Opinion: Retail Preparation is Key

A picture of NTP-Stag merchandising director Val Byrd

For many years, I have written articles about RV aftermarket retailing, so if you have read a few of them, you probably noticed some common denominators.

Each spring, I always write about restoring your retail parts and accessory operation in preparation for the busy season. Of course, an asterisk is attached to “busy season” based on where you operate in North America, but for most RV dealers, warm weather equals more customer traffic. Because the parts and accessory restoration process is essential, this year is no different.

The tone of my reminder may sound a bit more urgent this year because shoppers have spearheaded several critical changes in the marketplace. As always, we can rely on consumer behavior to display its organically dynamic nature, which is affected by social, economic, political, technological and other trends.

Ignoring the phenomenon may be convenient, but not prudent. The key to selling and developing long-term consumer relationships is to connect with and satisfy customers’ needs and wants. We all remember Marketing 101, right?

Now let’s consider the past three years’ world events. While we all want to forget what we endured, the aftereffects continue to change how humans react to each other, businesses, government and more. Research illuminated the fact that 50% of consumers said 2020 permanently changed their shopping habits. Just think about the millions of people now permanently working from home full time. Think about when this shift snowballed.

Why is the consumer’s shopping mindset so critical this year? Customers continue to expect us to have the right products, at the right prices, at the right place and in stock at all times—but expectations are higher.

Shoppers expect more delivery and payment options, more information and engagement and the fastest access to new and specialty items. If you do not stock the parts and merchandise consumers want, you must be able to get them. The information age is a blessing and, at times, a burden because customers expect minimal wait times and maximum access to status and information about product and service orders.

Why do they expect such service? Consumers have learned they can get that service from Amazon, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Target, Kroger, Instacart, Door Dash, Uber, Chipotle and many others.

More and more, small and medium-sized businesses that are behind the times are not getting a pass. We are living in the age of same-day delivery and the Apple AirTag! The digital age has gone wild.

On my way to the airport recently,

I was driving behind an interesting- looking vehicle with a black tower antenna on the roof and a propeller- type flapper on the back. The badging indicated the vehicle was a “Jaguar Waymo.” A quick internet search informed me that a Jaguar Waymo is a self-driving car.

Recently, while in Flagstaff, Arizona, I drove through a local university’s campus and saw at least five delivery robots rolling along the sidewalks en route to various destinations. I am betting these “units” carried food orders or, perhaps, items from the bookstore.

Sure, we expect millennials and Gen Zers to be up on the latest tech trends; however, many baby boomers and Gen Xers (like me) have grown accustomed to enhanced information and delivery options.

I love brick-and-mortar retail, but I am (occasionally) miffed when I must go inside the store.

So, back to preparing for the busy season. The ABCs of retail preparation remain the same:

  1. Ensure your category layout/flow is strategic and pulls customer traffic through the entire store. Remember, place the milk and eggs of your store at the back.
  2. Organize products the way customers shop (by category) and ensure products are fronted and faced.
  3. Ensure merchandise is clean, dusted and undamaged. Remove distressed packages from the shelf and discard or place them in your clearance section at a deeply reduced price.
  4. Ensure products are priced, preferably on the shelf edge or display hook.
  5. Offer new and seasonal items, grouped into categories, for purchase.
  6. Ensure store fixtures are clean, dusted and undamaged.
  7. Add retail signage to direct customers through the space and share your store’s story.
  8. Use marketing tools to stay in touch with existing customers and attract new shoppers.
  9. Train staff on products, customer service and selling, and establish customer-centric engagement protocol.
  10. Conduct event marketing! Kick off the season with an open house or special day, advertised via web, print and media.

During this process, you may realize your store needs a major remodel. If so, contact your distributor to begin planning a retail project during your off-season.

The frequency of store resets and remodels vary based on several criteria, such as your business objectives, date of last remodel and competition.

Here are some general guidelines to consider:

Business objectives. If the retailer’s objectives include increasing sales, improving customer experience or expanding the product offerings, remodeling the store can provide a fresh look and feel to help achieve these goals.

Date of last remodel. Generally, retail stores should be remodeled or reset every five to seven years. However, there are exceptions to this rule when stores are regularly tended and conditioned. Typically, the older the store, the more likely it will need a makeover. I recommend the parts manager and general manager conduct a thorough store walk at least monthly, viewing the store from a customer’s perspective. Critique your product mix, flooring, lighting, signage and fixtures. Compared these with your nearest leading, world-class retailer. Your store should be comparable.

Competition. If your dealership faces tough competition in the market, you may require frequent store updates. Frequent updates can help you stay ahead of the competition, attract new shoppers and retain existing customers.


Val Byrd is NTP-STAG’s customer merchandising manager. She has worked in the RV aftermarket for the past 20 years and is a leading RV retail expert on store layout/design and aftermarket product display. Previously, she worked in the grocery industry as a retail manager, buyer and promotions manager.

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