If only the pants fit as well as the sticker in the window.
June 13, 2011 10:59 AM   Subscribe

How does merchandising (if that's the right term) work in brand-name chain stores, given the infinite permutations in store layout?

Living in a big city, I often pass by multiple branches of the same chain stores. I'm always struck by the custom-sized merchandising that each store has. Stores A and B might have the same self-adhesive promotion in their windows, and each fits perfectly, despite Store A having a big solid pane of glass as its storefront and Store B having three vertical panes. Obviously, the same goes for every other element of the store merchandising--the posters by the dressing room, the counter fronts by the baristas, the "DVDs this way" sign by the escalators.

How does this work? I would assume that Starbucks, or J. Crew, and Best Buy (as examples) do all their merchandising at some central office and then ship it all out. Do those chains have measurements of every window, wall, cabinet, etc., that they use to resize everything?

Does the same person work on the same 100 stores each month, or would it all be set up so that anyone could prep all of the materials? Or is it only done once, with an algorithm to do all the resizing? Would the same person (or computer) be responsible for both the window stickers described above and the poster by the changing room, or would cardboard inserts be done by different people/firms than the stickers in the window?

And who does the installation? Is is done by the store, local contractors, or someone from the chain who just does merchandising? Are these installers in communication with the manufacturers to tell them, "you know, the stickers keep being 1/4" too short, can you make them longer?" Or is it some Brazil-like bureaucracy where stores keep getting horizontal promos but really need vertical ones and nothing ever changes?

I'd love to hear from anyone involved in any aspect of this.
posted by Admiral Haddock to Shopping (8 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
at a mall portrait studio i worked at there were 3 or 4 different sizes across all the stores. so when you got your ad materials (New Backgrounds For Christmas! FREE 8X10! Ask Me How!) they were the right size for your counters and lightboxes and free standing sign stands. the company only had to order a few different sizes and all the stores would be covered. sometimes we got the wrong size, but that was usually a mix up with another store and we'd just swap.

we did all of our installations and the department store we were attached to also did their own installations.
posted by nadawi at 11:03 AM on June 13, 2011

I used to work at a Target.

At the time I worked there, there were only two layouts for non-grocery Targets. They were called something like Target and Target Super.

We got all the new signs on Friday or Saturday, and it was some poor assistant manager's job to go around the entire store and replace the various signs in their brackets. I was in soft lines (clothes), and all of the signs to the tune of "X Brand Tank Tops 2 for $12" and "Cashmere Sweaters $19.99" had to be manually replaced each week. The manager had a scan gun that, I think, correlated the signs to the actual shelves. That all had to be done before close on Saturday. An overnight crew came in and replaced and restocked whatever merchandise.

We were always fascinated by the arrival of the layouts, because they just came in a pack with Target on the top and Target Super on the bottom. We loved looking at the Target Super layouts because they were so FOREIGN.

There has been some redesign since I worked there several years ago, but for about a year or two after I worked there I could tell you where anything was in any Target store, because there were only the two layouts. Random roadtrip to a Target on Long Island? Need some shampoo? "It's in Green World, Aisle 17, past the greeting cards." "How do you KNOW that?" "Magic."

Most places are probably the same- only so many layouts. Companies will do a certain amount of buildout to make the place have the right size windows, dressing rooms, etc. So if you walk past two Gaps, the first one might be "Gap Urban" with the same layout as all the other Gap Urbans and the second one might be "Gap Express" where ditto. They look different to you, but if you went to Kansas City- creepy as hell, there's the same Gap Urban you pass each week.

Alternately, there might be some flex- you know, you are a Gap Urban if your front windows are between X sq ft. and X + 20 sq. ft. It might also be possible to be, say, a Gap Urban for front signage and a Gap Express for all in-store, which allows Gap to get into the quirkily-spaced historic district in Downtown Hipsterville or wherever.

