Jun. 30, 2008 – The right way to redesign

By Lisa Young
Editorial Assistant
Approximately 90 percent of people are right handed, meaning if a right-handed person enters a store and is given the option to go left or right, he or she would probably opt to go right.
That fact, backed by recent studies, might sound petty but it is one of the things Jim Rasmus, president of Retail Design Associates, brings up for powersports dealers to consider when they’re designing a new facility.
Such little things can be easily overlooked in the much bigger picture of designing a new facility or remodeling an existing one. But these little things can make a big difference in customer satisfaction, and hence dealer profitability. Considering the little details that revolve around merchandising plus creating a “wow” factor and smart customer traffic concepts all are key to retail success.
“Why do they put milk and butter at the end of the grocery store?” asked Bill Eddy, the owner of Bill Eddy’s Motorsports. The Fayetteville, Ark., dealership was relocated to a former furniture store a couple years ago. “You have to direct people through the shiny things to get to the bread and butter items.”
This is a key manifestation of one of the major tenants of dealership design: customer traffic control. Rasmus and David Parker, a marine industry consultant, stress that traffic flow can’t be neglected when designing a retail business.
After years of consulting with dealers across the country, Parker developed a retail design idea called “the hub concept” to help control customer traffic. In this vision, the service writing counter acts as a central hub for the dealership wheel. Four spokes radiate from the hub: the service department in back, parts and accessories to either side and the showroom in front. This way, all customers, no matter if they’re there to buy a new unit or just looking for spark plugs, take in all the units on display. It plants seeds for future upgrades.
It also creates efficiencies. Not only are there more opportunities for better interdepartmental communication, but related departments, such as parts and service, are closer and can therefore work together more quickly, moving customers in and out with ease.
Although Beaver Dam Honda Kawasaki did not implement the hub concept in its new facility, the Wisconsin dealership is realizing the benefits of an open dealership compared to the rabbit warren of additions and expansions its previous location was made up of.
“We can pretty much see the whole showroom and see what’s going on,” said Kevin Bowman, owner of Beaver Dam Honda Kawasaki. The company moved into its new facility in early March. “We tried to lay it out so things can be moved around from the showroom to service and so on. We wanted a smooth flow.”
The key to making the hub idea work is having only one customer entrance. Ideally, this entrance has a receptionist or at least a salesperson with an eye on it so no customers go unattended. A receptionist at the entrance can swiftly greet visitors and direct them to the proper department and can even gather sales leads while waiting for a salesperson.
Aesthetics are another key factor in dealership design. The look of a building, inside or out, can draw people in, or turn them away.
Chris Vento, owner of Stamford Motorsports in Stamford, Conn., held a grand opening for his new facility the third weekend in May. When designing the building, a refurbished warehouse, he wanted to bring together the industrial feel of his neighborhood with the comfort of Long Island Sound, which is just a stone’s throw away.
The industrial feeling came with the building’s warehouse past. Vento had to do a little work to bring the comfort. He opted to cover up some of the former loading docks with bricks, lay down some pavers and add a railing. When he was done, he had a patio area for his customers.
“It softens it up quite a bit,” Vento said of the patio. “It’s across the street from a concrete plant, but it cleaned up the corner really nice.”
For Rasmus, aesthetics are all about the wow factor, which appeals to people’s emotional side to get them excited about making a purchase.
“We need that wow factor to make the customer want that product because we’re selling stuff that people don’t necessarily need,” he said.
Eddy, the Arkansas dealer, experienced that wow feeling the first time he walked into a Bass Pro Shops outlet. He knew eliciting that emotional pull was something he wanted to incorporate into his new facility.
“I’m not an impulse buyer,” Eddy said. “I never think, ‘Wow, that’s a cool store. I want to buy something here.’ ”
That changed with the trip to Bass Pro Shops. “I walked out with $250 in stuff, and I don’t hunt or fish,” Eddy said.
Colors and merchandising can spark that kind of response, says Rasmus, who has been in the design industry for 27 years. He specializes in helping dealers merchandise powersports stores, although he also has worked on everything from apparel stores to pet shops.
From that experience, Ramsus has a handle on the latest merchandising trends, from flooring to paint colors. Battleship gray is out; soft earth tones are in, he says. Wood or laminate flooring are popular, but stained concrete is growing in popularity, especially with upscale dealers, as it gives a marble-like look to the floor. Rasmus also recommends water, grass or sand tile areas to give some lifestyle appeal.
“You want to sell the idea of fun and entertainment for the whole family,” he said. “You want something that’s pleasing to all those that shop: men, women and children. Big-ticket items are generally a partnership in purchasing, so you want it to be inviting enough.”
Merchandising is the weakest link of almost all powersports retailers, Rasmus says. As many dealership owners have never worked in retail, they most often merchandise on the fly. Although emulating other dealers and businesses out there is an option, there is great opportunity for dealers to be original, Rasmus says.
If dealers can incorporate space to display as many colors and options as possible for all product displays, the better. Stamford Motorsports’ Vento took that to heart, particularly with the dealership’s helmet display. There are as many as 360 helmets on display, Vento says, with all colors and sizes out.
“People can help themselves until someone gets to them,” he said. “It’s more customer friendly and inviting.”
In the end, dealers shouldn’t be afraid to make an investment in their facilities. In the vast majority of cases, a new place or even a facelift will ultimately increase sales.
“People get a little nervous [about cost], but so far so good for us,” Vento said. “With the scope of the project, it took a lot of homework, but our numbers have increased since I’ve been here and hopefully they continue.”

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