Scuse me, where’s the milk?” I asked. The 17-year-old clerk looked at me like I had lost my mind, rolled his eyes and said “It’s in the back corner.” The “DUH!” was implied even though he didn’t say it. As I walked toward the back of the unfamiliar store, it dawned on me why the kid had the reaction he did. In every grocery store in the world, the milk usually can be found in the same place — the furthest place from the front door they can find. Ahhh… the magic of merchandising.
According to a popular online dictionary, the definition for Merchandising is:
Merchandising, as commonly used in marketing, means the promotion of merchandise sales, as by coordinating production, marketing and developing advertising, display and sales strategies to increase retail sales. This includes disciplines in pricing and discounting, physical presentation of products and displays, and the decisions about which products should be presented to which customers at what time.
The last part of this definition is the part that explains why we have to walk five miles to get the milk. In order to get to the milk, we have to walk past all kinds of things. Did you ever notice how close to the milk the cookies are? Coincidence? Hardly! I’ve even seen stickers directly on the milk jug advertising a popular cookie brand!
We can also thank the merchandising fairies for carefully placing 9 million kinds of candy at the checkout. Or how about all those really cool widgets at the counter of your favorite mega home supplies store. Why do retailers put impulse things there? The answer is quite simple: IT WORKS!
Here is a question for you: When was the last time you rearranged your truck? If your answer is somewhere between never and a really long time ago, don’t feel bad. The truth of the matter is, most mobile tool dealers never think about re-merchandising their trucks.
Most tool trucks are purpose-built, including the location of most items. If you designed the layout of your truck from new, then you can really appreciate this. You probably spent countless hours debating where to put certain items. Many of the tools you carry, like pry bars and hammers, demand special fixtures or holders to stay put on the truck. It’s not like a shelf sitting in the local mega-mart. Storage and display areas have to keep things from rolling around when you have to slam on your brakes because that driver in front of you is eating breakfast, talking on a cell phone and suddenly decides to cut across three lanes of traffic to make a right turn (with the left turn signal on!). Your display areas also have to keep tools accessible to the technician when they’re on your truck. Everyone has to touch the tools!
So, where does that leave you? Can you merchandise or re-arrange your truck to positively affect sales? The answer to that question is a definite yes! Sure, there are some items that you can’t move for reasons mentioned above. The open stock has to stay where it is, the air tools, the carded specialty items, tool boxes — some things can’t really be moved too much. There are, however, many things you can do to increase your sales.
The first place to start is with clutter. Over time, we all tend to accumulate clutter. For me, it’s extra paper on my desk; stuff I know I need to read or file, but never find the time to do it. For you, it’s the half-full boxes that scoot across the floor of your truck when you take those curves a little too fast. Maybe they’re holding orders you’re going to deliver in a day or two, or maybe they hold product that you don’t have room to display properly. But it is clearly clutter and projects a less than professional image.
On a weekend morning, I would recommend that you open the door to your truck and with a very critical eye, assess the “look” of your interior. Sometimes it’s not just boxes on the floor. It can be catalogs jammed into a holder, or too many tools in too small a space. (Can there be too many tools in a small space?) Before you can begin to successfully merchandise your tools, you need to eliminate any clutter. Set aside the time to tackle this project and get it done.
Part of good merchandising is creating displays that appeal to your customers. Many manufacturers supply displays for your truck, but sometimes they don’t hold enough product to “pay” for the space. What can you do? Remember, Velcro and elastic tape are your friends! Many of you know this, but one of the best ways to display handled or long products is on the ceiling of your truck. What many of us tend to forget is to keep it tidy! After a day of taking tools out of their place and technicians haphazardly replacing them, the truck can look like a micro-burst hit. Take the time to re-align tools so they look organized. If you have blue-handled pliers inter-mixed with red-handled pliers, I would recommend you re-arrange them. First arrange them by color, and then arrange them by size.
When using Velcro to stick your carded products to the walls or ceilings, keep an eye on how it looks. Before a customer buys a product, he has to find it visually appealing, or be able to find it. If your display looks like you just fit tools wherever you could, then that’s the impression conveyed to your customers. You wouldn’t hang a picture in your living room crooked. Be just as finicky with how you display your tools. You will sell more!
One creative idea I heard about was a dealer who has a “showcase” for new items at the front of his truck. He always keeps three to five “new” items in that area. Since all technicians love new tools, his customers have come to expect to see something new when they come on the truck. By keeping the items in the front of the truck, customers have to walk past all of his other merchandise to get to them (just like the milk!). This resourceful jobber makes sure he has literature on all of the items, and keeping the number small allows him to focus on these items and sell them more frequently.
Do I Have To Start From Scratch?
People are creatures of habit. Technicians are used to seeing the exact same items in the same place on your truck. I would be willing to bet some of your customers know where things are better than you do. As you know, technicians are “programmed” to think about tool organization. They spend hours and hours deciding just how they want to arrange the tools in their boxes. So it makes sense that they would be aware of how you arrange the tools on your truck. After all, your truck is like the biggest, coolest rolling toolbox in the world!
So sometimes the best thing you can do is intentionally confuse them a little bit. Small changes can make a big difference in your sales. You can change the look of your truck without rebuilding it from scratch. Try sequencing all the screwdrivers in the reverse order from the way you have them now. I know it sounds like a lot of work, but the returns can be amazing.
How about signage? Some dealers like signs while others feel it can make the truck look too busy or junky. Somewhere in between is probably the right answer. Generally speaking, if you’re going to use signs in a small area like the inside of a tool truck, they need to be consistent in size, print type and coloring. You should try to keep text to a minimum and avoid neon colors. Local print shops can help you create and print them so they look professional. I also would recommend laminating them so they last a while.
The tool truck presents some special problems when it comes to merchandising. You have to be salesman, quarterback, traffic director and, unfortunately, sometimes security guard. Sometimes you have to place items based on minimizing loss due to theft. Which leads us back to the example of grocers and putting really high frequency items in the back of the store. Can you apply the same techniques to your truck? In some cases the answer will depend on what is the “milk” for your business.
So the next time a customer comes on the truck and asks: “Hey, where are the 13 mm wrenches?” Be sure to send him to the milk aisle first.