Patio & Hearth Blog

from Patio and Hearth Products Report

Focus on Crucial Merchandising Details

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Carol_DausA day doesn’t pass without some mention of another brick-and-mortar chain closing stores and eliminating jobs. As I sat down to write this message, Radio Shack had just announced its closure of 1,100 stores, or 20% of its locations. It appears that its much-discussed Super Bowl ad (a humorous parody of itself featuring 1980s celebrity stars Hulk Hogan and Mary Lou Retten) confirmed what consumers already knew: Radio Shack was stuck in a time warp and didn’t know how to compete in a youth-oriented, digital world.

The few times I popped into my neighborhood Radio Shack during the past several years, it felt as if I had wandered into the Wayback Machine. Products were old-fashioned, displays were dreadfully boring, and staff was unable to answer questions. Compare these unappealing (and empty) stores with crowded, energized Apple stores. It’s ironic that a company like Radio Shack, which helped define modern electronics retailing, totally missed the mark on changing consumer behavior.

We’re all aware of retailers in the patio furniture, outdoor grill, and hearth categories that have closed because they couldn’t compete successfully in today’s changing retail marketplace. But if you look closely at some of these shuttered stores, it’s easy to understand the reason for their demise. Despite selling the same products offered by healthier brick-and-mortar stores and online sources, the businesses that went belly-up did not focus on the details of merchandising.

This attention to the details of merchandising explains why Radio Shack stores are closing while Apple’s Genius Bars continue to multiply. Even Target has recognized that a more interactive approach to merchandising results in greater sales. For instance, during the past year it rolled out Beauty Concierges, consultants who are trained to offer impartial advice rather than pushy sales pitches.

Many independent outdoor-living and hearth retailers are improving customer experiences by offering complementary home visits. A local indoor/outdoor furniture retailer in Orange County, California, equips its design staff with iPads, so that during home visits they can show customers which products will complement their design preferences and lifestyles.

Some of the most successful brick-and-mortar stores understand the importance of selling shopping experiences rather than simply selling stuff. This is exactly what IKEA, Disney, Apple, and savvy outdoor-living retailers, such as Season Four, do on a daily basis.

Does your store’s vibe resemble a Radio Shack or an Apple store? If it’s become dated and dull, focus on making the shopping experience fun and distinctive for your customers. A few subtle changes will help your customers feel good about their shopping experiences, and they will reward you with purchases and return visits.

Carol Daus is editor of Patio & Hearth Products Report.

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