5 Questions: Jim Rasmus and Jennifer Robison

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Ed note: The following is the full transcript from the 5 Questions story in the July 2010 issue of Dealernews.

If you’ve ever looked for some merchandising or display help, you’ve most likely stumbled upon the names of retail gurus Jim Rasmus and Jennifer Robison. Below, Rasmus, of Retail Design Associates and Robison, Tucker Rocky’s national retail specialist, wax poetic on fixtures, challenges and going green.

Jim Rasmus: How would you create customer traffic flow within a motorcycle store?

Jennifer Robison: It depends on the dealer’s budget. From a merchandising standpoint, I would use fixtures and unit placement to set a traffic pattern, the reason being that we want people to shop by journey and discovery. Any designer is going to consider the product they’re trying to sell. Every store is set up differently. We want to have the traffic directed by new display groupings. If you want to do it with materials, you could use large pieces of carpets cut in circles or rectangles that you can move around the store.

Rasmus: What’s your take on Vendor/OEM supplied fixtures? Are they useful, or ahindrance to the overall scheme of the store?

Robison: They can be both. Being from a vendor, I’m partial to them. You need vendor displays because people recognize brands. But they should be used tastefully and to the advantage of selling more product. It can become a cluttered space in a nanosecond. Make sure vendor fixtures harmonize with what’s around it, check your spacing, adjacency issues.

Rasmus: Do you recommend the use of mannequins in the store?

Robison: Absolutely. Mannequins are a silent salesperson, but there are specific types to use. The mannequins I recommend are not like the creepy department-store ones with the crazy heads and hands. You’ll watch three staff members take two hours to dress one. We want headless, armless mannequins. We want shoulders, but not arms and hands. We just need to hang apparel off of them. We need them in men’s, women’s and plus size. The average size is getting to be around a 12, or 2X, so play to the market. You’re probably going to change them at the very longest every two to three weeks, but if you can, weekly.

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Jennifer Robison: What are your most common challenges when working with a client?

Jim Rasmus: The clients themselves are the challenges. Some don’t have a willingness to change from the way they currently do business. The most common comment I get is, “Jim, I’ve been doing this for 30 years, I know what my customers want.” But most of them have never gone through a remodel or a new building, and they many not be familiar with things like handicap codes, but some will fight on every issue. That affects the overall outcome.

Robison: What is the greatest change you make when you’re designing a showroom?

Rasmus: Traffic flow. Control the customer before the customer controls the store. If dealers place their units in a random fashion, or in a straight beeline from the front door to parts counter, the store and customer both lose. The goal is to get the customer to see 80 to 90 percent of the store, and traffic flow is the key. A lot of people still feel they don’t want to be locked into a set traffic pattern, but if you go into the big-box stores, their traffic flows don’t change, just how they merchandise the products.

BONUS QUESTIONS

Robison: How is RDA working in green elements?

Rasmus: Our first green element is in the lighting. We start from the roof on down. We work closely with a national retail supplier of lighting, and our clients purchase direct from them. They do all of the calculations and update us on the latest and greatest developments. They will also help the client with city municipalities and rebates.

Robison: Where do you see wall fixtures going for the next decade?

Rasmus: It’s still going to be slatwall. We’re goint to start using wall cases for women’s clothing. They’re like armoires, and we’ll use them just to soften up showrooms a little more.

Rasmus: How would you merchandise apparel — i.e., off-road units with off-road apparel/accessories, or by individual product line?

Robison: My personal preference is to segment all off-road products in its own related departmet. Like if you have all your helmet inventory together, and you have off road helmets next to street helmets with different pricing, you’re overwhelming the customer. Its like mixing office supplies with digital cameras. Make it simple. If someone is into a certain lifestyle, then you gotta show them stuff they’re interested in. It makes it easier for staff to find items, and it’s much easier for customers to find items, which is the ultimate goal.

Rasmus: What new merchandising trends do you see coming to powersports retailing in 2011 and beyond?

Robison: Sporting goods is the closest retailing market to us. The trends they’re seeing are in small-format elite brands. So basically, instead of having racks and racks of apparel, a store like Sports Authority is going to do stores within a store, like Nordstrom. They re finding that people shop for the lowest price, but there’s another group that just wants what they want.

You’ll also see more digital media and in-store marketing, beyond having a flat panel monitor. People realize now that they need to use those monitors to sell products, sell the store, sell services, instead of just showing race videos. Brands and suppliers have more educational material now. It’s “retail-taining.” It’s getting more and more affordable, so it could be in the future that a single franchise can incorporate some stuff.

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Robison: What kind of new ideas or materials are you looking to use to create new spaces or displaceable areas?

Rasmus: Since most employees have never worked in retail, it would be extremely difficult for them to use anything more than slatwall. It’s still the most easily understood fixturing system that will merchandise virtually anything and everything in powersports. Harley-Davidson even tried to use an outrigger system, but it takes so many pieces and parts to use, it’s not easily adjustable. With slatwall, you take a hook put in a groove, and if that doesn’t work, you put it in another groove. It’s too labor intensive for this industry to change from slatwall, especially for stores low on staff.

Robison: Will RDA be putting an emphasis on any forms of digital media?

Rasmus: RDA always will continue to bring in multimedia as cost will permit. Lighted kiosks and signage elements are all part of the future. Some of those ideas at GlobalShop can get quiet expensive. I go for more plasma screen TVs. Dealers can actually have ads on those TVs while customers are standing in line waiting for a part. I also tell dealers to put in large, lighted graphics outside.

Robison: When a dealer sets a showroom “want” list with you, what is the element that is most commonly not considered important to them, but you know as a showroom planner is a key for their success?

Rasmus: Merchandising training. It’s the one last element, the icing on the cake. Dealers will have a beautiful store, the right traffic flow, fixtures and product mix, but they don’t have us come back in for two to three days for merchandising training. But they cant see the force added value of teaching their people how to correctly use those fixtures in product presentation.

Robison: How is RDA changing with times?

Rasmus: Our policy has been and will be to continue to provide the right mix of fixtures to give the store flexibility. Part of the problem I can see now and in the future is the stress having too many fixture types of different materials, such as vendor and OEM fixtures that don’t give the store enough flexibility to change their products around. Stores will tend to put brand X on brand Y fixtures. It’s a hodgepodge of fixtures. We try to neutralize the fixtures to let the products speak for themselves. All too often vendors over-engineer their fixtures so you see more fixture than product. We are selective on the type and style of vendor fixtures that we use in our designs.

About Jennifer Robison: With more than 22 years of experience in the powersports industry, Jennifer Robison has done everything from service writing in a high-end import auto dealership to managing Harley-Davidson MotorClothes. Currently, Robison is Tucker Rocky Distributing’s national retail specialist. Robison travels the country to work with dealers on everything that falls under the spectrum of merchandising and display, including, floor planning, promotions and product training.

About Jim Rasmus: Jim Rasmus is president and founder of Retail Design Associates, a company that consults with and designs specialty retail stores. Rasmus has designed more than 2,000 stores, and is the co-author of “Winning in Power Sports Retailing.” He is also an accomplished seminar and workshop speaker, and has worked in management at Montgomery Wards and as executive vice president of Irvine, Calif.-based Creative Retailing Inc.