Find the Best Layout for Your Store

    By | Small Business

    It can be either great fun or a huge chore to lay out a retail store; either way, it's a task that takes some trial and error. The layout of a store can play a major role in enhancing sales. Most store owners take time and plan carefully the most effective layout for their retail outlet and their target customers -- even if it doesn't always look that way.

    In laying out a store, you should focus on four things: stimulating sales, making products easily accessible, establishing your image, and practical concerns such as security.

    Stimulate sales
    A good layout draws customers through the store and presents many purchasing options along the way. Popular items placed along the perimeter or to the back of the store mean that customers must pass other departments as they travel. Smaller impulse buys are typically placed near the cash register, so that people waiting in line will make a last-second decision to buy. Of course, you also can use other areas for impulse sales, including the deli counter, pharmacy, or anyplace where customers may wait for service. The goal is to surround customers with enticing products: Don't waste space.

    Make products easily accessible
    Aisles and departments should be clearly visible and well-lit. Signage is important, whether it highlights the name of a designer or indicates the location of particular items. Customers should know immediately when they have reached their desired department. Also, unless you lock items in glass-enclosed cases, make products accessible to customers. Stacking items to the ceiling invites disaster and can raise your insurance premiums. Clothing of various sizes should be easy to find, but be careful not to overstock a department, lest it become overwhelming.

    Establish your image
    The design of the store should say something about your image. For example, if you sell clothing to the teen crowd you might opt for a club atmosphere with video monitors and hip-hop music, while highlighting the latest in trendy fashions. A bakery using a 1950s theme might install ceiling fans, a vintage jukebox, and Tiffany-style lighting in order to create an old-time malt-shop ambiance. A high-end fashion boutique may opt for plush carpeting and chandeliers. The point is, establish your identity and be consistent throughout the store.

    Practical concerns
    Aisles in a supermarket need to be wide enough to accommodate two passing carts; pharmacies need to provide seating for customers who are waiting for their prescriptions to be filled. There are numerous practical concerns that will factor into your store design. Often it is a matter of maintaining a traffic flow. If, for example, you host book signings in your bookstore, you need to plan in such a way that you don't clog up the aisles, making it impossible for other customers to shop.

    Of course, a major concern is always security. You want to have clear sightlines down aisles and be able to see every department. Mirrors in blind spots can be very helpful, as are surveillance cameras. High-priced merchandise, such as jewelry, should be in locked cases, and window display items should be blocked from a customer's reach. Dressing rooms should be monitored and limits placed on the number of items allowed in at one time. A tidy store is easier to monitor.

    Other practical concerns include making sure that infrastructure such as wiring is not visible. Moreover, you should be able to move merchandise onto and off of the sales floor without shifting everything in the store and with basic safety concerns met. Make sure that your store layout allows for people to get out of the store quickly and safely in the event of a fire or other type of emergency. You can, and will, be hit with fines from your local fire department if you do not follow local ordinances, which will likely include marked fire exits, smoke alarms, and fire extinguishers.

    Start on paper (or software)
    You may find yourself erasing many versions of your store schematic before you come up with the best layout. That is not uncommon. Trial-and-error on paper or software is the best way to start. It allows you to determine what you will need, including display racks, signage or freezers, and to lay out your store to be most profitable.

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