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Mastering the Art of Visual Merchandising

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How do retail stores entice you to enter their doors and linger over their shelves full of irresistible products? Visual merchandising is a skill that department stores, shopping malls, and chain retailers have spent many years perfecting. Retailing and merchandising is an important part of your overall business plan and it will dramatically increase business profitability at your skin care center, salon, day spa, or medical spa. Lauren Gartland is the president of Inspiring Champions, a business training and coaching company specializing in the beauty industry. Gartland, along with Salon Spa Cash Flow expert Gary Ahlquist, regularly advise business owners on how to instantly boost their profits with retail.

Make a Paradigm Shift

Mastering the Art of Visual Merchandising 1Ahlquist advises beauty professionals to make a paradigm shift in retail, to change their entire mindset about how to retail effectively. “The old way of thinking about retail only involved your staff selling products. The new way of thinking is to create a real shopping experience for your clients. We show salons and spas how to create a retail store within their business. We have never failed to have a business at least double their retail sales in this way and most do three to 10 times more sales. Many businesses earn from $100,000 to a million dollars a year in retail,” Ahlquist notes. Consider that your clients typically sit in your reception area and look at magazines while waiting for appointments. This does nothing to engage clients or encourage them to interact with your retail offerings. Ahlquist instructs, “Get rid of your reception area and turn the entire space into a retail store. The area should be about 20 percent of your total square footage, which is typically the standard reception area size.” When Ahlquist advises clients to completely take out their seating areas, they usually resist. “You have to realize that most clients are only sitting down for about five to 10 minutes before their appointments, which is actually the perfect amount of time for them to browse through your retail store,” he says. If you must have some seating, put it at a testing display to encourage interaction.
Another shift in mindset comes with the basic store design. Ahlquist notes, “Owners are so concerned with the design of their spa, they forget that the store needs to be basic and functional. Instead of using actual furniture like armoires to display products, use generic retail shelving just like the stores do. Clients will not see the shelves once they are filled with products. The key to arrangement is to create an enclosed environment. Cover your walls with shelving and create a wall of shelves between your store and the treatment areas of your spa, so they are not visible. Place islands in the center of your space, or tables that are waist high. Build the displays to eye level for the average woman, which is around 5’ 4”.”

Create an Experience

Design your retail layout with the reception area as far from the front door as possible, so that clients have to find it. By designing your retail “store” in a way that forces clients to walk through it, you have created a traffic pattern that will ensure clients have a shopping experience on their way to their appointment. Lauren Gartland says, “Sephora, Ulta, and other stores specializing in beauty care products are experts in creating experiences. Consumers shopping in Bath & Body Works stores have an average stay of 45 minutes. Make the experience interactive by engaging your clients.”
“Skin care, salon, and day spa clients are more likely to make a purchase after smelling, holding, and using the products. Always display testers for makeup, perfume, and lotions. Provide samples and display items out of their boxes so clients can touch them,” Gartland says. Provide a listening station for CDs or a mixing station for your aromatherapy. Have a display of herbal neck and body wraps by a microwave and heat them for clients to try as they walk through your store. Treat each client like a special guest that you are indulging.
By perusing stores that have great retail displays you can learn some of the formulas for good merchandising. Attractive and functional shelving, flattering lighting, proper product placement, good signage, and enticing window displays are all vital components of merchandising success. Ahlquist says, “Shopping surveys have shown that shelves should be completely full of products. Shelves should not be deeper than seven to eight inches so you will have enough inventory to display; have products touching side by side.”
While your shelving should be basic, you can get creative with displays by complementing your spa’s theme. If you are eco-conscious, then your displays could reflect that feel with natural materials like wood, baskets, or recycled goods. Perhaps a portion of your retail sales goes to a charitable cause, environmental organization, or to support your local community? Contributing to a good cause is a great way to engage clients and make them a part of an even bigger experience.

Think Like the Pros

“Walmart is the King of merchandising. Thirteen times a year they turn their merchandise, which means that every three and a half weeks they restock inventory,” Ahlquist notes. For a 1,000 square foot salon or spa, the retail space should be approximately 200 square feet with $15,000 to $18,000 worth of inventory. “The minimum goal should be to turn over the inventory four and a half times a year, creating $81,000 in sales for the year. Generally, our salons and spas have much higher returns than this minimum amount,” Ahlquist says.
Advertise your retail store in your local paper just like the real stores do, with sales and product promotions. Consumers will be enticed to come in to shop and may end up becoming clients. Ahlquist says, “Use standard promotional ideas such as offering a ‘gift with purchase,’ where you provide a free item, such as a tote bag after a certain amount is spent on products. Leverage towards multiple product purchases by offering a deep discount, such as buying three products and getting the fourth for 50 percent off. Or, offer a deep discount on a product that you may initially lose money on, yet will ultimately earn you a higher retail ticket. For instance, if you bought tools at a show, you could offer them for lower than your initial cost when the client purchases a certain amount of product, thus leveraging for higher retail sales.” Major lines will also provide deep product discounts or freebies to businesses with large enough retail areas.
For inspiration on how to artistically merchandise products, Lauren Gartland turned to the creative experts. Gartland worked as a sales representative for major product manufacturers, earning in the top 1 percent of her industry. To help create displays for her clients, she went to Nordstrom and hired professional window display designers. “We hired designers to do six promotions a year for 30 businesses and we quadrupled their sales. We created window displays that were eye catching, appealing, and virtually announced to the clients that the business sold retail!” Gartland says. Remember that the key to visual displays is that they be eye popping, but should also focus on the product. They should not be distracting or merely graphic; if the display does not point to the product, it will simply take away from it.

