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    From well-placed floral displays to full-fledged “road shows,” in-store merchandising solutions are as much an art as a science.

    By Bob Ingram

    Food merchandising is at least as old as the pushcart, and over the centuries has evolved into the sophisticated forms seen in today’s modern supermarket. A great deal of thought — philosophies of merchandising, if you will — has evolved as well.

    Bill Carlson, VP at Borgen Systems, a Des Moines, Iowa-based manufacturer of merchandising systems, cites what he calls the “basic Ps” of successful in-store merchandising: product, placement, price and promotion.

    Equipment and fixtures that provide successful in-store merchandising “need to disappear loudly,” Carlson affirms. “The case needs to present the products without distraction, but use the physical structure to enhance via lighting or shelving. The case should also be able to hold signage and pricing without distracting from the product.”

    Carlson says that Borgen has “tried to make our cases become picture frames for the products they hold.” In Borgen’s floral products, the black glass separates the flowers from the surrounding distraction while making the colors of the flowers stand out, and for the company’s wine cases, “we have created a shelf that displays a single bottle in front of the horizontal storage of the stock.” Borgen’s gourmet sandwich case, meanwhile, uses a bent glass top that eliminates bulky metal sneeze guards and allows the merchant to display fresh products “up front and close to the customer,” as Carlson puts it.

    Samantha Criddle, Internet and marketing manager at Shawnigan Lake, British Columbia-based Promolux Lighting International, feels that “the most influential element of any in-store merchandising program is engagement with the shopper. In making a stronger connection with their shoppers, store owners will realize higher sales and greater customer loyalty.”

    She says that among the many tools and techniques to connect with the customer, “the grocer’s ability to draw the attention of the consumer through visual cues is one of the most important.” Criddle believes that “visual merchandising is the most widely used and understood technique in the supermarket industry,” and that “shoppers are instantly attracted to colorful and artfully presented displays.”

    In Criddle’s opinion, equipment and fixtures are the fundamental starting points of any merchandising program and the foundation for elaborate merchandising arrangements. Promolux lights, she notes, filter more than 86 percent of harmful radia¬tion and ensure that food retains its natural color, freshness and nutritional integrity.

    Promolux’s parent company, Market GroupVentures Inc., also manufactures Econofrost night covers, which provide a thermal barrier that keeps both the case and product temperatures cooler and more stable while deflecting ambient heat and light away from the case for greater protection and energy savings.

    At Kysor/Warren, the Columbus, Ga.- based manufacturer of commercial refrigeration and other products, George Parsons, VP of engineering and product development, says that for successful in-store merchandising, “the fixture must disappear. The focus must be on the merchandise and not on the fixture. The retailer’s customer is not buying a refrigerated display case, they are buying the product inside of it.”

    To this end, Kysor/Warren has developed the Status multideck display case to assist merchandising while providing energy-efficient refrigeration. “The case is offered with multiple exterior-look packages to make the focus the products in the display case, and not the display case,” Parsons says. As part of Kysor/Warren’s Status collection, the DX8UN Multi-Deck Platinum Display Case (Medium Temperature, Ultra Low Front) is designed, he notes, “with a focus on things that matter most to a grocer’s business,” like ease of use, high energy efficiency, du¬rability, energy cost savings, merchandising flexibility and customization.

    “Designed with an ultra-low front accommodating up to seven levels of shelving, the DX8UN provides the advantage of greater display visibility of merchandise, translating into more products sold,” Parsons adds. “The front case height is 12.5 inches from the floor — among the lowest in the industry.”

    Meanwhile, Judd Eddinger, president of MasonWays Indestructible Plastics, LLC, a manufacturer of display systems based in West Palm Beach, Fla., says merchandising solutions should “help retailers to best showcase their products to increase sales, improve store safety, and reduce clutter, lower labor costs and make facilities look more attractive by keeping merchandise off the floor.”

    MasonWays produces fixtures that Eddinger says are economical, low-maintenance, super-sanitary, eco-smart, durable, stylish and strong. “Our displays are manufactured from recyclable plastics that will not chip, crack or break,” he continues. “MasonWays fixtures are guaranteed for 10 years.”

