Bringing Customers In: Retail Layout Secrets from the Big Box Stores - Part 2: Making the Science Word for You

by Barbara van Look, Exclusively for Fire Mountain Gems and Beads®

There are a few steps to use when applying the science of shopping to your booth. The first step is to create a floor plan that uses distinct areas to encourage customers to browse--and to buy.

Booth Layout is Vital
Keep in mind that your booth layout is never a finished project, even while you're running it at a bazaar. Like your jewelry-making skill set, it's always a work in progress.

Products need to be re-arranged or restocked to fill holes where purchases have been made; this makes your booth look full of choices, not cleared out of "the good stuff." You will need to mix and match different pieces together (especially if you've seen customers putting them side-by-side) to refresh your booth's look; that way you can catch the attention of the people who are walking among the booths a second time, looking for something they've missed.

Here are different areas of a retail space, a brief explanation of their purposes and some questions for you to consider for your own selling space. Finally, each contains a suggestion that can make a booth or sale space pop.

The Transition Zone

This is the area where a potential customer enters your booth and needs to slow down and examine your complete line of designs. Since booth space is limited, the transition zone needs to work immediately. Something dramatic has to make browsers, rubber-neckers and the "gotta-see-the-whole-show-right-now" folks STOP RIGHT HERE.

Many retail stores use what's called the "first fixture"--an unusual or dramatic display that halts people in their tracks. Different types of jewelry and décor require different first fixtures. Explore the ideas of bright colors, oversized displays, moving components and other techniques. Whatever you place on your first fixture should make a strong, simple visual statement, one that highlights your strengths as an artisan. (Is it color? Is it sparkle? Is it complexity? Is it something else?)

View retail stores that sell similar goods to the kind you are selling. How do they make it easy to stop and shop? If what they are doing works on you, it will likely work on customers who share your way of thinking.

Suggestion: If you make large, complex and colorful necklaces, then create a matching bracelet, brooch and pair of earrings. Place all pieces on a high-contrast untextured human-shaped display at the front of your booth. This can encourage passersby to imagine themselves wearing the piece.

Booth Floor Plan Suggestions

Most booths are designed in a large inverted "U" shape: one table on each side and a table against the back wall. Therefore, after a while, all booths start to look the same. Draw attention with a different layout.

Chevroned Tables
You can maximize customer's sight lines by placing tables, shelves or racks at an angle instead of the traditional up-against-the-wall layout. This means that more of each shelf's contents are exposed to the passersby. This is ideal for larger spaces, as customers have more room to maneuver around the displays.

One of the downsides of chevroning is that you can lose about 20% of your stock space. The question you have to ask yourself is whether you will sell more by displaying less?

Display or Table Height
Choose or create display spaces of different heights with the shortest displays at the front and the tallest displays in the far back of the booth. Rather than having some pieces lost in the depths of the booth, they become easy for potential customers to see. Displays of different heights can be created with lightweight wood or plastic components, and then covered with a neutral fabric. Customers decide within seconds whether they will walk into your booth. Give them more information to choose with.

One of the downsides of varying display height is that it can be more difficult to pack and transport. This can be averted by using standardized cubic systems that break down and set up easily.

Space to Shop (or the "Butt-Brush Effect")
Underhill writes about the "butt-brush effect." He states that shoppers, especially women, become uncomfortable after being brushed or touched from behind. These potential customers will stop shopping after two or three bumps because they feel unsafe in the space. Allow for wide enough aisles that browsers are comfortable lingering over your designs.

One of the downsides to creating space for shoppers is that you may feel like you do not have enough products on display. This can be averted by using more of your vertical space with taller displays or by hanging designs or displays from the booth frame.

The Back Wall
The back wall should be the magnet that pulls a customer into your selling space. It should be the brightest and most dramatic part of your booth. This is where your business name should be, at the highest point you can see from outside your booth. If you have an outdoor space, and it has a roof, make sure the edges of the roof do not block your name from the outside.

If you have access to electric lighting, use it to highlight your back wall. Place displays with bold, dramatic lines throughout this space, with striking designs that can be seen from outside the booth. Where the eyes go, the feet will follow. Make the customer want to wander in and see it all up close.


This is the "dressing room" of your booth. Make sure you have enough mirrors available that are large enough to be used by customers of a variety of heights--including customers in wheelchairs. Like customers in a retail store who want to try on that blouse, your potential customers want to hold up your design and see how it looks on them.

Don't limit yourself to only one mirror. Bring and display enough mirrors that potential customers don't have to hunt for one. The longer they have to look for a mirror, the more likely they are to leave without buying--even if they were inclined to. As an added bonus, mirrors also bring light into your space, making it appear more brightly lit.


