By Meredith Kaplan Burns
The type of shopping experience a customer will have often begins as soon as he or she walks into the store. If a store is dirty, poorly lit, or with sparse merchandise on display, even exceptional customer service might not be able to promote a return visit by customers.
And this is true of racing retail showrooms. Hint: If your mother or wife isn't comfortable in your showroom, chances are pretty strong you're making a bad impression on your regular customers.
"The biggest asset in our showroom is use of space," stated Brian Matherly of Kaeding Performance, Campbell, California. "We have used every inch of our showroom with shelving and slat wall. The display accessories that are available these days are endless. We built a relationship with our local display store; they were really helpful with ideas and answering all of our questions. This relationship was a great help. The next part we worked on was clearly marking and grouping parts together by manufacturer and like parts. We really worked on clearly marking sections as well as different part manufacturers making it easier for the customers to find what they were looking for. With a little paint and few photos we were up and running."
After a fire demolished the previous Kaeding facility several years ago, Matherly and store owner Brent Kaeding began planning their new facility, including the showroom. "We really started paying attention to the retail places we visited as well as looking at different showrooms online and in magazines. Looking at the details in the different photos really gave us some great inexpensive ideas. We gathered these details together and added some of our own and changed a few things on the fly. We are really happy with the way it turned out and it has really made a big difference for our customers as well as boosting sales. I will add it was easier to start with a clean slate rather than try to remodel our previous showroom."
He explained that Kaeding's previous showroom had not been originally planned out many years ago as it evolved into a showroom with no real layout. "So the customers really never knew we had certain products in stock, which did nothing to promote sales," he said. "So the opportunity to start over was exciting despite the circumstances. Our goal was to get as many products in front of our customers as possible without too much confusion and clutter. The difference has been incredible."
And you can make a tremendous difference in your own showroom—and particularly sales—with some proven advice from established racing retailers with attractive showrooms, manufacturers reps who are on the front lines of racing businesses, and some companies that offer display fixtures to make your merchandise stand out to increase sales.
When considering the attributes of racing retail businesses with strong sales, John Julis of J&J Marketing, a manufacturers rep in Riverside, California, cited: "clean, organized by product, and well lit. If the layout allows, the customer needs to walk past some products that are 'impulse' buys, which are last-minute items that are needed at the track every week. Racers are 'touchy' type buyers. They like to touch and feel the products. If the products are not vulnerable to theft, they should be on display. Displays should be dusted and spiffed up on a regular basis."
Julis cited several retailers who he deals with that are successful, and all have the same attributes. "These showrooms are clean, well lit, dusted, organized by product, and loaded with impulse items."
When designing the retail showroom at Carolina Racing Supply in Mooresville, North Carolina, Tom and Missy Sandal decided that they wanted to build their showroom to house a race car. Not only did this idea lend itself to an interesting way to promote customers' cars, which have included Legends cars, NASCAR Cup cars, dirt late models, and even vintage race cars, but it also provides a perfect way to display many of the products the company sells.
The Sandals chose a slightly non-traditional way to retail products as the store is filled with slat wall, but no display fixtures. "We have no gondolas or anything on the floor," described Tom Sandal. "We have a lot of product in the showroom on display, but the key word is display. There are two down sides. If you have a bunch of shelving and people come in and move that stuff around, you are constantly maintaining it to keep it looking good. The other down side is security issues. The more product you put out there the likelihood of product coming up missing increases.
"Ninety percent of everything in our showroom is display only," continued Sandal. "Then we did identify items that we felt—and there is not that many of them—but we did try to figure out what were truly impulse items, which we did place in different areas of the showroom and some are on the front counter where people can make impulse purchases and there would actually be product there as opposed to display-only merchandise." These items include tape, tie wraps, drill bits, and other "small items people tend to grab."
