On the front lines
By Carol Radice
With interior square footage at a premium, retailers are turning to a range of flexible solutions to extend brand image both inside and outside the store. Consumers’ shopping habits are consistently changing. This puts pressure on retailers to meet consumers’ growing expectations. That includes a store’s appearance, ability to offer a wider range of assortments and faster checkouts. As a result, several areas of the store, once not even a blip on retailers’ radar, are now being revisited for their potential to build customer loyalty. The front of the store, the parking lot and interior merchandising fixtures and displays are part of that equation. To meet demand, suppliers are being asked to be more responsive and efficient, not just in controlling costs, but also in design, engineering, logistics and through on-time delivery. Leggett & Platt Store Fixtures Group, based in Carthage, Mo., offers a broad array of fixturing solutions for virtually every retailing segment from gondola systems and bakery cases to custom fabrication for wooden tables and wine racks. Beyond design and manufacturing, its services include value engineering, world-class logistics to assure on-time delivery, expert installation and branding and marketing services that go beyond traditional manufacturing, say company officials. Officials add that efficiency has become a major concern and buzzword in the industry. “The pressure is on for today’s systems to maximize the value of every square foot of space,” says Gary Zakiewicz, vice president of business development. Leggett & Platt has introduced several fixturing systems recently. Its belted checkout systems are designed to last longer and reduce labor costs, back injuries and fatigue—all while speeding up the checkout process. They feature all-metal construction that can be customized to meet each customer’s needs and the belt cartridge can be removed quickly and easily if it ever needs adjustment. The whole system—from the POS to monitor mounts to check-writing stands—can be customized. The company has also introduced a FlexRoller shelving system featuring a seamless bed of rollers that ensures products are always fronted and accessible to consumers. Zakiewicz says the system reduces merchandising labor costs by up to 20%, simplifies stocking and product rotation and can be used in ambient, cold-vault and cooler environments. Additionally, through its Beeline unit, the company is able to offer interactive and web content, as well as mobile marketing solutions that they can integrate into their store fixturing and POP designs. “We’ve also launched a pharmacy system that improves access to inventory, while increasing productivity. Ultimately, what sets us apart is that we don’t just see ourselves as a manufacturer, but a marketer helping our customers build their brands as we improve their productivity and enhance the consumer experience,” he adds. In most populated areas of the U.S. consumers have multiple options for where to shop for groceries. Industry observers say that while the store’s appearance on the inside is important, increasingly the presentation outside the store is playing a role in attracting shoppers and building loyalty. H-E-B, Ahold and Giant Eagle are some of the top retailers that understand how to create a “front porch” impression, say observers, adding that they are leveraging year-round merchandising display strategies that feature live goods to attract more shoppers. “Retailers want a return on their investment and are looking for a way to brand their stores from the parking lot in,” says Harry Newton, director of sales and marketing for SPC Retail, a division of Structural Plastics Corp. based in Holly, Mich. “As such, they are utilizing the front of store space and exploring ways to generate curb appeal both inside and outside the store.” The parking lot area in particular represents an opportunity for retailers to capture new revenue stream, add excitement and help brand their stores, says Newton. “For medium and smaller-sized retailers whose square footage is tight, displays offer the ability to turn underutilized exterior space into a profit center,” he adds. “By establishing the store as a destination for everything from plants, potting soil and plant food, they take away a reason for shoppers to go elsewhere for those items.” SPC displays are made from 100% recycled content, with the exception of the legs, which are made from virgin plastics to maintain tolerances and structural integrity. The displays were designed as a modular kit of a parts system. While originally created for outdoor use, SPC’s products can be used inside the store including power aisles, wall of values and to create pop-up departments and stores. For 2014, Newton says SPC Retail will be upgrading its website to better highlight their product lineup and be more interactive. “When selecting a company and its products we know it is important that retailers chose one whose products are easy to set up and are versatile enough that it can be used throughout the year. Our website is being redesigned to reflect this,” he says. Forté Product Solutions is a manufacturer of plastic fixtures and equipment designed to offer grocers merchandising innovation, durability, labor and cost savings. The company’s merchandisers are available in various sizes and colors and can be used for a variety of applications. “Forté’s expertise and experience in design and manufacturing makes our company a leading supplier of custom-made products that meet specific criteria and unique applications for retailers and their operations,” says Yasmina Dhimes, director of sales for the Kansas City, Mo.