Creating the “wow” factor

As a former store owner, avid consumer and general retail junkie, I really get excited when I walk through a store and find myself thinking “WOW! Look at THIS.” More than once, when really excited, the “Wow!” in my head has extended to my mouth, occasionally to my embarrassment, but more often to either agreement from my fellow shoppers or the appreciation from nearby employees.

Does your store have the “wow” factor? If not, it should. Because as a rule, it’s much easier to accomplish this in an independent establishment as opposed to a chain store. With few exceptions, one store in a chain will look pretty much like every other store in the same chain, and even though a shopper may be wowed the first time they walk in the door and see a huge assortment, the “wow” quickly wears off with the boredom created by the lack of originality in the merchandising.

So, how do you put the “wow” factor in your store, and how do you maintain it? First of all, it’s not about size. I’ve been wowed in the tiniest of spaces, just as I’ve been turned off in the largest of stores, but the space and the condition of that space are of critical importance. The floors need to be clean and polished, the ceiling needs to be clean and fresh, and the walls above fixtures need to have a clean and fresh appearance as well, and good lighting is of the utmost importance. Dim lighting can mean dim sales. A store with the “wow” factor always makes the customer comfortable when he or she is shopping. That means it’s easy for the customer to glide through the store effortlessly, with the ability to stop at any point to study an offering without blocking an aisle or otherwise disturbing other shoppers, or employees for that matter. This means that aisles should be wide enough so that two small grocery store-type carts can pass each other without a collision. Carts and shopping baskets are essential. Without them, customers will generally stop shopping when their hands are full.

OK, so now your store is clean; the floors are polished; the aisles are wide and clear of boxes, ladders and stocking carts; and the merchandise is well illuminated. To get to “wow,” you’ve got to have a specialty department that really stands out from the ordinary. It doesn’t have to be housewares, but that is my favorite for several reasons. First of all, most of the merchandise in a housewares department has either a sheen or is colorful, or both. The brightness of the products is appealing to the eye and leads to impulse sales unattainable in your plumbing department. The second great reason to invest in a housewares department is that it will appeal not only to your current male customers, but more importantly it will bring in women who are generally the true consumers in a household. For hardware stores, I see a wonderful opportunity in many markets for a housewares department with offerings and displays more upscale than a Target or a Walmart, yet without the prices of a Williams-Sonoma or a Sur la Table. Bed Bath & Beyond is a decent competitor, but there are no bargains to be had there, and, upon close inspection, you’ll find its variety in housewares to be limited.

You can achieve the “wow” factor with housewares, but to do so takes not only an above-average selection of merchandise, but great merchandising as well. For certain products in a housewares department you might get away with using beige metal fixtures, but much of the space will require glass shelving and custom-built wooden fixtures, generally painted bright white to bring attention to certain categories. To anyone seriously considering a move into housewares, I’d recommend hiring a professional store designer with housewares experience to guide you.

Norman Bering is a retail consultant. He can be reached via email at