Retail Makeovers – It’s Not Just for Reality TV

Written by John Stanley


Switch on the TV and you will be bombarded with reality tv programmes providing makeovers on gardens, homes and lifestyles. The ‘makeover’ is not something that is unique to the TV screen, it is part of everyday life.

I was recently in the Middle East meeting a retail advisor. One part of the conversation really stuck in my mind. His strategy was that in today’s competitive retail market, stores had to reinvent themselves every four years, otherwise consumers would get bored and loyalty would decline. This is a sobering thought, what he is proposing is that you need a retail “makeover” every four years just to stay in the retail game.

This does mean a complete rethink for many retailers on how they change their business. Many retailers still have the view that they need to invest capital to change their business and that this will put them in a position that will ensure they have a profitable business for the next fifteen years. This thinking process may have worked in the 1980’s, but it is dangerous to think this way in the new millennium.

It’s not about Capital, it’s about Ideas…I realize this is a sweeping statement and not true for all situations, but I still come across retailers who believe the answer to all their problems is to throw money at it.

It’s not about money, it’s about reinventing yourself using the materials you already have. Look at your retail business as a jigsaw, every few years you need to re shuffle the jigsaw pieces to create a new picture, if you keep to the same picture, your customer will get bored with the picture and go searching for new pictures to keep themselves entertained.

How to create a new Jigsaw Puzzle

The keys are to know what parts of the puzzle to keep as they are and what parts to change. Every jigsaw is different and in this article all I can provide are broad strokes to get you thinking.

Don’t Change: The customer flow direction.

As a retailer your aim is to ensure 100% of people see 100% of product. To be successful you should already have a flow that works. Therefore, during your makeover the overall customer flow should stay the same. You may need to alter it slightly to create new interesting vista’s, but, for example, don’t change a clockwise layout to an anti-clockwise layout or vice versa. You could well end up with some very confused customers.Think about your consumers. My advice is; do not reposition your key “purpose” categories. These categories should already be positioned to “bounce” consumer around your store. If you move them you could create more customer frustration. Imagine how you would feel, if you went to your local supermarket and they kept moving the toilet paper!

Okay, What Can You Change?

You can change everything else, but I’d take a logical, strategic look at your business. I’d start with paint. Painting is relatively cheap and in today’s highly fashionable market fashion colours change rapidly. If you painted your store four years ago, you can guarantee it is now looking out of date. Take a look at the local paint retailer and ask advice on what are the trendy new colours that you should introduce into your store.

Having repainted the store, I recommend you re-look at how you are putting categories together. What logically went together four years ago; may be completely illogical in the customer’s eyes today and vice versa. Trends change and you need to be aware of that.

The food industry is a good indicator. Historically, products were classified completely differently to how they are today. The breakfast category, Japanese, Mexican, Thai and Indian categories were unheard of in most supermarkets four years ago, but are now looked on as mainstream product groupings.

In the garden centre industry containers used to be kept separate to plants, but are now integrated to maximise sales. Whilst the indoor house plant department has evolved into the living fashion room.

In the fresh food industry four years ago, food sourcing was of no concern to the consumer, in today’s society it is a key decision maker in many consumer’s minds.

Straight “Runways” have become meandering “Boulevards”

One of the biggest reasons to change is that consumers are beginning to demand a different experience from “commodity” shopping such as in a box store or supermarket and that of an independent retailer.

Supermarkets and hardware stores introduced the “grid” layout to store design to make stock management easier and to expose consumers to the maximum amount of product by encouraging them to walk up and down aisle after aisle. This “runway” style of retailing was enjoyable to consumers whilst they could cope with the size of the store. As stores got larger we have seen more and more resistance to “runway” retail layouts. When consumers visit a small retailer, in comparison to their supermarket, they don’t want the same grid layout, they want a different experience.

In today’s independent they want to stroll down boulevards that expose them to different zones in the shopping experience. As I mentioned earlier, keep the flow direction the same, but change the shopping experience. The modern independent retailer does not expose the customer to everything at once; he or she takes them on a journey of discovery.

Change is Constant

The journey of change gets more exciting or frightening, depending on your point of view. One thing is for certain, change is speeding up.

What used to be the seven year itch for change is now a four year itch and that will soon reduce to three years. This will excite the innovators and scare the more nostalgic retail owners.

The 10 Step Plan for Retail Makeovers

  • Set a yearly budget for retail makeovers, this will allow you to make the changes.
  • Make category managers responsible for making changes within their categories.
  • Monitor lifestyle magazines as these will indicate changes in your consumer’s lives.
  • Be a leader not a follower, consumers will flock to an innovative retail business, not a “me too” business.
  • Paint is cheap; consistently monitor paint trends in your community.
  • Use “Purpose” categories to bounce consumers around your business. Once in the correct location, don’t move them, you’ll frustrate your consumer.
  • Re-look at your existing categories and if it is possible to integrate them to provide solutions for your customers.
  • Make category managers responsible for each development zone. This empowerment will help them grow as team members.
  • Measure the financial results as you change. Sales per square metre are a good indicator.
  • Customers enjoy change, but be prepared for the negative comments about change and don’t let these comments hold you back.