REFRESH Your Space

by Rebecca Carlson

When it comes to owning a fine art store, the devil is in the details. With hundreds of open-stock markers, brushes and pencils on display, not to mention tons of tiny tools and tubes of paint, the potential for disorganization is great. It’s not necessarily a bad thing – many artists say the clutter is what they like about their local art-materials store. But when disorganization results in loss – as in stolen, or literally lost and untraceable somewhere in your mix – it’s probably time for a store refresh. The gap between back-to-school and second semester may be the perfect opportunity to do a rearrange. Here are some tips.

Start with your image

The first step toward a makeover is to consider your brand. Are you and your staff old school or new age? What kinds of products and services do you offer? Is your atmosphere all hustle and bustle or totally laid back? The answers to those questions can help you with details like signage (both inside and out), décor and fixtures, and your product displays.

Remember: your customers are the kinds of folks who are attracted to all things creative, innovative and aesthetically pleasing. If your sales floor doesn’t please them, it’s time for a change – even in terms of product. Discount those items that customers have ignored for months (years?), or are unrelated to your core mix, to make more room on your shelves. One of the goals of a rearrange is to show creative shoppers that they are in exactly the right place when they walk in the door.

Walk the walk

Your store’s physical environment impacts the way shoppers interact with your merchandise. For instance, if the path through your store is unclear, or is blocked by half-opened boxes or products clustered together, shoppers can feel overwhelmed. It diminishes the chances they’ll be able to select their supplies for purchase. You want them to move through your aisles comfortably on a path that is clear, with enough space to step back and contemplate the products.

Customers almost always turn right when they enter a store, and then proceed to shop counterclockwise. Examine how shoppers flow through your store for a few days to see where they go first … and put your high-margin items there. That spot also the perfect place for seasonal items (8.5- by 11-inch readymade diploma frames in the spring, for instance), because you only market them for a short period of time. You want to make as much profit as possible without back stocking the items or marking them down.

Map out your store by putting it down on paper. By actually drawing it and adding in all of your current display fixtures, you can visualize the product placement possibilities. The pathway through different aisles should be logical, and make products easy to find.

Avoid dead zones – places where products can get overlooked (and remain unsold). Typical dead zones include the corners of your sales floor and in the center aisles. Don’t give up on the products there – just move them to a more visible location. Watch to see if your customers naturally gravitate to certain areas, and then place products there.

Everything in its place

Most art materials stores carry a little bit of everything, so it helps to organize items into small departments or zones. Just make sure similar items are placed close-by for customer convenience and for add-on sales. A painter buying acrylics, for instance, should find palette knives in close proximity to the paint tubes.

Consumable products, like canvas and sketch pads, should be displayed in the very back of the store. The goal is to get customers to walk back there and spot other items that they need along the way.

Impulse items, especially brand new merchandise and art-materials staples, sell well when they’re placed at the register. Staples may include X-acto knives and blades, erasers, pencil sharpeners, super glue, tape, or paint retardant. None of those require much thought or research before purchasing.

Display high-theft items out in the open – it intimidates shoplifters. If you display them in spots that are visible from the register, you and your staff can keep an eye on them.

Finishing touches

Don’t overlook your lighting! A well-lit store is essential for selling color-specific products. Natural light is best, with blue light a close second. Add lamps, track lights and spotlights to showcase specific displays.

Many artists like the way art materials stores smell – a mixture of linseed oil, wet watercolor paper, brush soap, markers and new wood-encased pencils. That olfactory experience may help to keep them coming back. But if your store smells like onions from the restaurant next door or the sweaty copy-machine repairman, use scented candles, essential oils, diffusers or incense to make your customers’ shopping experience more positive.

Reworking a store layout seems like a daunting task, but it has the potential to generate more foot traffic, happy customers, and more revenue. With everyone talking about the importance of the customer experience, make sure everything about your store creates a positive one.

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