By Thomas Loeff
Developers and Specialty Leasing program managers frequently ask Shopworks to teach visual merchandising to their leasing staff. Why is it important for a leasing representative to know how to merchandise an RMU? Isn’t their job simply to ensure that their RMUs are fully leased, and that they meet their revenue projections? It is true that those are top priorities for a leasing representative, but to say that the job stops there is very short sighted. In our experience, a really effective leasing representative is able to help a merchant successfully open an RMU business. One key to a successful opening is good product presentation.
At Shopworks, we have taught and performed visual merchandising for developers and program managers throughout the U.S., Canada, Puerto Rico, the U.K., Germany, and Russia. We have seen, firsthand, how a visual merchandising makeover can improve sales from an RMU; even overnight! Surprisingly, the skills that a leasing representative requires to properly look after merchants can be learned in just a few days. Shopworks’ training program does not make the leasing representative an expert merchandiser; that is not the goal. The goal is to ensure that each RMU business in the common area has a product presentation that sells itself. When that goal is achieved, the return on investment in training pays for itself many times over.
In this posting, we share real life experiences of a team of specialty leasing representatives from Retail Profile Russia, a Shopworks’ client in the Russian Federation. In a short period of time the leasing representatives had to learn the basic rules of visual merchandising, how to make secondary RMU fixtures, and actually merchandise RMUs while on a budget of 9,000 Rubles (about $250 U.S.). Shopworks’ Visual Merchandising training usually begins with two-and-a-half days of classroom lectures and discussion followed by two-and-a-half more days of supervised, hands-on visual merchandising. Topics include; the RMU Business Model, visual merchandising strategies and techniques, and the very important topic of Found-Art fixtures, and how to make them. The idea of the Found-Art fixture was coined by Sharon Loeff who discovered that one may construct attractive, secondary fixtures found in: low-cost building, or craft suppliers. One may even find unique materials of surprising quality by the occasional dumpster diving expedition. Hence the name; Found-Art.
The following images show the specialty leasing representatives applying their new found skills. First, the leasing representatives are given an RMU, and a retail use to merchandise; handbags and gloves.
Specialty Leasing Representatives Planning Design of A Handbag RMU
The team must first create a design that they could implement in the time allowed, and with the budget provided. Most visual merchandising work is done after mall hours and often late into the night. In order to ensure a realistic experience, our representatives are required to work in a similar fashion so that they understand the real world challenges faced by a merchant, or developer V.M. doing this work.
Buying Materials For Found Art Fixtures
Most merchants do not have a big enough budget to buy commercial grade fixtures. This is where a properly trained leasing representative can make a huge difference thereby ensuring both merchant success and program success. Using their new knowledge of found art fixtures, the team transforms the inexpensive, hanging flower bowl shown in the photo above into the elegant glove display below.
Found Art Glove Display
An inexpensive ceramic tile is painted and combined with a cake stand to make an elegant pedestal display.
A beach table is transformed into a secondary fixture.
Sheet vinyl is cut into decorative seasonal leaf patterns with a stencil
With the training complete, Sharon Loeff of Shopworks, and the Retail Profile Russia team went out to their properties to re-merchandise RMUs. At this point, they were armed with only a few basic supplies an no advance knowledge of the RMUs they would work on! Their first project was a candy RMU.
The first step was to add complimentary ground cover (colored drawer liners) to the bed of the RMU. Then the goods were color blocked and pyramid stacked to create a visually pleasing, and logical presentation. The new presentation uses color, shape, and organization to communicate a more effective and compelling message to shoppers passing by. The entire cost of this new presentation was just a few dollars.
The second project was an organic honey RMU. The photo below shows how the original presentation was sterile and dull.
Organic Honey RMU
With the addition of a beautiful secondary fixture fabricated from inexpensive materials, the new presentation communicates a message of purity and nature. The merchant was thrilled with the new look and the improved sales.
Found Art Secondary Fixture
When specialty leasing representatives have a working knowledge of visual merchandising, new merchants are far less likely to fail, common area programs look better, and produce higher revenue.