LAS VEGAS—Tire dealers can boost their income—and image—by investing some thought, time and money in store design—inside and out. That's the message Brian Dyches, founder of the Retail Resource Group (RRG), delivered Nov. 5 to dealers at an International Tire Expo seminar in Las Vegas. The Laguna Niguel, Calif.-based company evaluates and consults on merchandising strategy, design and consumer behavioral patterns.
The key, Mr. Dyches said, is visual merchandising—"a strategic approach to the design and layout of your store to form a cohesive environment that encourages your customers to buy from you."
Stressing that first impressions are the most lasting and that "visual perception is controlled by the owner or manager," Mr. Dyches urged dealers to "look at the customer when you design or redesign your store.
"Do a reality check! Take photographs and look at what the store looks like from the street level. That is, from the inside of the vehicle that most of your customers drive.
"They may drive sport utility vehicles or Miatas and that will affect what they see."
Mr. Dyches and Don Osborne co-wrote Visual Merchandising Planner & Workbook, a $40 step-by-step tutorial on preparing and executing RRG's strategy. But retailers can also get a list of 50 companies that can help with ideas about props and designs by contacting the firm.
Retailers, he added, typically spend 70 to 80 percent of their resources to attract new customers. "Very little is spent to retain existing customers," he said. "Are we focusing on who is coming into our own store?"
A thorough "diagnostic" and development of a mission statement can encourage existing customers to return and buy.
Among the key criteria the Retail Resource Group addresses when evaluating a store:
Harmony and rhythm: These are achieved through unifying themes, repetition, gradation and transition.
"You should decorate all day long," Mr. Dyches told his audience. "I'm a real believer in trade-offs. Give an interior decorator a discount on a set of tires in return for design services."
Windows should be clear and not too reflective. Keep in mind that customers go by at 30 to 50 mph.
Entryways should reach out. "Does it tell you what is in your store. What you do?" he said.
Mr. Dyches reminded participants that the portal should be "what you see is what you get." Don't convey mixed messages.
"Positioning of product in and near the front door is not good. Having too many products too close when customers walk in sends a `discount' signal. Do your selling inside the store. The cash counter shouldn't be in front of the store.
Store layout/flow: "As we come into a store, 80 percent of our customers tend to move counterclockwise. Are the pathways and the layout going to be conducive to that?
"Look at your busiest day. How many square inches or centimeters do customers have when they are paying you? Counters should be 36 to 42 inches high. You want to make it comfortable. Choose a surface that's appropriate.
"Remember to put the `milk' in the back. In other words, the basic products should be put in the back. People don't mind going back there for the basic items.
"Draw a schematic of your store. Discretely track every fifth or 10th customer who comes in to see where people are moving. Life is so difficult today. We should do a good job and make it effortless. The customer should feel comfortable."
Lighting: Pay attention to the type of lighting, light levels and the positioning of light fixtures. Spotlights are effective. They should be one meter (three to three and a half feet) from the wall.
"Don't go to Costco to buy incandescent lights. They are very yellow," Mr. Dyches said. "If you use fluorescent lighting, they must be full-spectrum. Specialty stores shouldn't use large lights or they risk looking like warehouse stores.
"Crystal light hits those details in the sidewalls and into the depth of the tread. I rarely see enhancement of the tire details through proper lighting."
Lighting should increase from the front of the store to the back. Bring the levels up as you go from front to back by a factor of 1.5.
Signage: "Never use handwritten signs. Better no sign than a handwritten item." Kinko's or other copying/office services establishment can make signs inexpensively and incorporate your logos
Floor covering: If a store has cold tile or linoleum, it's not as inviting.
Carpet is friendlier, even if you transition back to a hard surface. Pay attention to quality, type and the upkeep required. Mr. Dyches has seen stores that have used duct tape to contain the wear.
Shop fittings: Smart fixtures can prevent unnecessary expenses. Don't clutter. Resist the urge to put examples of your entire inventory on display. If you're an independent and a specialist, don't use huge fixtures.
Sensory elements: Elements such as sight, smell and sound are important. "Music will calm you or make you kinetic," Mr. Dyches said. "The type and volume and the beats per minute should be based on the time of day. Make it a little louder and faster in the morning.
"At the lunch hour, when customers are worried about getting back to work, calm them down with softer, slower music.
Same thing with the afternoon rush hour. Athletic shoe sales increased 84 percent when the stores started using floral scents."
Take advantage of the power of color. "Is the color driving me forward?" Go look at model homes in your area for ideas.
Color often isn't used well, he said. Keep in mind that red is psychologically dominant. Ask yourself, "what's memorable about your store? There's a lot of cookie-cutter design in the Goodyear tire stores."
Textures make a huge difference. Look at laminates, wall coverings. Stores that cater to high-end vehicles ought to have nice fabrics.
Calibrate textures—whether it's diamond metal plate or wood—to the customer's mindset.
Product merchandising: Displays should be very well organized.
"Remember the average height for men and women is 5-6 to 5-8," Mr. Dyches said. "Keep in mind those "sweet spots. Walk around every wall and take photos. Paste them all together and you'll be shocked by what you see in those sweet spots!
"A lot of the time stores are not maximizing the sweet spots. You should put the right product in there. And don't forget that when you develop a merchandising "story" you go up and down, not across.
"This keeps customers from bumping into one another as they scan your shelves."
"A diagnostic can help you gain an edge over the competition," Mr. Dyches pointed out. "When Wal-Mart or Pep Boys moves in, you want to differentiate and make yourself look personal. Visual merchandising gives you an opportunity to shine."