Mastering the Art of Visual Merchandising 2

Go With the Flow

Create a natural flow through your retail area so that your traffic is not blocked. Well known in studies of shopping behavior, the “butt-brush effect” happens when traffic flow bumps into browsing customers, causing them to leave. When setting up displays, make sure they are spacious and do not impede your flow. Another consideration is what to put in your “transition zone,” the area right inside the front door. This is the worst place to put signage or products, as clients pass right by it when entering. Mirrors are a great way to slow down clients and entice them to pause, giving nearby products a glance too.
Gartland advises that a table stacked with merchandise will attract browsing. “Place a promotional table within ten feet of your front door, filled with your special sale items. Have three levels arranged for more interest, with eye-catching signage. Tables will sell better than shelves as they create a focal point.” Your counter space at the reception desk is your highest retail volume area, with more value per square foot than anywhere in your spa. Do not fill it with plants or anything decorative that is not for sale! Display impulse items, higher priced items, or a product of the month, as clients will have time to peruse while waiting for checkout. Jewelry, perfume, lip balm, mini-size hair products, scented candles, or lotions would be great items to display at the reception desk. Never put products behind the front desk or anywhere that clients cannot easily reach.
Promotional signage is another way to invite browsing; contact your product representatives to see what materials they can offer you. If your lines do not offer graphic materials, have some professionally designed or create simple ones on your own. Have eye catching brochures, shelf talkers, and other signage set up by the products to explain their use.
You could also use some props like fabrics or flowers to add to the displays, but do not go overboard. Ensure that displays are well lit, neatly arranged, and kept clean. Always make sure that product prices are clearly marked. Displaying a single price sheet can save you time from labeling each price separately; however, always include your spa name and contact info on each product.

Your Imagination is the Limit

To decide what products you plan to retail, do some research. “Clearly identify your target markets and research their needs. You should consider several lines to meet the needs of various clients, while also reflecting your salon or spa’s culture,” Gartland says. If you have a younger clientele you will need more affordable lines, while an older or higher-end clientele will want more unique, specialized products that are not diverted into retail outlets like drugstores.
“Keep product prices in line with your service prices and always offer a money back guarantee,” Gartland notes. Besides skin care or body care products, there are many items you could also retail including spa music, meditation, or yoga accessories, bathrobes, slippers, tabletop fountains, essential oil diffusers, water bottles, or anything that fits into your individual vision. Gartland notes, “It’s also fine to have trendy merchandise for sale like jewelry, sunglasses, scarves, or other accessories – just make sure that they are in tune
with your business culture. If you have so many diverse items it is beginning to look like a flea market, then that is definitely too much!”
Do not forget to use your entire salon or spa for retail opportunities. Treatment rooms, nail care and hair care stations, lounge areas, and bathrooms can all be used effectively for merchandising. Gartland says, “Don’t miss the chance to sell hand soap, body lotion, and air fresheners by stocking them in your bathroom. In tight spaces, use overhead mobiles to hang products creatively. Use your wall space wisely, with shelving or with mirrors that have display shelves. Instead of artwork, use industry posters to advertise your product lines.” In treatment rooms, display aromatherapy oils, massage lotions, spa body products, or candles. You can even retail some of your equipment in other areas of the spa, such as air or water purifiers, massage chairs or ottomans, hand held massagers, footbaths, hair removal devices, or LED light skincare devices. Your imagination is the limit!
Salons, skin care centers, and spas are catching on to the idea that creating a real shopping experience for their clients is not only a lucrative business idea but also contributes to client loyalty, retention, referrals, and elevates their consumer appeal. Join in this movement to get an instant boost in profit and effectively evolve your skin care business.

Jenny Hogan is the Media Director for Marketing Solutions, Inc., a full-service marketing, advertising, and PR agency specializing in the professional beauty business working with manufacturers, salons, spas, medical spas, and wellness centers. A licensed massage therapist practicing in the Washington, DC area, she writes on the topics of massage, skin care, health, and wellness. 703-359-6000, www.mktgsols.com, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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