When shopping for display fixtures, there are a variety of methods to find what you need. For general showcase items, the Yellow Pages can be helpful for local vendors. The Internet can provide information about actual fixtures along with companies that provide them. Several companies work closely with the racing industry providing fixtures that fit in with the more industrial look of race shops as compared to high-end clothing boutiques.
Having gained tremendous experience in the power sports industry, among other industries, Rock Eagle Store Fixtures, in Eatonton, Georgia, also now caters to the racing market. The company offers display fixtures that can hold helmets, lubricants, and even apparel. "We are a custom retail shop," said Mike Crowley. "We do commercial cabinets. We do high-end retail displays. We do the power sports industry type displays. We can pretty much do a turnkey job if needed or one or two fixtures or displays at a time.
"Most of our fixtures are built to order, so they are built to our customers' specifications," he continued. "We also have our patented GT (Groove Tube) fixture line. It's a display that we invented back in 2000. It incorporates a corrugated HDPE (polyethylene) pipe, center core fixture, and we use the annular rings of the pipe for adjustability of shelving. The shelving can be made in any shape, size, and we have some stock standard sizes that we offer through our catalog. We also customize it for different clients." He added that the patented locking system allows anyone to quickly and easily change shelves and/or shelf height.
Crowley advised retailers to consider the functionality of the fixtures you are researching, such as, is the fixture mobile or can it be moved easily? "Our GT fixtures are on casters. They can rearrange their retail area as needed. That is a big help because what I have seen, especially with the power sports—and I would imagine it can work the same way with the automotive—things may change seasonally or year to year just with hot items coming out and you don't want to be stuck with the same layout forever.
"We suggest having mobility," added Crowley. "Don't get stuck with just all gondolas that are in one position and they are going to be like that for the next 20 years. Not that there is anything wrong with the regular gondolas, but mix it up a little bit, have some more floating displays and things that you can move around, and actually move in and out as you need it because nothing looks worse than an empty shelf. So if you have mobility and right now you are running low on a certain item, you can move that fixture back into the warehouse or wherever and not have an empty fixture sitting there."
Crowley also suggested another method to promote your racing business. "If the retail area is set up with double doors going to the outside, on a nice weather day these fixtures can be rolled outside and that attracts a lot of attention, too," he concluded.
Shapes Unlimited, Little Chute, Wisconsin, offers a variety of merchandise displayers including slat wall displayers, glass displayers, counters, and laminated case goods, which can all be customized with a choice of laminate to complement a showroom, according to Michelle Gietman. "We also offer customer friendly service counter kiosks. These kiosks emphasize one-on-one customer interaction and higher level of customer service with no lines as with a straight-line counter."
Gietman added, "Strategic positioning of the displayers is key in generating additional revenues."
She continued, "When purchasing store fixtures, they do not carefully consider the construction as well as the price. Realize that fixtures are a long-term investment and you do not want to replace them frequently. If you keep in mind that an initial higher price tag will usually yield better quality, your fixtures will last longer. As they say, 'you get what you pay for.'"
"Showcases still work well for small items, expensive parts, and things that need to be displayed but do not hang right on the walls," said Julis, of J&J Marketing. He suggested wall displays, whether slat wall or pegboard, but advised that the pegboard must be painted. "Some paint the walls with contrasting stripes to further dazzle the customer's eye. If gondolas are used they need to be clean, painted, and well organized. Some put shelves on the tops of the gondolas, to put components at eye level, which is a real plus if space is at a premium. Bright lighting makes the smallest shops look better and bigger. Rotate parts for maximum impact. When you change product location in a store, it forces the customer to stop and look for it, thus seeing other like items."
When shopping for display fixtures, Julis advised, "The local Yellow Pages is a good place to start. Also try display fixtures online. You'll be amazed by the companies that provide products in this arena. Also watch for sales of used merchandise from closed locations. There are some great buys on used display merchandise." He noted that when Hollywood Video closed, the company liquidated some high-dollar gondolas for pennies on the dollar.
