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Book: You and What Army?


Paul J. Russell is a thought leadership professional in field visual merchandising and has developed national field training programs, coached and provided guidance to internal and outsourced visual merchandising teams, provided training seminars on merchandising techniques and wrote numerous training manuals on visual merchandising standards and certifications.

Paul J Russell Headshot

Paul J. Russell, author

He has produced award-winning visual concepts for the Super Bowl, the Olympic Games and provided consulting services to specialty retailers such as Universal Studios, Bernini, Sebastian’s Closet, Jos. A Bank Clothiers and Britches of Georgetown. Paul serves on the Manufacturers Advisory Council for the World Alliance for Retail Excellence and Standards and was the Chairman of the 2014 Retail Merchandising and Marketing Conference.

Additionally, he serves on the Manufacturer/Retailer Council for the World Alliance for Retail Excellence and Standards and was the Chairman of the 2014 Retail Merchandising and Marketing Conference.

His new book, Field Visual Merchandising Strategy (Kogan Page) is now available, and he has written this piece for eDelivery to illustrate the points the book makes.

How outsourcing field merchandising services can take your customer experience to the next level.

Today’s shoppers are much more informed about what they want to buy and most of the time, they know where to find it. Although there’s the option of ordering online, many look forward to having a unique shopping experience. It’s what brings them back to a specific store time and time again. So, the question is: what is involved in creating a unique customer shopping experience that consistently attracts your target consumers?

A major aspect of producing a great customer shopping experience has to do with how a retailer’s merchandise is presented and maintained. Have you ever walked into a store looking for a specific item only to see an unpleasant presentation of merchandise and the item you wanted was nowhere to be found? Ever wondered why the adjacent merchandise of your competitor was creatively presented and well stocked? This unfortunate scenario happens all too often. Your shoppers are being enticed by the competitor’s field visual merchandising strategy. They have developed a consumer focused product presentation to attract their shoppers and it’s ultimately seizing your customers in the process.

To keep shoppers coming back for more, merchandise should be on the sales floor, presented well, organised and easily accessible. We all know this process means having a well trained staff to ensure everything is executed according to corporate’s standards. This also means hiring more employees when the budget is already tight. So, how do your competitors do it? Most likely they have outsourced their in-store execution to a merchandising services organisation that has field merchandisers throughout the nation. These field merchandisers are well educated on standards and they visit stores on a regular basis to set up and maintain the product presentation for numerous brands and retailers. And yes, that’s right; even retailers hire their own outsourced teams.

In the past, only big brands have utilised merchandising services organisation to implement field merchandising strategies. But now, more retailers are beginning to realise the benefits of having an outsourced field team to execute in-store promotions, visual presentations, special projects and product launches, just to name a few. The biggest misconception with outsourcing merchandising services is that many retailers and brands believe these field teams are not well trained and do not know their brands well enough to be good representatives. But the truth be told, the vast majority of field merchandisers are previous retail employees, buyers and visual merchandisers who have worked in the industry prior to signing on with a merchandising service organisation.

In addition, each merchandiser goes through basic training provided by their organisation, not to mention training on standards from the manufacturer or retailer. So, where’s the disconnect? The key to success lies within a well thought out field visual merchandising strategy. When an organisation hires a new employee, some sort of training is usually provided. Hiring a merchandising service organisation without training the team on the company’s product knowledge and merchandising standards would reap the same results as hiring full time employees and providing no training to them.

Keep in mind that field merchandisers visiting stores across the nation can become your team of advocates with a sole purpose of executing corporate initiatives. Their goal is to get merchandise pulled from stockrooms and merchandised in order to attract target consumers and create that customer shopping experience needed to succeed at retail. They ensure proper signage, graphics and POS’s are placed timely to coordinate with promotions and campaigns. They develop solid relationships with sales management and provide valuable product knowledge to associates. This team becomes the eyes and ears of your organisation to feed corporate information that could only be obtained from being in the mix while everything is happening.

So, do you need a team of field merchandisers to take your customer shopping experience to the next level?

I’ll let you do the research. On the next in-store promotion or product launch, visit a few of your stores in two major markets. While visiting each store, ask yourself the following five questions:

  • Did all the merchandise make it to the sales floor or is their product still in the stockroom?
  • Is the merchandise displayed on shelves properly or folded, hung and sized as directed?
  • Is the correct signage set properly?
  • Is the merchandise easily accessible to my target consumer?
  • Does the product presentation meet company standards and reflect the image our consumers expect from our organisation?After visiting these stores, ask yourself one last question:Is there a consistent brand message being presented in all stores visited?

    Outsourcing field merchandising services is not new to retail. It is a global enterprise that has evolved into a vital component of the retail industry and has proven to be an asset to manufacturers and retailers alike.

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