Visual merchandising within wholesale and consumer retail environments
By Gerry Hebron, joint MD of the Creative id*a group Ltd
In essence there is little difference in the objectives of visual merchandising within a wholesale environment and consumer retail channels; they both need excellent stand out, stock loading and conversion.
It is the simple objective of shifting lots of stock in a short timeframe that drives most Wholesale/Cash &Carry (WS/C&C) activity, and this naturally can mean limited creative opportunities – ‘cheap & cheerful’ is often the brief.
There are some obvious differences in terms of product loading within WS/C&C, as in almost all situations the units or communication devices will be carrying cases and not single products.
This can necessitate a degree of strengthening or ‘over sizing’ to accommodate the increased weights and capacity.
Traditionally devices employed within this channel have been less sophisticated versions of their retail counterparts. This usually as a direct result of the purchasing situation – retailers not consumers.
This has sometimes been a missed opportunity for generating increased retail stock pressure and ‘push’, by not capitalising on the potential to create innovation and dynamic displays that really sell.
Over the past twenty years the trend towards the majority of fmcg and health and beauty products being sold through major multiple retailers has led to the diminished importance of the WS/C&C channel for the bulk of brands, and this has seen the available budgets suffer accordingly.
That said, for independent retailers they remain the life-blood of their businesses and a cornerstone to the retail structure of the country. It is with this in mind that any activity within this channel needs careful consideration.
So how can you create the greatest impact in this environment?
Try to use the environmental characteristics to your advantage
The nature of WS/C&C outlets are they tend to be poorly lit, dirtier than retail stores (well most of them!), tall, crammed with product, limited in space, governed by strict Health & Safety laws, and full of rushing forklifts.
Some of these features can work in your favour, for instance in a poorly lit environment using lighting effects can really create stand out, and when combined with noise and movement it works incredibly effectively.
Height can be employed to add impact and scale, this enables greater messaging and imagery to be used.
The Health & Safety aspect is an important but negotiable obstacle. Aisles must be free from obstruction, so all communication material must be shelf/rack located, and either flat to the structure or sprung to provide flexibility.
Think beyond the promotion
Most display activity within WS/C&C is linked to promotional activity. But have thought about investing a bit more in good quality, updateable permanent displays.
These will be often be subject to contractual placement, but are more likely to be used far beyond their allotted time slot. This increases the returns on the original investment and provides a permanent promotional and non-promotional platform for your product.
It is essential with these displays that a regular merchandising team visits to ensure the displays have not been hijacked by competitors!
To further increase conversion it is essential to integrate your activity across the entire distribution chain, the knowledge that product will be heavily promoted to the consumer will always be a sales driver in WS/C&C.
Using similar promotional techniques such as sampling, competitions and kiosks, as used in retail can often lead to incredible uplift.
Ensure the devices used harmonise with those used at retail. It is even more important that the different formats used within one outlet harmonise. The offer, if there is one, must be clear and concise, quickly communicating the sales & profit potential your product can deliver.
One of the best I’ve seen was a two day event in the main foyer of a regional wholesaler; a ‘branded’ Formula 1 style racing car with promotional banners, chequered floor graphics, and the obligatory glamorous attendants handing out offer sheets, promoting a consumer competition for a racing day – on-pack coupons were redeemed with a qualifying multiple choice question.
Obviously the retailers could not enter the consumer competition, but treating them like a consumer created a fantastic empathy and subsequent sales response – two weeks of stock sold in a few days.
Treat it like every other retail channel
The same rules apply – it’s people buying product with the only difference being the point within the route to market; WS/C&C should be treated as equally important to the other channels it operates with.
You need to produce a healthy ROI as with any other marketing activity, so the chosen activity must be coherent to the sales & marketing objectives, in other words it must be fit for purpose.
It is this commercial outlook that tends to mould the end product, so simple, cost effective and generally unimaginative solutions are all that can be delivered for the budget.
The more visibility your product has the better chance of selling your stock, so if your budget allows try to maximise the number of spots you can use within the outlet.
Don’t just use a pallet wrap when you can also use shippers, banners, bunting, laser projectors, floor graphics, light boxes, bay wraps, aisle flags and shelf talkers. There are numerous standard templates available, but with a little extra finance and time, creative and inspirational solutions can be delivered.
A crucial element to consider is the stock, make sure it is available. Promotional and display windows in WS/C&C can be shorter than in other channels so precise coordination is key – no stock, no sale!
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