Merchandising to the Max

The operators who get the most sales lift from merchandising often have one common denominator: they use category management principles to give people what they want when they want it. So how can you incorporate these principles into your own merchandising strategy?

The first step to successful merchandising is to know your customers. Analyze them in terms of age, gender and income. Anticipate their desires — whether for a quick, tasty bite; a refreshing beverage to bring back to the office; a dessert that provides a moment of indulgence in a busy day or a convenient food item to take home for dinner.

Next, look over your merchandise mix. Determine if your items are in step with the above desires as well as any prevailing trends that may apply to your operation, such as snacking and sharing, health and wellness, local foods and global flavors. If you identify any gaps in your lineup, fill them with products that are a good fit for your operation.

Also, when choosing packaged products, be mindful of brand power. It is more advantageous to feature market-leading brands with household names than it is to introduce unfamiliar or little-known products. When you offer long-established brands that consumers know and love, years of happy experiences work in your favor.

If you can use some help in sizing up your clientele and grooming your product mix, it is wise to partner with a supplier who is willing to share research on consumer behavior and product trends in the marketplace.

The next vital task is making it easy for customers to get your products. Remember that convenience is a powerful purchase driver. For example, if you operate a busy cafeteria or dining room, install a grab-and-go area with prepackaged sandwiches, snacks, desserts and bottled beverages for customers to grab if they are too busy for a sit-down meal.

Encouraging impulse buying is also a big plus. Supermarkets long ago discovered how to boost sales by placing periodicals, candy and beverages within arm’s reach in the checkout lane. Foodservice operators can do the same with an attractive display rack of snacks, cookies and crackers at the cashier counter.

Additionally, point-of-sale materials such as signs, posters, print menus, menu boards, flyers and banners attract attention and get your message across.

For a powerful take on traditional merchandising efforts, try implementing demonstrations and sampling, which have direct sensory appeal for consumers. Have your chef provide a demonstration in the dining room with all the sizzle and aroma of live cooking plus free tastings. Pass out samples of packaged snacks and desserts to customers. These are appealing, risk-free ways for people to try something new, and they’re proven paths to higher sales.

Above all, make sure your merchandising strategy is planned and organized. Set sales goals and track the results. Ask customers for feedback about your products and follow their cues. Cull the slow-sellers from your merchandise mix and replace them with fresh, appealing products.

If all of this seems challenging, remember that you don’t have to go it alone. Team up with a supplier that has category management expertise, consumer research and market-leading brands. Such an alliance can give you a huge boost in connecting with your customers.