CMT In Depth

Space-Saving Design & Merchandising Tips From Retail Store Designer Chris Miller

By Michael Raine

Are you getting the most merchandising space out of your backroom, showroom, and even checkout counter and office space? And are you displaying your merchandise in a visually effective way? Chris Miller has the answers to these questions and more.

Miller is the president of Pacific Store Designs. Since 1981, he has redesigned thousands of retail stores across the pet, automotive, pool and spa, motorcycle, hobby, and musical products industries. He has a long history with NAMM University, having presented at The NAMM Show and on the road for the organization going back to 1996. At The 2018 NAMM Show, he presented an Idea Center session on “10 Space-Saving Merchandising Secrets” and was also a panelist for the 2018 Store Design Summit.
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Chris Miller

Speaking with Canadian Music Trade, he shares some of those tips from his presentation and elaborates on other problematic areas he sees in many MI stores.

“A lot of retail is downsizing and they’re trying to offer the same selection out of less square footage. With the rents the way they are and the brick and mortar stores having to be more and more competitive, [they’re] finding ways to fit 100 pounds of groceries into a 10-pound sack,” says Miller.

“I usually start in the back rooms when I talk about stores. If we can maximize the back room, then we free up retail selling space and we’ve done our job. So the average backroom for the average store is around six per cent of the square footage. If they’re a large rental company, then obviously it’s going to be larger because they have to stock the inventory,” says Miller. “But what we do then is, in many of my stores, we put in double-deck mezzanines in the back and have gone with high-pile storage and/or mobile aisles. A mobile aisle is where one aisle services many rows of shelving and you roll these shelving units left and right and then you have a mobile aisle. You’ve probably seen them in file rooms. So if we have high ceilings, then we go with the mezzanine. If we have a low ceiling and we need to get the capacity, then we go with mobile aisles. If we can free up [space] or keep them from having to expand or, again, getting more utilization of the same square footage, it’s the best way to free up some selling space.”
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Sliding Panels

Elsewhere, Miller notes it’s common for stores to have an office space on the show room floor. “They basically count money in there or do orders and things like that. It’s something that’s very easily done at home. The value of a 10 x 10-ft. office is 100 sq. ft. times $200 per square foot per year, which is equal to $20,000 a year in sales. If they’re averaging 40 points of margin, that’s $8,000. You get down to a rent of, say, a couple bucks per square foot, that’s another $2,400 a year. So if we’re to lay out $10,200 on the table and say, ‘Can you do your paperwork at home to free up your selling space?’ most people go, ‘Yeah, I think I can do that.’”

If an office work space is needed in the store, Miller says sometimes he will create an office workstation at the checkout counter. This way, during slow times, a manager can man the counter while also doing some paperwork, making for a better utilization of space.

For stores that do repairs, a good way to consolidate work benches is to use a Lazy Susan for small parts and tools. Four work benches arranged in a square with a central Lazy Susan and shelving above creates a lot of functionality in a smaller space.
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Swing Panels

For merchandising on the show room floor, Miller’s first tip is to use swinging panels made out of slatwall, peg board, or wired grid. This way, he says, the retailer can fit 13 ft. of merchandise in a 4-ft. section. On endcaps, he advises including power panels that add extra selling space in the same footprint. “We average an extra 3 ft. of wall space on every endcap or peggable space of small shelf or bin space,” Miller says. “We also use sliding panels, so where one panel slides in front of the other, so we can add 50 to 100 per cent more merchandise in a 4-ft. section.”

A few other simple tips are to add backbones to browser bins so that the raised bin can display product while storage is created underneath. Also, using drop hooks or peg hooks. “If you don’t have the adjustability and you want to get that extra product in, they do make peg hooks where the weld of the hook is dropped down lower or higher, so there’s your adjustability. So instead of the peg coming straight out, it’s dropped down an inch or two and you can get that product in above it. So that’s another way of trying to eke out another row of merchandise.”
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Work benches with Lazy Susan

Flexibility in function and display is also a key element. “Mobile gondolas and anything on wheels is a good way to go because then you can change your look very easily and create some interest, instead of a piece of furniture that is always in the same place and has the same presentation every time people come, and then people are not motivated to come in the store,” says Miller.

At the checkout counter area, Miller also says he commonly uses recessed slatwall shadowboxes. “Basically, there is a slatwall shadow box that screws right to the front of the counter that covers up the back of the cash register with all the wires and junk that accumulates there and it frees up the counter for customer space so they can unload their hands and not have all that clutter on the top of the counter,” he adds. “The top of the counter becomes more like a shopping cart. We’ve done that in a lot of stores and increased the average ticket sale because people are going to unload their hands and buy other stuff.”
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Double-deck Mezzanines

The psychology of customers is an important thing to consider. For instance, creating wider aisles, if possible, creates more breathing room for the eye. “The more cramped the store, the less amount of time the average female shopper wants to shop in the store. They’re very attuned to their space needs. It’s psychological; 80 per cent of the population suffers from some type of claustrophobia,” he notes. “We just did a big chain up in Canada where we did a lot of these changes and we got an average increase of about 28 per cent in sales and freed up an extra 70 ft. of wall space and kept the average female shopper in the store about 28 minutes to 40 minutes longer.”

If a store is a visual train wreck, as Miller puts it, it’s harder for the shopper’s eye to focus on any individual display item. “So we have merchandising tools that can showcase an item and feature it by changing the colour of slatwall or putting it in a picture frame with slatwall. Just changing the colour of the slatwall accentuates what’s being displayed.”
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Mobile aisle shelving

Lastly, Miller says colour and lighting are terribly ignored elements in many MI stores. “They’ll go in and put the same colour of slatwall in the entire store. For most it’s white – Sam Ash, to give you an example. You just go in there and it’s all white. There is nothing to attract the eye. There are no focal points where we create, like, a stage. There aren’t layers of lighting to create interest and trigger impulse sales,” he says. “I would say 95 per cent of music stores have one layer of light and that’s what the landlord gave them and they don’t want to spend money for track lighting or accent lighting or task lighting… They say it’s important but they don’t invest in anything to create hotspots and trigger impulse sales and show the sparkle or show the paint colours. Good colour rendering lightbulbs are imperative to creating that environment.”

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**Michael Raine is the Senior Editor of Canadian Music Trade.