As HME providers around the country are looking to diversify their businesses to develop new revenue streams, it’s important to understand that retail cash sales will play a significant role in their long-term successes through the rest of this decade and beyond. We’ve all seen the numbers regarding total sales and retail cash in the HME industry, but I’ll remind everyone again. In 2013, overall expenditures were expected to be $42.2 billion, with 54.7 percent, or $23.1 billion, coming strictly from cash sales. The hard numbers are there, folks— if you have not jumped on the retail cash bandwagon, now is the time. There are five keys to success in retail: location; marketing; store layout and appearance; service and assortment, and bundle selling. Let’s take a look at how each of these can help you establish a successful retail operation.
You may not be able to change the physical location of your store, but there are ways to maximize its appearance no matter if you are located in a retail strip mall or if you’re in an industrial park and your store is a specific destination for your customers. Take a good, hard look at the outside of your store, especially if you use a rear employee entrance on a daily basis. What first impression does your store make? Do you have professional signage that clearly identifies the name and purpose of your store? Does it need a fresh coat of paint or to be professionally cleaned? If you have large windows, are you using them to display merchandise and entice people with professional signage? Are you rotating this merchandise and signage on at least a quarterly basis?
Once you’ve assessed the outside of your store and made your notes on what needs to be improved, walk through the front door as though it’s your very first time. It only takes seven feet and seven seconds to give a lasting impression of your store the first time a customer walks in. The store itself makes the most significant and lasting impression on a customer. Retailers focusing more attention on in-store marketing in the form of store design, merchandise presentation, visual displays and in-store promotions will experience greater sales and profits. It’s a proven fact in the retail world. Are the glass doors and windows clean? How does the carpeting look? Is it worn, frayed, dirty? Do you have entrance mats that are curled, therefore creating a trip hazard? People typically look to their right when they walk into a store—what is the first item or product display they will see? What impression does your store give you? Most DME stores use either a free flow layout or a spine layout for their merchandise. A free flow layout is typically found in bargain stores such as T.J. Maxx. This layout, because it forces customers to move throughout the merchandise in narrow aisles, may not be conducive to people with mobility products or mobility issues. The spine layout is most conducive to specialty stores such as DME providers with 2,000 to 10,000 square feet of showroom space. The spine layout, as the name implies, is based on a single main aisle running from the front to the back of the store, transporting customers in both directions. Merchandise is displayed on both sides of the aisleway, with departments distinguished by different color flooring, walls, types of display racks and signage.
Store Layout and Appearance
Merchandising refers to the use of specific product selection, design, display, packaging and pricing to stimulate and entice customers to make a purchase. Plain and simple: Your retail success begins and ends with products. The products you display on your showroom floor must serve a specific purpose and target a specific customer base. For each product category, you must showcase a range of styles, price points and options— a good, better, best selection will offer an appealing product mix that will satisfy most shoppers’ needs and wants. A picture is worth a thousand words. Second only to the product display, nothing has more impact on a customer’s purchasing decision than images of the product in a real-world setting. You don’t have to hire models and a professional photographer to accomplish this visual in your showroom. Ask vendor partners about what point of purchase (POP) materials they have available at little or no cost for their customers. Posters, banners and hang tags can all make a lasting impression on how much better life can be using that particular product. Better lighting boosts your bottom line. An important, but often overlooked, element in successful store design is lighting. Most stores have fluorescent lighting. Lighting not only sets a particular mood, but it also can dramatically affect the appearance of certain products, in parti- cular lift chairs. Without the right lighting, lift chair fabric colors can look different in your store than it will in a person’s home, possibly resulting in an unhappy customer after delivery. Can customers see the colors in their true hues? If you ever heard the complaint, “It looked so different in the store,” then you have an issue with lighting. A wide variety of professional lighting products are available to produce natural light or lighting more commonly found in the home. Spot lighting can also be used to highlight certain types of merchandise, but make sure lights will not be shining in your customers’ eyes when they are trying out the product. Color influences shopper behavior. Colors can influence a customer’s behavior. Rather than simply select colors that you like, it can be more effective to start with a theme and choose colors that represent that concept. Warm colors such as oranges and browns are inviting and reassuring while cooler colors such as green and blue can have a calming effect. Orange makes people happy, and happy customers are more likely to linger longer in your store. Bright colors such as yellow and red grab a customer’s attention, stopping them in their tracks before they breeze past a product display. Don’t be afraid to have a lift chair in a bright color such as pink on your floor. It’s not about the color of the chair, in this case one that would not likely be ordered for a customer’s living room, but about grabbing attention and highlighting the product. Sound engages attention. Customers can walk away from products or your sales staff, but they can’t listen away from sound as long as they’re in your showroom. You can look away from videos on a monitor and store signs, but sound is always there. Keeping that in mind, many retailers are using music, sounds of nature or recorded product announcements to reinforce the brand image created by store merchandising and design. It’s important to make certain the music you are playing, or the information you are announcing, fits your target demographic. Scents affect behavior. Have you thought about or noticed how your store smells? That may seem like an odd question, but does your store smell clean, or does it smell dusty? Does your store have an overpowering scent of cleaning products that will offend the more sensitive olfactory senses of an older customer? Numerous scientific studies have proven that adding scent to the store environment affects consumer behavior in a variety of ways that are good for business, including increasing sales; improving customer perceptions of your store and product quality; encouraging customers to spend more time in the store and increasing customers’ intentions to return to your store. Ambient scenting can be done with motion-activated, timed or user- initiated shelf devices. Or ambient scenting with freestanding machines or scent diffusers connected to the HVAC system. Interestingly enough, studies have shown that vanilla is the most popular pleasing scent.
Ideally, your staff should know the products on your floor just as well as your manufacturers’ sales reps do. They need to be able to identify what the product is, what the features and related benefits of the product are and how to sell it well. Create category experts out of your sales staff. Not everyone can be an expert on every category when you have 5,000 different products in your store, but you can have individual experts on every category.
Assortment and Bundle Selling
Many HME retailers are afraid to bundle sell. Providers feel bad if they offer another product suggestion to their customer, even when the product will enhance their quality of life. Don’t be afraid to bundle sell. When you bundle sell, you are offering your customer information and options on products than can further ease their pain. For example, a client with Alzheimer’s could benefit from a multitude of products that will prevent them from falling, and keep them safe, including fall mats, socks with treads on the bottoms, threshold ramps, door alarms, adjustable bed trays and even raised toilet seats or toilet alarms. For customers with edema or circulatory issues, make sure your fitting area is properly equipped with products to make their fitting experiences more comfortable. If a client doesn’t come to your store first thing in the morning for a fitting, they will have to elevate their feet for at least 15 minutes before they can be fitted. Use a lift chair that reclines to the Trendelenburg position, and place lift chair brochures next to the chair so they can learn about the product. When you start to present solutions to your clients’ problems, get into the habit of following each feature with the associated benefit. For example, this type of sales presentation will help your customer to better understand why the scooter that disassembles into smaller components (so it’s easier to load into a car trunk) is worth the higher price than the scooter that does not disassemble (which makes it heavier and more difficult to load into a car trunk). Look for upcoming articles in this series that will cover merchandising; advertising to drive more store traffic; referral-based marketing; sales and customer service techniques and retailing metrics: how to measure what you’re doing to determine how successful it really is. This article is the first of a six-part series on the fundamentals of retailing. Each segment will focus on retail solutions and provide the insight and resources necessary to be successful in this area of business.