In Praise of Silent Sellers

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The next time you visit one of those “big box” stores, take notice of how few employees there are compared to department stores of 30 to 40 years ago. With fewer employees these days, it seems the oft-heard “Can I help you?” is now just another thing of the past. Don’t get me wrong: This column isn’t about criticizing today’s stores. Instead, I want to praise today’s packaging programs that take customer service to another dimension.

We’ve all been taught: “Clothes don’t make the man,” “You can’t judge a book by its cover,” and “Beauty is only skin deep.” Well, when it comes to serving and selling retail customers, superficial packaging can be super; in fact, great packaging can sell a product without an employee sales pitch. Let me explain.

I’ve learned in my years of working with self-storage professionals that, like those big chain stores, the cost of employees can make the difference between being in the black or the red. Still, our employees are expected to rent space to new tenants, serve existing ones, and keep the whole operation running smoothly and looking great. With all these responsibilities, they may not have the time to give retail sales their full attention.

Sometimes new employees may not know how to help customers find what they need, explain the product’s benefits, and close the sale. Fortunately, well-designed packaging can make all the difference in making a sale, despite all of these interfering circumstances.Packaging Pays for Itself

Modern consumer packaging has to be designed to work in a self-service marketplace. Professionally designed displays and packaging help customers find the exact products they need; assure them the contents are intact; answer their questions; and even do a good job “selling” the product. No wonder today’s stores don’t need as many employees as in the old days.

Unfortunately, the packaging of every retail product intended for the self-storage industry is not well designed, which can put a dent in any facility’s retail efforts. There are two leading causes of poor package design in our industry:

  • Cost Cutting—Basically, suppliers with this mindset believe consumers (and, presumably, your customers) won’t notice when they cut corners to produce their products and packaging. The outcome is poorer quality products and less-appealing packaging.
  • Product Paralysis—This is my term for a product that has never changed. Likewise, these products’ stale, dated packaging hasn’t changed either.

No matter the cause, poor and/or outdated packaging doesn’t do anything to help sell a product; instead, it will likely weaken retail sales. But how do you judge packaging?A Closer Look

I think if you’re good at sales, you can judge package presentation as it appeals to consumers. Most good salespeople have the ability to see things from their customers’ points of view. So, let’s evaluate retail products as they might.

Take a commonly stocked line, such as the many varieties of Bubble Wrap. Does the overall design of the different products “unify” them into an attention-getting group that invites closer inspection? In other words, are they designed to be displayed together like Campbell Soups or McCormick Spices are on supermarket shelves?

Now look at the individual packages. Do the words or pictures convey how this individual type of Bubble Wrap is to be used? Is it a bag for china, or sheets for furniture? Is it a special design to protect corners of pictures and mirrors? Or, is it self-cling designed for convenience?

The packaging should identify exactly how a product is to be used, leaving nothing to the imagination. Customers want to make educated buying decisions. If the “selling idea” isn’t immediately obvious, chances are customers won’t ask for your help, and you’ll likely lose the sale. So, when you are making your inventory-buying decisions, evaluate each item’s packaging for informational purposes, and don’t forget to judge how it complements other merchandise in the display. The idea is to draw customers to a display, allowing them to narrow down their product choices to fulfill their specific needs.

Another consideration is the brand name. Two types are helpful:

  • Descriptive Brands—These names reflect the products’ benefits or uses, allowing customers to immediately grasp the concept. For example: Cling N’ Hold stretch wrap, HoldsWell rope, WaterTight poly-mailers and MoverTough boxes.
  • Well-Recognized Brands—These sell well because they’ve been around for years and the public knows they hold a particular. For example: Master Lock locks, Sharpie markers, and Scotch tapes.

On DisplayOnce you’ve evaluated the packaging of your retail products, step back again and consider whether your displays are maximizing merchandise appeal. A clean display with identifying signage will attract customers to products. But to increase secondary “impulse” buys, you need a market-tested plan-o-gram. The best ones place secondary products alongside the most popular. For example, the customer intends to buy moving boxes and tape, but the plan-o-gram sells him on labels, markers and packing materials.All Hail Silent Sellers

Packaging design, displays and plano-grams should be the silent sellers of retail products at your self-storage center. The next time you’re comparing retail products to include in your inventory, take these items into thoughtful consideration. Each should help sell the product whether or not an employee is present to answer frequently asked questions.

There isn’t any point in stocking your store with merchandise that only takes up shelf space and collects dust. On the other hand, superb packaging and alluring displays might punch up retail sales beyond belief. 

Roy Katz is president of Supply Side, a distributor of packaging, shipping, moving and storage supplies. The company has developed merchandising programs for many leading companies including the U.S. Postal Service, The UPS Stores, Kinko’s, Mail Boxes Etc., Uncle Bob’s Self Storage and Extra Space Storage. For more information, visit www.suplyside.com

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