in bright showrooms, handling the products and learning from the staff how to better implement the products into their lifestyle, suggests Tim Herbert, Consumer Electronics Association’s senior director of market research. He suggests how, for example, you don’t often see Apple products on sale, however the value of the experience of in-store tutorials and demos are indirectly paid for.
Villanueva-Heras says she works with retailers to leverage or organize a store by brand, and when retailers have an area dedicated to one it can be easier for the customer. “Determine [the brand a customer wants] up front, then take them into that section.”
Johnson adds how a primary issue, especially in retail flooring, is to keep the store looking neat and organized to make a good first impression. “Especially [when shopping for] flooring, it’s easy to pull out samples and throw them on the floor to test out because that’s how a person naturally shops them.” He says deck boards are available so a consumer can visualize, but sometimes in the hurry of the day, they can end up staying on the floor instead of being picked up and placed back on the display. “Deck boards can be stacked around and leaned up against racks which creates a cluttered environment.
“We all form first impressions,” Johnson adds. “If a store looks disorganized and cluttered, shoppers feel that emotion while they’re there. They may ask themselves ‘Will they be able to help me?’ if the store comes across looking rag-tag. Keep it looking nice, but don’t go overboard with expensive fixtures, which can send the wrong message to the shopper who may assume it’s too expensive.” He pointed out it is also important for the retailer to have information easily accessible to the shopper.
Villanueva-Heras suggests keeping the showroom fresh and updated with unique, trend-forward visuals, which will help the customer envision her home with the new product(s) in it. “Some [flooring] materials presented in a big, broad cloth don’t always show off the variety or depth of what the retailer offers. Or they’ll have a wide variety, but products aren’t updated.
“These are major decisions,” she says, “and we’ve seen examples of both types of places, but it’s better to go somewhere comfortable that has nice lighting.”
Consumers can have a hard time visualizing, Villanueva-Heras adds. Today the design trends are highly variable, mimicking natural products like reclaimed wood in flooring, art, home décor and more. This can be a selling point, but a customer can’t always see that in a small sample piece. “Open space and large samples come across better than feeling like you’re entering a storage closet.”
Raymond concluded design inspiration could sometimes be overlooked. “Allow for romance of the floor and the inspiration to accompany that.”