Mike Zimmerman, a manufacturers rep with Airheart Sales, based in Newport Beach, California, also offered several suggestions for an effective showroom filled with enticing retail displays. "First and foremost, be specific," about your market, he said. "If you're a sprint car/midget guy then don't get far from the sprint car/midget business. If you are an off-road guy, stay with that. If you're a quarter midget guy or a drag race guy, be specific for one."
He also advised to avoid duplication. "I see too many stores that carry maybe four different types of oil. I personally represent Joe Gibbs. If you are going to be a Joe Gibbs guy, be a Joe Gibbs guy and carry everything they have, be it the cleaner, be it the rearend lube, be it the oil, the break-in oil, whatever they have for that line." He explained that when a racing store carries several lines of lubricants, it can get confusing for the consumer, "so keep it simple.
"If you are selling racing gas, have a five-gallon container of racing gas after the customer comes in ready for sale," continued Zimmerman. "Don't just have an empty can there if he does come in and wants a jug of methanol or a jug of high-octane gas, make sure the guy can walk out with it."
Zimmerman also stressed the importance of maintaining a clean showroom. "I go into too many dirty stores and it doesn't feel very welcoming in there," he said. "The clean ones that make you feel like it's home almost, keep you there longer, and buying products."
Some other materials that Zimmerman suggested to keep on hand include handouts and application guides. "All the companies I represent supply handouts, whether it's RaceQuip racing suits, or whether it's a little trifold," he said. "I think anybody that has those ready to go to give to the customer and has gone the extra mile to put their sticker on the back so when a guy goes home, he's got a RaceQuip driving suit brochure, and he lays it on the counter, and three days later says, 'I have to got back and get that suit.' He turns it over and the sticker shows it was from Team C Performance in Bellflower," as an example.
He added, "Have application guides in the store. If you have a seat belt display, go to the trouble to punch the application guide and put on a tie wrap. So if a guy is looking for a seat belt for his car, he can look on the application guide and find what he wants and ask for that specific number whether it's racing belts, whether it's plug wires, whether it's helmets. There are current application guides—2006 isn't going to do a whole lot of good—2010 application guides, and you should have one for any product that you have in your showroom That application guide should be accessible to the retail customer."
When in doubt, Zimmerman reminded that manufacturer's reps can help racing retailers in several ways. "I think that first and foremost these guys should know that the salesmen and/or reps are your friends. We will supply you or have a way to get to you the most current stuff that we just talked about. We have the most current displays. We have the factories at our beck and call just waiting to send this stuff. Factories make this stuff, and a lot of it, they make tons of display material, which unfortunately, rarely gets utilized."
He concluded, "I guess the best thing I can say is when these owners of race shops see a rep or a salesman from a specific company, ask them what do they have to complete a good looking display."
Finally, there are some important points to consider before updating, renovating, or designing a new showroom.
Crowley, of Rock Eagle Store Fixtures, said, "I always suggest that if they don't know which direction they want to go or they are not sure, that they hire a visual merchandise expert or an interior designer that is geared toward retail." These experts often have the experience of how to design a showroom effectively to promote sales, which includes offering advice about traffic flow, lighting, where to locate display fixtures, sales counters, and more.
"I'd ask my wife to take a look and see if she is comfortable going into a store like that," said Julis. "She doesn't need to know the difference in a fuel jug or a crash helmet to give you feedback on aesthetics. I'd also put high-profit impulse items on the wall behind the counter. That way the customer will see them while you are looking up a part number or preparing his bill. There is no 'right' or 'wrong' way to set up a store. It has to work for you and make the customer feel comfortable."
"You have to kind of pick and choose when you read all these experts," added Sandal, of Carolina Racing Supply. "You have to figure out what applies to you." He added, "There is no cookie-cutter approach. You need to just think about it and do what works for your situation."
Matherly, of Kaeding Performance, advised, "Take your time and look around before you start and take advantage of your space. Your investment in time and money up front will surely give you a greater return on your investment."