We never had problems getting the right sized signs.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 11:17 AM on June 13, 2011 [3 favorites]

I used to work in the corporate offices of a fashion company that has many retail stores as well as a large presence in department stores. This company had a "Shop Development" department who worked with the real estate department to scout potential locations and do the interior design/architecture. The Shop Dev folks developed and enforced a corporate standard for the look and feel of every dedicated retail store from construction through opening day. Once the store was open for business, a district or regional manager would take over responsibility for the overall layout. Of course, they worked from policy books provided by shop dev. If there were special needs for strange windows or the like, they would order them through shop dev.
posted by bluejayway at 11:18 AM on June 13, 2011

I used to work for a very well known electronics retail giant. Every store is based on one of 4 or 5 "model" stores which determine the layout, look and feel, and merchandizing structure down to where product hang pegs are placed on the wall. Every store subsequently has a team of employees who either double or work exclusively as that store's "visuals" team. They are responsible for changing out signage, rearranging furniture and displays, and restocking the store according to weekly merchandising agreements sent down by the mother organization. It's all very scientific -- though periodically some stores don't EXACTLY match the specs of the model stores and as such the visuals team will have to calculate certain factors based kb their idiosyncratic knowledge of their own store, and sometimes that can be very frustrating. The interesting thing about this though is that everything is strictly regulated and monitored, so if a display doesn't work, you can send a report to HQ and a custom kit will come to you by overnight mail so your display can match the model display as closely as possible.
posted by patronuscharms at 11:20 AM on June 13, 2011

Most chain stores use planograms that guide how things are to be laid out in the store.

I spent six weeks on the planogram team at a Super Target. At Target, and, I would guess, at Best Buy, the planograms are much more standardized than, say, a J. Crew or a Starbucks or a Pottery Barn. They tell you exactly where everything should go on the shelf - 16 inches for Red Pillows! 16 inches for Black Pillows! 3 inches for Neutrogena Body Wash, which goes three feet from the end of the second shelf from the top in aisle A2. There would be different-but-similar planograms for Target, Super Target, and Target Greatland stores. We received boxes of 8.5 x 11 paper sheets shipped from the home office in Minnesota (this was ten years ago; not sure if they distribute the planograms online now). Planograms would be updated as things sold out or were put on clearance and new things came in to replace them. We would usually execute maybe one or two new planograms plus some planogram updates in a typical day. We worked 5AM to 1PM. It was actually kind of fun.

At more design-oriented, less mass-merchandise-ish places (say J. Crew or Pottery Barn), planograms are more like photos of how a wall or window should look, and the people executing the planogram have more leeway in how they lay it out. They should capture the feel of the planogram but they don't have to have everything laid out exactly the same if their window is a different shape or whatever. Also at these kinds of stores it's less likely that there is a dedicated planogram execution staff; it's just something the managers and sales associates do as part of their job.
posted by mskyle at 11:21 AM on June 13, 2011

A lot of chains that tend to cluster in urban areas (two I know for sure are Anthropologie and Urban Outfitters) have dedicated merchandising/display teams to do windows.

Because there aren't really that many stores or all that many true variations (a store window is a store window, even in NY or Boston), I'd guess that the materials are standardized by corporate, with said display teams given leeway to make it work for each specific location. I'd guess that their training includes things like how to expand a display for a taller or wider window, how to place corporate-provided signage to look uniform across the brand despite slight differences in real estate, etc.
posted by Sara C. at 12:07 PM on June 13, 2011

Slightly different than some others have said, at our retail chain store, we would get planograms for our own stores. But there were eight different store layouts. The frustrating part would be that a computer would take a main planogram template and "fit" it to our store (e.g. "Store Layout IVb") and nothing would actually fit in real life.

The solution this company has? Slowly tearing down every single one of its stores and making them all the same, one at a time, without building new stores on new plots of land. It's been going on since about 2003 and they are almost done replacing every single store to be exactly the same.
posted by TinWhistle at 12:13 PM on June 13, 2011

Somewhat related:

I worked for a 24-screen movie theater when it was brand new. The movie studios would send us all kinds of advertisements: from posters to stand-up displays to banners. One of my duties was to choose which of these ads would be a good fit for our theater and display them appropriately.

So I might have three huge cardboard standees (cut out displays) and I would build the one that fit the space we had available. The other two would either stay in storage until we had space or would be thrown away.

I remember when Toy Story 2 was getting ready to come out, we received a huge, flat-ish box. We opened it and found 20 or so huge squares of plasti-fabric (a word I just made up!) that we were supposed to put together to make a huge mural. It sounded like fun, so we did it. That sucker was huge, but when it was completed it looked like it was made to fit the wall we put it on.
posted by tacodave at 2:59 PM on June 13, 2011

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