-based company. Cart crazy Brasco manufacturers cart corrals, bus and smoking shelters and covered awnings and walkways. Scott Christie, sales manager, grocery for the Madison Heights, Mich.-based company, says Brasco’s products offer grocers the opportunity to extend their brand image into the parking lot. For instance, he says a well-designed and engineered cart corral will support and expand the perception of the high quality and freshness that goes into the brands’ interior design. “We continue to innovate by working with store designers and architects to create solutions that identify space and bring identity to the parking lots,” says Christie. Most notable, Christie says Brasco designed electric car charging stations for a large regional grocery chain and bike shelters for another to accommodate shoppers using alternative means of travel to stores. “We see this occurring more in the future and are adding to our site furnishings to meet the coming changes in transportation,” he says. InStore Products has launched many market “firsts” that have streamlined the consumers’ shopping process, say company officials. In 1992, InStore Products launched and designed the Greenbox system, an integrated box-and-shopping-cart system. “Our oval tube construction and two-tiered shopping cart systems, not only provide quality, class and improved customer experience allowing customers to sort and separate groceries, but also helps retailers increase average order size and the life span of their asset,” says Steve Brown, vice president and general manager for the Mississauga, Ontario, Canada based company. The Greenbox system has been used in Canada and Europe for the past 20 years and the carts will soon be offered in the U.S. “We believe its time has come not only with the increasing awareness of environmental concerns but the technology,” says Brown. “Our Greenbox system is the perfect marriage to self-scanning and/or mobile applications to make the most effective and easy way to integrate technologies and enhance the consumers shopping experience.” RTS Retail is a global one-stop-shop fixture manufacturer best known for its kiddie carts, cart corrals and niche custom manufacturing capabilities. Darren Norley, national account manager for the Austinburg, Ohio-based company, says each of its products is designed with the retailer and consumer in mind. “The retailer is assured the highest quality and durability and the consumer is assured they are using the safest and most entertaining products available,” says Norley. As for differences in its kiddie carts, Norley says they believe strongly that the safest, most enjoyable space for a child’s shopping experience is close to their parents. There, they can interact with their parents and the parents can feel safe their children are close and not in harm’s way. At the same time, Norley says given the pressure retailers are under to contain costs, sometimes the attention to specifications and differences in products are over looked and retailers fall back on “grandfathered” suppliers. RTS Retail has launched several new products recently, including the Go Kart kiddie cart, the only nesting kiddie cart in the market, now available with police, fire truck, taxi and girl-themed princess graphics. “Kiddie carts are specialty carts designed to provide a carefree shopping experience for parents and the entertainment factor helps keeps kids occupied so they can shop longer and spend more in the store,” says Norley. The company has also launched new designs of its cart corrals—both covered and open style. These corrals focus on utilizing the corral space as an advertising medium, he says. Additionally, the company is introducing EnviroWirx, a deep waste collection system designed to replace traditional garbage Dumpsters that save money and enhances the exterior store appearance. H-E-B recently looked to SPC for help in expanding its successful lawn and garden department and nursery store brand, Texas Backyard. H-E-B was looking to create a rollout program of live goods displays in the front entry area at select stores. The displays needed to fit a range of spaces, be easy to assemble, durable and reusable for multiple years. The H-E-B Front Porch program has been well received and last year SPC retrofitted more than 300 H-E-B stores with plans for expanding the program in additional stores next year. Brasco’s mission has been to elevate the image of cart corrals, both structurally and aesthetically. With an eye on the environmental impact, Christie says the company has taken on challenges of incorporating features such as solar panels and LED lighting into its shelters. “We are committed to sustainability, as our EV and bicycle shelters show, and we carry