3 minute read

A Guide to Creating Merchandising Standards

In my previous article, Standards, Standards, Standards, I wrote about the need for every business to have defined standards which set their go-to-market strategy. Although you may think this should be a fundamental practice for every business, the number of businesses that do not have this defined and part of the way they do business is surprising.

Clearly defined standards should include every department and area of your operation. This is true whether you are a grocery retailer, clothing retailer, home improvement center, restaurant and so on. The standards need to include things like:

Where to begin and how to proceed

The old adage “Begin at the Beginning,” seems appropriate here, but what is the “Beginning?”

First, start with the mindset that creating documented standards is not done in a week, or even a month. This process, when done well, can easily take a year to complete. You must first start with being committed to the end deliverable and the time it will take.

Second, choose a company leader that is innovative, challenging, can make compelling arguments and can think outside the box. A leader that is able to work with Operations and Merchandising and can bring the two groups together, making the best decisions that will drive sales and improve customer perceptions.

Third, start with one department or area to begin the working collaboration. Maybe select a department or area that clearly needs a change and more importantly, direction. Maybe that department is Produce, Men’s Apparel or the Power Tools department, depending on your retail business. Start with a tour of that department or area with the standards leader and merchandising leadership for that department. Set clear goals for the tour and be fully open to new ideas. Leave no area of the department untouched in your quest to write your standards. Gather ideas, discuss, debate and arrive at a consensus.

Fourth, create your documentation. This can be done in several types of software products but PowerPoint or similar presentation software seems most appropriate for this endeavor. As a start, include pictures from all sections from every area in the department including backrooms. Next to the picture of the area being focused on, list your collaborative ideas that you will be incorporating. Continue creating your standards document until all areas of the department have been addressed. This will become your working document and should remain fluid throughout the process.

Fifth, set up a model store and department to bring your list of standards to life. You will need a larger team to make your changes and this may involve vendor support, employees from other stores and certainly should include your merchandising department experts representing that department. Don’t be tied to the initial list of standards you came up with. You may see that some have no merit once you put them into practice. Be willing to be flexible and as I stated earlier, innovate. Stay with the department you have chosen to start with until you believe you have got it right. Remember that these changes may require new fixtures, painting, wiring, lighting, floor work and so on. Do not take the easy way out but rather do what is right by your business and your customers.

Sixth, set up a tour with executive leadership. Having “before” pictures to show the change from then and now can be impactful. Take notes as shared by leadership and make the appropriate changes in your second iteration. Once your standards have been successfully adopted, update your working standards document and delete your starting pictures, replacing them with the pictures that reflect your new standards.

Seventh, setup a final tour with executive leadership to make sure you got it right.

Eighth, communicate the changes to your stores using good change management practices, clear direction, timelines and expectations. Continue this process throughout the remaining departments until completed, but know to be truly innovative you are never really done. Standards will require updating as new ideas surface and as the market direction moves. Also, consider including eyes from the outside as sometimes you may be too close to the business to get the best perspective. The saying “can’t see the forest through the trees” comes to mind. An outside partner dedicated to helping you drive the initiative may provide the catalyst your business needs to implement an initiative as critical as setting your merchandising standards.

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