The Magic of Merchandising

Most marine dealerships sell accessories, but few treat this area of their business as the profit center and driver of foot traffic that it could become.
To see profits rise in this segment, dealers must understand retail merchandising. Webster’s dictionary defines merchandising as “the planning and promotion of sales by presenting a product to the right market at the proper time, by carrying out organized, skillful advertising, using attractive displays, etc.”
Whether a dealership sells high-end cruisers or walleye fishing boats, the merchandising process should start by understanding the customer and designing the accessory department toward that customer.
“Know your customer and start from there,” says Scott Miller, co-owner of Miller Retail Design Group. “If a dealer appeals more to anglers or is located in cottage country, they should look at designing their showroom and accessory department with an outdoors theme. Dealers are realizing more and more that they need to have a more effective and refined area to sell their products.”

Choosing a theme
There are a variety of themes dealers can pursue to bring the boating experience into the store. Regardless of which theme they choose, painting large murals on the walls and presenting boating DVDs on flatscreen TVs are a good start.
“Just having a few accessories or boat models on the floor doesn’t bring the experience into the dealership,” says Miller. “Show the fun and passion of the sport. That’s what people want to see. You want to keep them in your showroom.”
Once a theme is determined, dealers can plan the structure of the department. Lighting, colors of the walls and even the ceiling are important to consider. In fact, Miller explains ceilings are often overlooked. In many cases, dealerships have high, bright white ceilings, which draw your attention up. You want customers to be looking down at the accessories.
When it comes to choosing colors for the walls, it depends on the mood the dealer wants to create. Warmer colors can be very effective in making the department feel more comfortable and inviting, while cooler colors can provide a pleasant and relaxed atmosphere.
Lighting is also an important consideration. It can create certain moods, highlight particular accessories and add a warm, welcoming atmosphere.
“Track lighting is important as it illuminates products displayed on walls,” explains Miller. “People are less likely to haggle over a price when it’s well lit and presented properly.”
Energy efficient lighting is a common and economical choice as federal rebates are still being offered to energy efficient businesses.
“I had one dealer that was paid nearly $30,000 by using energy efficient lights with his government rebate,” says Miller.
While dealers need to give some forethought to the overall design, it doesn’t necessarily have to break the bank. Sometimes a bucket of paint or improved lighting can make a big difference.

Creating the right path
Another key to retail merchandising is the overall organization of the department, a vital element of being successful in selling accessories. For example, sightlines should be clear to the left and right, and establishing key focal points to grab the consumer’s attention is essential. This can be utilized by category sign systems, or organizing a group of like-products together at various areas of the department.
“Dealers have to ask themselves if the product is going to attract attention when customers come in the store,” says Don Henry, director of Shakespeare Marine Products Group. “For marine antennas, we typically ship them in long tubes that dealerships really don’t want standing in their showroom. They want a proper display wherein people can see the real item in a nice fixture.”
Dealers also have the opportunity to dictate where the consumers go in the store by simply positioning a pathway throughout the department with the use of different flooring or by the product itself. Ultimately, dealers want to send consumers on the longest trip possible throughout the department.
“Defining a pathway forces consumers to walk through 80 percent of your store, just to get from one point to the other,” says Miller. “Position your parts counter far away from the front door and use the parts counter area to sell fast moving accessories and impulse items.”

The silent salesman
Using proper fixtures is also essential to displaying product. A popular choice among many retailers is slatwall, which is offered in various styles and easy to merchandise, or floor gondolas, a multi-shelf system capable of holding up 450 to 500 pounds of accessories per shelf.
“Dealers need to invest in the right fixtures to do the right job,” says Jim Erasmus, president of Retail Design and Associates. “By getting the right fixture, they will have a store full of impulse sales-type fixtures, called the silent salesman. If merchandised properly day in, day out, those fixtures will sell product without assistance of staff.”
In addition to fixtures, understanding and emphasizing traffic and category flow are other tools to increase impulse buying and, in turn, sell more product. Similar to the design of grocery stores, category flow is a tool where one product line blends into a like-product line, providing the potential for customers to walk out with more than they initially came in for.
“Dealers need to make sure that the kinds of accessories they select are consistent with the rest of their store merchandising,” says Henry.

The new and the old
An effective means of channeling sales that is becoming more popular is the use of QR (Quick Response) codes on products. Similar to traditional linear bar codes seen on almost any consumer product, QR codes commonly consist of black modules arranged in a square pattern on a white background with encoded information. They allow customers to scan the code with their mobile phone with the designated application, which then connects to a directory page and provides information about the product, including contact information and a link to the company’s website.
“It’s like having an extra salesperson and a very effective way to sell with today’s technology,” says David Nirenburg, CEO of Seasense/Unified Marine.
However, regardless of new technology, dealers still need to advertise and promote their accessories departments. Whether it’s through local media or the Internet, advertising means the difference between people visiting your dealership or your competition.
Some manufacturers offer to partner with a dealer to advertise their products in the dealers’ territory.
“In the past, we have run special advertising and informed the dealer several months in advance of what’s going to be advertised,” says Nirenburg. “We can print out posters for their store or they can also advertise and get tagged in an ad. In the local media, they can also run a short ad, and if you tag along with the manufacturer, dealers can get a rebate for that ad.”
Other incentives from manufacturers take place during the purchasing process. It’s common for manufacturers to provide extra discounts on product based on quantity or season. Discounts are also commonly offered to dealers who place an order at trade or larger consumer shows. Taking advantage of manufacturers’ programs is another way dealers can improve their bottom line.
Retail accessories represent a viable business opportunity for dealers. And by learning a few principles of merchandising, a dealership’s accessories department can become one of its leading profit centers.

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