By Joe Holley, vice president, new business development, Frank Mayer & Associates
In-store merchandising is an integral, tangible representation of a brand and a reflection of the retail environment for which it is created. It is unassailable that the partner you choose to bring your project to fruition can impact factors like design, speed to market, project cost, user experience and so on — things that ultimately determine success. So, how do you make sure you’re applying the right criteria to the evaluation of the merchandising partner that will translate your objectives into a tangible, customer-focused, handsomely-branded, solidly-performing solution.
First, you should approach your choice with more than a one-and-done mentality. Look for continuity. Ask how far back the longest-running client relationship goes and how many clients have been around for a decade or more.
Though not an exhaustive list, there are at least three qualitative areas where you can focus your evaluation of an in-store merchandising partner. We can talk about being creative, and nimble and detail-oriented in a theoretical way, but real-life examples illustrate the true value, so I asked our account executives to provide some.
Everyone in a creative business says they’re creative. You’ve probably heard the adage, “Don’t tell me, show me.” When you’re evaluating an in-store merchandising company, does creative talent come through strongly in the completed projects they showcase? There is more to creating effective in-store merchandising than designing to stated objectives.
Ask yourself if creative capabilities shine through in their work in a way that sets them apart. At GlobalShop 2013, we had a visitor to our booth who saw an electronics display we’d done for a competitor. Without reservation, he exclaimed, “I’ve seen those everywhere. I love them, and I wondered who did them.”
Find out about the depth of creative talent and how it is deployed. Does your potential retail merchandising company have the capability to put more than one designer on a project when necessary. Be sure they’re not stretched so thinly that multiple viewpoints and fruitful collaboration can’t be employed.
Ask to see examples of display-enhancing features that the client never thought to ask for. As an example, we were asked to design and produce customer-facing lens demonstrator kiosks. When we did our research, we realized not all of these kiosks would be placed against a wall in optical shops, and we designed the back of the display to hold a mirror that added value for the retailer and the customer.
Investigate the creative process. When we were asked to design a collateral piece for a display client that included a sliding feature, we didn’t research just within the product category. The category was eye care, but our creative team decided to look beyond the obvious. They studied the construction of candy boxes to understand how slide-out trays were designed.
The greater the array of in-house capabilities, the more responsive an in-store merchandising partner can be. Look for an environment of tightly integrated resources for complete project management from creative design through store delivery. A broad scope of resources will provide you with the greatest flexibility in accommodating program changes, compressing time frames, and delivering a product that is on pace and on budget.
Is it apparent how the team responds when clients come in with revised expectations? The willingness and flexibility to modify solutions and meet challenges as they arise, while continuing to work toward a set date, should be part of the company culture.
It is particularly telling how a partner responds when designing and engineering a display that interfaces with client product and client-supplied equipment that gets incorporated into the overall piece. Neither of those aspects is within the control of the in-store merchandising partner, but the partner should be nimble enough to make the necessary modifications and keep the project on track.
Into the Details
An in-store merchandising partner should be able to assign you team members with the experience that allows them to focus on details you, as a client starting a new project, may not even recognize need to be addressed. Focusing on the details of design and understanding the appropriateness of components can impact user experience and long-term viability. A thorough in-store merchandising partner should know what makes for ease of installation, user interface and durability and be able to show you numbers that indicate a high success rate in the field.
We were recently called to redesign two different projects that were in tests initiated by other companies. They came up with interesting designs and incorporated technology but did not have the depth of experience to integrate successfully the two elements and anticipate problems on the retail floor. Units were becoming damaged in the natural course of use and store maintenance and needed to be pulled.
Being detail oriented doesn’t translate into having an incremental focus. We were approached by still another company that already had a display in the field and were asked to redesign it. Our designers and engineers didn’t come up with just a better-looking display; they noticed the original piece had far too many screws and took too long to set up. They took a holistic approach and the result was a fully collapsible display that didn’t even require the use of tools. Not only did it have the aesthetics they were looking for, it was much more efficient to install. Oh, and the shipping costs were cut in half…
A company’s focus on being creative, nimble, and detail-oriented will tell you a lot about how they approach their work and can ultimately impact the success of your project. What other qualitative criteria would you add to the list?