Retailers are constantly encouraged to apply good merchandising techniques to keep customers and boost sales. Professional merchandisers seem to use complex combinations of art and science to come up with elaborate merchandising schemes based on colors, textures and customer physiological profiles. But who has time for all that? No doubt you’re busy taking care of inventory and maintaining the livestock section. Add to that employee scheduling, customer questions and everything else that demands your attention. Fortunately for aquarium shops it’s not that complicated. We’ll take the mystery out of merchandising and make it easy for you to have a store that attracts customers and makes your sales goals.
Fish-Focused is Not Enough
Many aquatic retailers focus their energy solely on the livestock area. That would seem to make sense because customers are always checking out the tanks and looking for new fish, corals, plants and other aquatic life. Healthy livestock is the hallmark of a good aquarium shop and it reflects on the owner or manager. Nothing hurts your reputation more than poor quality fish and inverts. But once you’ve got a handle on aquatic health there’s more to think about. Your customers want more than healthy corals, fish and plants, even if they don’t consciously think about it. They want a fun and enjoyable shopping experience every time they walk into your store. Let’s take a virtual walk-through of your shop, like we’re a new customer seeing it for the first time.
The Initial Vibe Matters
You probably spend so much time at the store it feels like your second home. You get used to how it feels and tend to forget how it looks. If you walked into your store with fresh eyes would it look cluttered? Are their business papers, empty coffee cups and other debris lying around the counter? Is the trashcan overflowing with yesterday’s half-eaten lunch? Is the carpet clean? Floor swept? Does the shop smell bad? Are you blasting your favorite music or something more generic in the background? We all know first impressions are important so what does your place of business say about you? What kind of vibe does the customer get when they walk through the door? Is it an assault to the eyes, ears and nose or an invitation to explore the shop and check out all that is for sale? The first step toward good merchandising is to present an overall appealing vibe that is attractive to your customers. Oh, and how about you? You’re the face of the shop. Do you dress like you care? Do you allow your frustration with a backorder to come through when a customer asks a question? The customer is Number 1. They don’t care about your business challenges. Customers should always be respected and given proper attention. Remember, they can always go someplace else to make a purchase.
Make It Easy to Shop and Easy to Buy
The idea of having a “shop” is to sell things. The harder it is to shop, the less sales you’ll make. There are many theories about the best way to organize and display aquarium products. Some retailers group products by brand. Others group by category. Canister filters on the bottom shelf, HOBs on top. You can even break it down into freshwater and saltwater divisions. Don’t forget that having protein skimmers and filters operating on a tank is an attention grabber. Moving water is exciting to an aquarist. They like to see skimmers in action, even if they’re just hanging on an aquarium full of nothing but water. Light fixtures are a relatively expensive investment. Customers want to see them lit up or mounted on an aquarium. It helps them imagine the benefits of the upgrade on their own aquarium. Do customers repeatedly ask where certain items are in your store? If so, find out why the product is being missed by customers. Better yet, stand back and observe (without being creepy) how your customers browse the shelves. You may find certain popular items are too low on the shelf display or should be in another area of the store. Don’t be afraid of setting up a small POS display for add-on items like water conditioners, foods or whatever your clientele would be interested in trying. Some aquatics manufacturers offer shelf talkers, POS displays, hanging strips and other tools that make your shop interesting and boost sales. If there are successful aquarium retailers in your region, take a drive and check out their merchandising systems. Learn from other’s success.
Think Like a Businessperson and an Aquarist
Some aquarium shop owners think too much like a “know-it-all expert.” It goes like this: “I only use three products in my tank so that’s all I offer in my store. You don’t need anything else!” This may sound super-smart or guru-like…in your own mind…but it makes terrible business sense. Here’s why. The aquarium hobby is meant to be fun. Customers that make it through the first year of learning how to care for their tanks often stay with the hobby. Out of this group you have the customer that comes in twice a year to buy a can of flake food and a water conditioner. The other type of customer buys a second tank, upgrades to LED lighting and experiments with different foods, additives and the latest hot item. Curiosity and the desire to try new things is what keeps the hobby fun and interesting. Which customer will keep your store open and make sure the bills are paid? If you won’t carry what the customer wants, there are plenty of other businesses that are willing to make the sale. You shouldn’t sell something you don’t believe to be a reputable product. But remember, you’re in business to sell products as well as provide good information to help your customers have success.
The Bottom Line
Whether you’re the only game in town or competing with multiple aquatics retailers, you owe it to your customers to provide the best in-store experience you can offer. You don’t have to be a marketing genius to have effective merchandising and product display. Paying a little more attention to how you display products will give you a better handle on what sells and what customers want. A neat, clean shop will do nothing but drive sales and customer satisfaction higher.