More than three-quarters of customers make their final decision to purchase when standing in the store, according to Point of Purchase Advertising International. So, no matter what you or your manufacturer did to influence the customer earlier in the buying cycle, those few moments in front of the product can make or break the sale.

“The retail environment is the moment of truth. It’s your last few seconds to capture the attention of a shopper,” says David Schmidt, president of Aislelogic, a retail merchandising consulting and technology company based in Saukville, Wis.

“Think of merchandising as the silent salesperson. It communicates key attributes and can initiate action, regardless of whether the customer has dialogue with store staff,” Schmidt says.

Create the 30-Foot to 3-Foot Experience

Schmidt says dealers should think of the retail experience in terms of the 30-foot, 10-foot and 3-foot experience.

The 30-foot experience is what the customer sees when they drive up to the dealership, such as the exterior signage.

“At 30 feet, you’re building brand awareness. Let’s make certain they can easily identify the brands you represent and that your facilities are a positive representation of your business and these brands. Make them aware that the product is available and get them in the store,” says Schmidt. His company works with leading brands in the outdoor power equipment and recreation industry as well as major retailers throughout the U.S.  

Dave Schmidt
David Schmidt is president of Aislelogic, a retail merchandising consulting and technology company based in Saukville, Wis.

The 10-foot experience is the overall footprint of the store — especially the visibility of products.  

“Stand at the front door. If you were a shopper, what do you see? Where can a customer go without going to the counter to ask for help?” Schmidt says. “Assume that it’s everybody’s first experience in the store.”

The 3-foot experience moves to influencing the product selection.

“It’s about better understanding the difference between this model and the next,” Schmidt says. That’s where point-of-purchase displays can educate and influence the shopper. For instance, hang tags can call attention to key benefits or financing.

“You need to effectively communicate in three seconds or less. Quickly give them a message, such as financing options.”

Merchandising Supports Salespeople

Schmidt emphasizes that merchandising strategies don’t replace the influence of a salesperson, especially with larger ticket items. The salesperson can tie together everything the dealership offers besides the product, such as service and overall professionalism.

“Some customers are brand loyalists, but often on bigger ticket items, customers are doing more research and visiting more dealers,” says Schmidt. “The merchandising and salesperson create an environment that causes an emotional decision.”

Salespeople can also use the merchandising tools as props to help guide the customer through product benefits.

“While having dialogue with the salesperson, they are still reading the communication on the unit and that could prompt the next question,” he says.

Is Your Store a Museum?

Those effective merchandising materials can backfire if they’re out of date, says Schmidt, making your dealership more like a museum.

“We walk into dealers where signs are old and faded. The store is cluttered. Windows are loaded with signs. Inflatables and floor mats are dated. These are all crutches to make the environment feel more commercial. Less is more,” says Schmidt.

He says Big Box stores have staff dedicated to removing dated materials because it’s so important to influencing a customer’s decision.

Schmidt recommends taking advantage of promotional materials your manufacturer offers. And, you can make simple changes to enhance your retail environment. For instance, paint the wall to match the color of the brand on display.

“It feels more retail. You’re creating a destination,” he says.

Underscore Dealership Strengths

Todd Hansen, owner of Otto Paap Outdoor Power in Franksville, Wis., says his retail environment helps convey professionalism and reliability.

Todd Hansen
Todd Hansen is owner of Otto Paap Outdoor Power, Franksville, Wis.

“Customers do most of their research on the Internet before they walk in the door. They’re walking in the door to understand why they should buy from Otto Paap,” says Hansen. The third-generation dealership carries Briggs & Stratton, Echo, Exmark, Kawasaki, Kohler, and Toro parts and equipment. The dealership is near the major metro areas of Milwaukee, Madison and Chicago.

He says cleanliness is first priority, along with greeting every customer within 30 seconds of them entering the store. What’s the first thing he doesn’t say to them? “How can I help you?’ ”

“They always answer, ‘That’s OK. I’m just looking,’ ” he says. Instead he tries to start a friendly conversation and then get to the point of their visit.

Hansen’s showroom is about 6,000 square feet and he rotates equipment displays monthly and sometimes more based on the weather or season. Every piece of equipment has professionally printed tags with specifications, financing information (including estimated monthly payments) and the price. He says they used to hand write hang tags, but prefer the more professional look of tags from manufacturers.

Hansen says he doesn’t let specifications or even equipment benefits dominate the sales conversation.

“They already know that information. They’re coming in to have us explain why this is a good mower and how we are going to support them. They are coming to be sold on us.”

They make sure to have clear aisles to the back of the store for parts and service, with merchandise displayed along the way.

He says taking the effort to present the best retail environment can pay off with big-ticket sales. For instance, one customer came in to just have his mower serviced and ended up spending $10,000 on a new mower.

“They can dream about the new mower as they walk by to buy parts for the old one,” he says.