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The Five Critical Elements of Business: Set-Up

By Bob Fenner

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There are two basic ways of approaching the physical make-up or layout of your business. An ideal (the way it would be if you could be if you could wave a magic wand), and the real (what you can realistically arrange given the space, time, money and other resources at your disposal).

I encourage you to utilize both approaches.

Back to the Plan:

What sort of store do you want? What will appeal to who you think your customer target is now, and what they will be later? A layout emphasizing livestock versus drygoods? Should the former feature prominently in the front-entrance of the shop? Where to put the register/customer service area'¦ can you afford office, storage space?

I encourage you to think deeply about these questions. As an example from above, "how much livestock display" should you have? Twenty plus years ago, most shops placed a heavy emphasis on displaying systems, animals and thematic presentations. I recall some stores that dedicated 90% of their floor space to stocked aquariums! Realistically, drygoods are the real moneymakers in our trade however and it's rare to not find more than half of a retailer's area focused on their resale. Indeed, the bulk of "pet" mass merchandiser chains started by not ever having pets for resale at all.

Your Dream Store:

Yes, you're allowed, even encouraged to fantasize here. The sky's the limit. What fixtures, gondola, glass, cases, displays'¦ book stands, plant racks, pegboard'¦ new or used, custom or stock would you like? What color scheme, finishes?

What about a POS (Point of Sale) system, a state of the art computerized inventory, sales control program and hardware?

What about the store itself, how big a place, what shape ideally? How high and what type of ceiling? Tell me about the lighting, AC/heating, doors, floor drains (wouldn't that be nice?), utility sinks, demising (non-structural) walls, water and stain proof flooring, electrical service, windows, security systems. Go ahead, not even the sky's the limit.

Layout Modeling:

Now, from visiting stores galore, trade shows, fixture shops and catalogs, and your mind's eye, do what I do, make (quadrille) graph paper (whatever scale) cutouts to size of your imaginary fixtures. Heck, you might even want to color code or detail them for identification.

A place for everything and everything in its place? Think you've remembered all the fixtures you intend to use? Get out your wholesale supplier's catalogs and industry trade publications Buyers Guides and lists from visiting competitors stores. Is everything there? Good.

Ahem, keeping in mind that humans are about so big, that Fire Department et al. codes dictate a minimum aisle space (42" in Southern California), that there must need be such things as doors and windows in your store, place the make-believe fixtures in myriad ways on a larger piece (or pieces taped together) of "floor space" graph paper.

Let's see. How does it look? Enough room for "seasonal" displays, space around the check out area? Wheelchair accesses up and down the aisles? How are your customers going to "flow" through the space? Hey, how are you going to get to the frequent buyer items like live and frozen foods? How about sellers like medications that you want to "force" your customers to interact with you to assure they're not mistreating? Maybe best behind the service counter?

Do you intend to purposely darken the livestock display area? How? Paint, partial walls, lack of lighting, artificial rockwork, planters, tall racking?

Realistic Starting Points:

Oh, so you didn't win the lottery and have really figured out how many square feet

of leased space you can afford or even secured the actual location. Many factors, including "inherited" or available fixtures, reasonable guesstimates of how big a store "makes sense" for the type of shop you have in mind will bring your plans "down to earth".

Layout Brass Tax:

Having kept good notes on how much all this costs, where it's available from and how to get it in a timely manner, you're ready to revisit your real or proposed budget for set-up. Le me warn you anew here. As much as it's important to have a good, even fun, clear, functional layout arrangement, you don't want to run out of funds for inventory and a solid bash horde for ongoing contingencies (like rent, utilities and food) in just putting your store together.

Our corporations (Nature, Etc. Inc.) Rule of thumb was to spend no more than the same amount for fixtures as per inventory and only up to half the funds available for both. When in doubt, be even more conservative'¦ or secure more capital.

Back to the fixtures themselves. If you can't or prefer not to purchase them new, do investigate as many "used possibilities as practical (tip: even with original manufacturers), and do your best to develop a consistent color and texture theme there and then. As the manufacturer representatives of these new and used fixture companies about these matters. They know what can be done and how to do it.

With a handle on what fixtures you really have/will have, maybe even the location with its given size, power, mechanicals, water, drains, doors, ceiling and windows we can/should still play our "what if" game with scale model paper cut-outs and a 'real' scale floor plan ahead of actual move-in.

Professional Help:

There are service industries and consulting individuals that can do a lot to aid you in store design, layout and build-out. You can find these businesses and folks in your yellow page directories and trade journals.

What About Higher Technology Tools for Layout?

Yes, I'm familiar with CAD/CAM (Computer Assisted Design and Manufacture) possibilities, and if you're facile with these electronic marvels, be my guest. For me personally, the most sophistication I've added is magnets to keep my layout from blowing about.


Set-up Conclusion:

The trade has changed in recent years to being more "mass" driven and sophisticated in its presentation, from "borrowed" traditions of the independents such as Sears, Roebucks in the seventies to the sophisticated layouts and fixturizations of the Petcos and PetsMarts of today'¦ and will continue to do so.

When I worked for Sears (yep, they used to have in-store full line pet shops) fixtures and layout were "done" by Operations. The emphasis was strong on functionality. In the early nineties as a consultant and Buyer for the mass merchandiser Petco, these matters were handled by Merchandising. If it didn't "pop" appearance-wise, a fixture or layout was disregarded.

What you want is the best of both worlds. A real set-up that is serviceable, utilitarian and pleasing to the eye. Do this first on paper, ideal- and realistically'¦ and watch your costs for set-up.

The stores that are squared away in their functional and aesthetic look persist and the others go. Keep an ever-open mind when evaluating your present and planned store set-up(s). Physical layout is immensely important, indeed one of the five critical elements of retail.

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