that into production. We use aluminum, HDPE and stainless steel in manufacturing our products and then anodize and powder coat the shelters and corrals,” he says. Despite these features, Christie says in the end it comes down to a value equation. “A grocer can have a cheap cart corral that looks bad and rusts or they can have a quality product that adds value to the brand identity,” he says. However, as many have discovered, the choice for a cheap corral is often more expensive in the long run. “Some corrals can be picked up and moved by wind or pushed by vehicles, but a quality cart corral is engineered for wind and snow loads so there is less danger of shoppers being injured,” says Christie. Brasco is introducing a new lineup of standardized cart corrals. “We are now offering powder coating on our products, so customers can select any color to match their brand or set their parking lot apart,” says Christie. The company will also be offering new accessories for the cart corrals that provide greater flexibility for installations, such as concrete ballasts versus asphalt anchors and HDPE versus stainless steel bump rails. “We’re also looking forward to being more involved in friendly street initiatives that groups like the League of American Bicyclists and the Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals champion. This includes EV charging stations, bicycle parking, solar power and LED lighting that will accompany Brasco’s full line of benches and receptacles,” he says. Aside from price, another mistake retailers often make is not offering a variety of cart choices, say observers. “Consumers shopping habits are changing and because they shop several times a week they don’t always need a large cart,” says InStore Products’ Brown. He adds that providing customers with a mix of cart options to capitalize on would allow the consumer to maximize their purchases and get around the stores more easily and efficiently. The rapidly increasing number of shoppers with mobility issues has been one of the key factors behind the success of the Mart Cart, says Steve Scroggins, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Rogers, Ark.-based Assembled Products Corp., maker of the Mart Cart. “Every day 12,000 people reach retirement age and sooner or later they begin experiencing physical limitations,” says Scroggins. “The Mart Cart electronic shopping cart allows them to shop in comfort, while offering greater safety and convenience. Plus it is the only electronic shopping cart that has a UL Certification,” he says. When customer feedback indicated a shopping cart with a larger capacity would be appreciated by shoppers, the company responded with the ULTIMA, an electric cart featuring a more comfortable 24-inch wide seat, a more powerful 300-watt front-wheel-drive hub motor and a wider, stronger wheel base. “These features are unique to the Mart Cart ULTIMA and provide retailers with cart features their shoppers need and want,” says Scroggins. This year, Assembled Products will be introducing a new control system on its Mart Cart featuring a bright, easy-to-read LED display. Scroggins says the advanced system will provide multiple data points of information on the status of the cart and will assist the store in providing the shopper a greater shopping experience than ever before. “This control system will be featured on new carts and will be retro-fit on existing carts in the stores,” he says. The attractive design of its products, quality finish, durability and versatility are some of the benefits and features that make Forté products standout, says Dhimes. She says all of the company’s products are made in the U.S. with quality materials, using a manufacturing process that creates products recognized for their strength, longevity and efficiency. She adds that Forté’s products are recyclable at the end of their useful life. Taking up minimal floor space, safe and simple-to-use equipment, durability and ease of access by customers are just some of the many criteria Dhimes says merchandisers need to meet in today’s retail environment. “Store space is very valuable and it is imperative that the fixtures are adequate in size and shape for available space,” she says. “Equipment that requires minimum installation and is safe to use around the store is a great choice for retailers as it saves them time, labor and promotes safety.” She adds that the ability to use the same fixtures in various areas of the store and move them with ease, should plays a major role in retailer’s choice of equipment. Forté recently introduced its ColdStor Ice & Beverage Bin. The innovative, durable and versatile product has been designed and manufactured to serve a variety of markets and applications. Company officials say it can be used as a merchandiser for beverages and food products. “ColdStor is a sturdy unit that is available with four heavy duty casters for easy roll around, a retractable lid, a false bottom for easy merchandising and an accessible draining spigot,” says Dhimes, adding the bin keeps items cooler and ice frozen longer than other brand units. The unit is made with food safe FDA- approved material for indoor and outdoor use and has space to add promotional signage.