    Floratech, based in North Syracuse, N.Y., makes coolers for supermarket floral sections. Division manager John Patalita says: “Cut flowers are often an impulse purchase in a supermarket. Flowers positioned near the entrance can catch the attention of incoming customers and even set the tone for their shopping experiences.”

    He notes that consumers prefer to pick up flowers near the end of their shopping trips to minimize possible damage, so flowers are best displayed in a location that allows shoppers to make their selections just before checking out.

    According to Patalita, open-style coolers like Floratech’s cater to the impulse nature of floral purchases by enabling shoppers to interact with the flowers through sight, touch and smell. He points out that “anecdotal evidence suggests that certain customer groups are hesitant to open the doors of a floral cooler without the assistance of store associates, reducing the chances that an impulse purchase will be made.”

    What’s more, adds Patalita, consumers don’t like to buy from partly empty floral displays because it looks like the flowers have been picked over and what’s left is of lower quality. “Floratech’s unique scalloped shelving system permits even spacing of floral buckets,” he says, “allowing the cooler to seem full even if it is loaded to only 40 percent of its capacity.”

    Floratech’s smallest displays can be rolled into place to supplement capacity during peak periods or to cross-merchandise flowers by putting them near such items as greeting cards or chocolates, he adds. Also, Floratech’s shelving allows flowers to be tilted up to 30 degrees toward the customer, making flower heads more visible than the stems, and thus increasing visual appeal. Shelving can adjust to accommodate arrangements of various heights, as well as buckets of cut flowers.

    John Davis, business development manager at Ft. Worth, Texas-based Traulsen & Co. Inc., relays a short list of select attributes for successful in-store merchandising: location of the unit; location of the product in the unit; location of the lighting, as well as mobility, good visibility and color of the product; and good product qualities (temperature).

    He gives two examples of how Traulsen, a refrigeration manufacturer, has developed merchandising products “that provide great visibility and mobility, along with superior temperature performance.” The refrigerated sliding-glass-door deli merchandiser, he says, enhances food safety, improves quality and reduces product shrinkage, while large glass doors are intentionally positioned so that product can be easily seen over the deli counter, and enhanced fluorescent lighting augments visibility.

    Traulsen’s seafood display cabinet, notes Davis, “is designed to support ‘road show’ events by providing safe, refrigerated storage for various raw and/or frozen cooked products such as shrimp, salmon, tuna and steaks. A proprietary refrigeration system provides cold air flow over the product to retard the rate of ice melt while maintaining safe food temps throughout the day without drying or freezing the product.”

    Marjorie Proctor of Conyers, Ga.-based Hill Phoenix, another maker of refrigerated equipment, says that “the pairing of product to a merchandiser” is critical to successful merchandising, and that “choosing the right type of case for the application is the first step in merchandising. There are several methods of refrigerating a case, and selecting the correct method will help maintain food quality,” which she sees as the No. 1 attribute of successful merchandising.

    Proctor tosses out an apropos question with a commensurate response:“What is the vision of how a product needs to be displayed for sale? Define how you want to match food to a case — will the product sell best in a service or self-service case? Should the case have one shelf, two shelves or no shelves?” She suggests creating a planogram for the case that includes the quantities required to ensure that there’s ample space to merchandise, as well as service, if working a service display. In turn, “The height of the product that will be displayed may also dictate characteristics of your merchandiser and how you merchandise,” she notes.

    Since lighting is handily one of the most important factors in creating atmosphere, Proctor notes that “Hill Phoenix offers Clairvoyant LED lighting that can help a mediocre display look extraordinary.”

    Maximizing “curb appeal,” she confirms, is yet another important attribute of outstanding merchandising. “A customer’s first impression may get more carts stopping by your department to check out what you have to offer by establishing the degree of sophistication you want the exterior finishes of your cases to have,” Proctor explains. “There are so many choices for exterior finishes: painted metal, laminates, wood, tile. Choose from flat glass or curved glass. Throw a curveball to your customers; perhaps the expected straight run of cases in the meat department should be changed up to excite customers by replacing the cases with a spherical lineup.”

    Additionally good to know: Hill Phoenix addresses merchandising solutions through education via the recent launch of a new website,myhptv.com.

    Merchandising, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder — and so we can expect to see aggressive retailers striving to do all they can to capture those ever-demanding eyes.

    By Bob Ingram
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