Careful, deliberate color choices are part of your brand. You can create a recognizable identity for your business by using the same color or colors in your selling space, in your logo, in your business cards, your packaging and all other materials in your booth.

Neutral colors, both light and dark, provide the best backdrops for jewelry pieces. Avoid textured materials on table covers or curtains. It keeps the attention on your creations--not on the booth's design. Bright primary colors (such as traffic light red, yellow and green) should be used to accent the space, as large swaths of them can overwhelm both the space and the customer.

Background Music
Background music can increase sales by adding to the atmosphere you've created in your booth. It helps to blot out other noises and encourage customers to linger and shop. A common pitfall with background music is to play music you like, not music that enhances your product. The two are not always the same. A good rule of thumb is play music that represents what you sell and appeals to your customer base. It may not be music you, personally, enjoy most.

Product Selection

If you've looked at retail store layouts, you've noticed that the newest products are toward the front of the store and the clearance racks and sales bins are always located in the far back of the store.

This is done deliberately, Underhill points out in his book. Big box retail stores want you to be tempted by new trends, colorful displays, sales and promotional items that bring them more income. You have to pass through all of these items on your way to the back of the store for clearance and sales products. Then, you have to pass back through all of them again to get to checkout. They're betting you'll find something compatible on the way out--adding to the amount you were originally going to purchase.

New Creations
Bring your newest creations and put them in the center of your booth. Label them brightly as "New." Placing them in the center or center back of your booth will draw customers past the front door and into your space. This will also encourage one-time customers to come back and see what you've made this time. A repeat customer is one of the best kinds of customer.

Slow Sellers
Got something that just won't sell? Shoppers don't know what doesn't sell (unless you tell them). Intermingle some of your slow-selling pieces with more popular styles: it could be that your customers just never saw it before. Raise the visibility of the designs and you're more likely to sell them at full price.

Another alternative for slow sellers is to put them on yourself. After all, if you won't wear a design, why should your customers? Wear a slow seller at a busy bazaar--you're one of your own floor display models, so don't waste the space.

Sales Bin/Clearance Rack
Eventually, there's something that just hasn't sold. If you don't or can't disassemble it for components, it's time to talk clearance. The clearance areas in major retail stores are messy, poorly marked, poorly organized and difficult to use. Like their placement at the back of the store, this is on purpose. Most shoppers don't have time to spend and will turn to the well-organized, clearly marked and more expensive items simply to be finished. Of course, for some shoppers digging through the sales bin is highly enjoyable and they visit the same stores over and over again because they enjoy "the hunt."

This can be done on a smaller scale in your booth. Keep sale items in the back of your booth, clearly and boldly marked. That way, customers will have to pass all your other designs before getting to your sale items. Afterwards, do not tidy up the rack or bin after customers have shuffled through it--especially if you are selling components. Let customers dig through the chaos--for some of them, that's half the fun!

Check Out

Speed and efficiency are the key points of this area. When a customer is ready to buy, don't keep them waiting. The checkout area should always be easy to find, but unobtrusive: you don't want customers to think about leaving before they've had a chance to see everything in your booth!

That being said, you can keep some items right next to the check out area: small, tempting additions that prompt customers to think "I should get some of those..." Customers rarely think about items that might complement or enhance their purchase. This is your chance to tell them, without saying a word.

These products have been called "add-ons," "impulse buys" and "counter sales." Booths selling finished jewelry pieces can offer add-on products such as packets of matching earnuts or earwire safety nuts, extender chains for necklaces and other bonuses.

And where do I sit?

Don't. Unless you absolutely have to.

Have you noticed that workers in retail stores are never sitting when they are on the job? That's because customers have judged a store by how busy and productive-looking the employees appear. Customers tend to view standing retail workers as approachable and involved in the business of the store. Seated workers appear to customers as standoffish, unapproachable--even unprofessional.

The same principles apply to your selling space. Project a professional, approachable and involved image by remaining on your feet. If you absolutely have to sit, a discreet stool behind your checkout area is a good option.

Be sure to smile and do your best to make eye contact with everyone who enters your booth. Let them see how happy you are to see them. A friendly salesperson who loves the product and is excited by the customer sells more than one who is not. Be your own best asset.

The science of shopping draws on the information collected by large retail chains and big box stores. For decades, these companies have studied what draws potential customers into a selling space, what encourages them to linger there and what converts potential customers into purchasing customers. You can adapt these same techniques to increase traffic and sales in your booth space.

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