A Retail Design Roadmap For Product Brands

Make your product the star.  RF image via Corbis.com

Make your product the star.
RF image via Corbis.com

It’s all about the product silly

You’ve got a product.

Your team has been working on it for months, maybe years. Focus groups love it. Everything is perfect. You may even be selling it online and sales have been awesome. Retailers are clamoring for it and you are ready to make the jump to physically selling your product in a store.

If your brand is new to retail (e.g. a small company, or just starting out) you may not be sure what to do next. Not surprisingly we highly recommend you speak with a retail design consultancy who will be able to access your situation, provide a recommendation as well as design and other services if necessary. Obviously partnering with you is where they make their money, but an initial conversation shouldn’t cost much, if anything, and it’ll be a huge help. Full disclosure: this is what we do for a living so if you need someone…wink, wink. Seriously though, even if you don’t hire us, these guidelines are fairly universal as far as we’re concerned. We not convinced that going straight to a manufacture is always the best route, as they are primarily interested in making things that you may or may not need, that may or may not be in sync with your product and brand. Ask a lot of questions if you’re just starting out.

“…your product needs to be the star of the show.”

First and foremost, you may be able to simply ship your product into the retailer and they’ll take it from there. This will save you a lot of time and money (and hassle). The primary down side is that you may not control how your product is merchandised.  The retailer will do whatever they please, or whatever you can work out with them. On the plus side they want to sell your product too. Cross your fingers. If this is the case, spend extra time working on your packaging design and packaging graphics. Your product packaging is going to have to do all of the heavy lifting at retail to shout your brand and attract guests who hopefully convert to customers who will buy your product. In fact regardless of the situation at retail, spend time (and money) on your packaging design, especially the graphics. Regardless of whatever else you do, your product needs to be the star of the show. One quick note: make sure you’re branding is in good order too – great packaging and graphic design won’t cover up an incoherent brand message.

Suppose you have a little more leeway – you’ve got the budget, the retailer asks or allows you to provide display or graphics, whatever the case may be. Your brand shouts loud and clear through your exquisitely designed packaging. Now you want to amp up your retail experience. Here are a few ways you can do this.

Graphics / Signage – These will give you the most bang for your buck, and flexibility. Signs generally are inexpensive and require little or no tooling. These are good qualities for agile product brands looking to make an impact at retail. Signs can fit into stock or custom holders. The store may even already have graphic holders in place. The possibilities are endless for size and location: small shell callouts, headers that assist with way finding, aisle signs, overhead…there are a lot of options. Start with attracting and informing guests – put them in the right mindset to buy your product, and go from there. Your retail design consultancy will develop attention-getting graphics that make guests swoon when they catch sight of your product at retail. Art files in hand you can use your favorite printer or a good consultancy can handle the sourcing and project management portion to assure signs are produced to spec, on budget and delivered to each retail door on time.

Temporary Display – These are any displays that are meant to be recycled once your product sells out. Occasionally you may restock these display but not usually. They’re typically made from corrugated board, and designed to last around six months at retail give or take 3-6 months. We really love temp displays for a few reasons. In this day and age they can look really nice, with litho labels and exotic finishes. Or if you want to go the opposite route, direct-printing has gotten so refined that you probably don’t need anything more than that. Retailers are mixed on how well they like temp displays, so work it out with them first. Temp displays can be as simple as a PDQ (pretty “damn” quick) that is simply a box that is shipped, opened up and put on a shelf, to elaborate display environments that showcase your brand. Your design consultancy will be able to leverage their expertise and creativity to develop an awesome solution for your product, and once again help if necessary throughout the process to get both your product and display out to retail.

Permanent Displays – Permanent means that they are meant to last up to seven years or so at retail, give or take a few years. They are often made from wood, plastic or metal and the product is restocked whenever it runs out. Depending on how they are designed, costs can rise quickly because tooling for jigs, fixtures, dies and molds may be involved; costing anywhere from a thousand to tens of thousand of dollars. That being said, a good designer will be review / manage expectations and design to a budget. You need to determine to what extent the display is the star of the show. Too often we’ve seen brands and retailers try to make up for middling product by creating overwrought displays. Have an open conversation with the retail design team that you’ve hired. As I’ve said, we like to have the product and the brand experience be the focus for guests, displays are a means to that end. Another thing to consider is modularity. If you have a family of products or retailers that your product is going into, a modular system can help lower cost and increase flexibility. Once the design phase is complete, your consultancy can either hand you the final specs or help see the entire project through to retail execution.

Ultimately everything needs to work in concert. The above are just three simplified examples….tools designers use to market your product and brand at retail. And really the best way to find out is to talk with a design consultant about your project. It’s like building a house, you can pick a plan out of a book, rely on your general contractor to handle the design and build, or hire an architect. The first two might be okay for your product or brand situation. But if you don’t want to leave things to chance, if your brand is more than a commodity, just as your home is more than just a building, you should consider hiring a retail design consultancy. Like an architect, the consultancy works with you from start to finish to imagine, design and specify a solution that is perfect for your brand, product and retail situation. And they are a valuable voice for your brand throughout the process when dealing with vendors and retailers as well.

“Of all the things you could get for free, why would your brand  gamble with seemingly free design?”

No, design isn’t free. But it is the most important money you will spend and it is a fraction of the cost of your overall retail program. Design decisions influence so much downstream, one hiccup during the design phase can translate into death at retail. If you think you’re getting “free” design, there is no such thing; it’s likely bundled into the price of something else down stream. Your brand isn’t a commodity, it shouldn’t be treated as such; left to chance with the lowest bidder. You know this, after all you designed your product in-house or paid someone to design it. Of all the things you could get for free, why would your brand gamble with seemingly free design?

A retail design consultancy will provide awesome solutions and help guide you throughout the process, eliminating  many of the pitfalls that you would face if you went at it alone.

Does your organization pay for design? Why or why not? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

-Chris Weigand

President, Chris Weigand Design, LLC

Chris Weigand Design, LLC is professional retail design consultancy based in northeast Ohio. We strongly believe that a design consultancy is your best bet for assuring your product is merchandised at retail properly and guests fall in love with your brand. Contact us today to find out how we can help you with expert graphic, display and interior design services. Beyond design, if you need help managing the production of your solutions, we know how to make that happen also. Visit us at www.chrisweiganddesign.com

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