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Winning with Forward Thinking in Retail Display Intuitive engineering and innovative design enable product manufacturers to quickly and cost-effectively update displays to accommodate future changes. Just ask Indy racer Danica Patrick, Formula 1 driver Michael Schumacher or NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson. Triple-digit speeds allow little time to react. Instead, winning a race requires forward thinking to anticipate the next curve or changes in track conditions.

The race to capture greater point-of-purchase market share is no different. The realities of today’s retail climate drive the need for displays to be immediately adaptable to new promotional campaigns or changes in SKU quantity, all without busting the marketing budget. Rather than going through the delay and expense of starting from scratch, a well-engineered display should anticipate marketing shifts to enable fast and easy changes in the field. This saves significant amounts of time and money since the displays don’t have to ship back to the original manufacturer or get tossed away and built from the bottom up.

Keeping up with the (Parnelli) Joneses Displays rank more important than ever when it comes to out-pacing the competition. As reported in Brand Week, “The Elements Report” released on October 20, 2009, revealed that 60% of consumers surveyed made brand decisions within the retail environment, and 62% felt that merchandising displays influenced them the most.

Additionally, the need to refresh displays to attract more attention, introduce new product lines, or keep up with seasonal demands has hardly slackened. If anything, the necessity for display change has accelerated.

“New product launches have eased up greatly, but what has not slowed are periodic product updates and seasonal promotions,” says Andrew Freedman, CEO of Design Display Group (DDG). Founded 25 years ago, Carlstadt, New Jersey-based DDG is an innovator in merchandising design and display branding and a leading manufacturer of displays and fixtures.

“These changes instill a sense of ‘newness’ in the consumer’s mind and help stimulate sales, without the product manufacturer having to invest large sums of money in new research and development,” he continues.

But Freedman points out that since very few updates are exact re-runs, almost everything the display manufacturer is asked to do is new and custom. The challenge of reinvigorating the display appearance, without exorbitant increases in display costs, can be addressed through diligent engineering. Even still…

“Engineering, by itself, isn’t enough,” Freedman adds. “You also have to have a creative design team that can see into the future to address changes yet to come. And they will come, often sooner than expected.”

Extracting more horsepower from an existing engine One example of far-sightedness in design took place for the creation of a unique counter display for Estee Lauder cosmetics. Going beyond what was necessary for present needs, the engineering team took a modular approach with sliding trays that would allow for future expansion of product offerings within the same footprint.

“Most cosmetic companies try to add as much product as they can to the display, because counter space in a major department store is as dear as Manhattan real estate,” says Jonathon Loew, vice president and partner in charge of design and engineering at DDG.

“With this reality in mind, we created a design for Estee Lauder that would not only meet current requirements, but future needs as well.”

Loew explains how his engineering staff did some forward thinking to design what initially shipped as a one-drawer countertop display with an additional one-half tray level that slides side-to-side. Anticipating the need to hold more products the following year, they designed the drawer so in-store counter personnel could easily convert the drawer to a full size tray level that can completely slide side-to-side to reveal the level below. Loew adds that within this middle tray, an additional amount of area was opened up by means of a sliding panel that moves back and forth to reveal even more display space.

“This geometry facilitated almost three-and-a-half trays of area that could be used for testers and product, within the same footprint as a single-tray display,” Loew says. “That’s not even counting the riser.” Part of the design’s success stemmed from the engineering’s selection of a nylon material for the trays that possessed a low coefficient of friction so that no moving wheels or bearings were necessary. This ensured a robust display that would not break under heavy use by customers or sales associates.

Slowing down for the economy One blind curve in the retail world today is the move toward SKU reduction. Retail product manufacturers are now pouring over sales data to weed out those items that are not moving fast enough. A September 14, 2009, story published on SupermarketNews.com reported that the Supervalu chain is streamlining its product offering as part of an overall effort to simplify the shopping experience for consumers and for store-level workers. Other retail giants, such as Wal-Mart and Kroger, are also reportedly working to reduce the SKUs available in stores.

Displays have to reflect this 180-degree turn in SKU proliferation in a positive manner. One national paint retailer chose to reduce its number of SKUs by modifying its displays to only offer samples of its bestselling products.

“This major paint vendor had already broken new ground by making two-ounce jars of paint available to consumers so they could apply the paint at home without having to buy a full pint,” explains Loew. “We manufactured the original displays to hold up to 260 color samples, but now they wanted to reduce that number by about half. But they also wanted to re-introduce traditional paint chips. To conserve costs in making the change, we retrofitted the original displays to accommodate all these changes in the field.”

This challenge was conveniently met because the original design featured panels with dovetailed nubs that readily accept molded trays of different capacities and dimensions.

“Sometimes marketing turns on a dime, so the ability to anticipate and execute last-minute change is essential,” says Loew.

As the key to today’s uncertain economic future rests on reacting rapidly to the vicissitudes of the marketplace, those product manufacturers who opt for displays that can quickly and easily be updated stand to win the retail-sales race.