From eye-catching displays to flexible shelving, retail fixtures are bigger, better and more versatile than ever

Get up and take a long, hard look at your showroom. What do you see? Fading point-of-purchase posters and worn, dinged shelves?

Maybe it’s time for an upgrade.

Fortunately, multiple styles and materials are available, thanks to manufacturers’ improvements to quality and, in some cases, even price reductions.

This is a good thing because fixtures need to be more than just product holders.

“Some people tell me that a local grocery store went out of business and how they went in there and bought all of the shelving,” says Deirdre Gallagher, assistant marketing manager at BioLab Inc., based in Lawrence, Ga. “But then you just look like you bought fixtures from a grocery store that went out of business. You’re not putting a lot of value on what you’re selling.”

For an industry that’s extremely busy on weekends and in summertime, creative and well-designed fixtures also can conveniently act as silent sales tools. New trends in POP displays, modular shelving and innovative materials make it easier than ever.

Signs that POP

Over the years, point-of-purchase displays have been getting bigger and better as more people utilize them to save valuable floor space.

Many fixture companies offer shelf graphics — including traditional window, floor clings and ceiling banners — that can be placed overhead or next to the product.

“Anything that moves gets attention,” says Craig Childress, COO of Envirosell, a New York consulting firm that studies retail and human behavior.

For John Mosher’s line of automatic pool cleaners, he uses a POP display from the manufacturer. It’s an aquarium with the cleaner climbing around the interior as if it were working on the floor of a pool. The owner of Central Iowa Pools & Spas in Des Moines reports that the demo has helped him successfully sell more units.

As consumers have grown more tech-savvy, they’ve also driven the fixture industry to go electronic. Nowadays, many spa dealers install flat-screen or plasma TVs in their stores, or use light boxes to mark their product category sections or aisles.

“A lot of [retailers] want something large, but still very manageable,” says Megan O’Shaughnessy, a member of the research and development team at Bowman Displays Digital Imaging Inc. in Munster, Ind.

“What we did was take an interlocking system and multiple video-playing light boxes, so you can hook [all the screens] together, making it one huge image. And you can take it all apart and move it to the other side of the store by yourself in one hour,” she adds.

A retailer can change out a graphic in approximately five minutes, a plus for those with seasonal promotions. And the Duratran film currently used inside most high-end light boxes not only eliminates problems of fading, but also displays colors more vividly.

Besides the tech trend, regular signage and banners have undergone innovation, too.

BioGuard is changing the look of some of its graphics. “In the past few years, we’ve purposely not put people in the pictures because we want customers to envision themselves in the photo, not some strangers —and because we’ve heard from consumers and dealers that they sometimes feel the pools in ads are unattainable,” Gallagher says.

So the manufacturer has taken a more conceptual approach. Last year, while promoting its silk products, BioGuard created an undulating display that looked like the luxurious fabric. “Instead of pool water, we did a lot of things to get the concept of silk across,” Gallagher says.

This year, the company is designing displays to look like historical signs, such as the ones seen on Route 66. But instead of a famous landmark, say, these will evoke great memories by the pool. For example, “It would say ‘so-and-so’s famous cannonball dive happened here,’” she explains. Even the window clings would depict simple, five-word statements such as “Perfect chemistry achieved here.”

Modular shelving

Due to the seasonality of the pool and spa business, flexibility and customization are some of the most important benefits of new fixtures.

For example, BioGuard recently released its smaller cross-selling units. Instead of acting as full-blown fixtures, each is 5-by-4-feet and features a large graphic header and two small bottom wire grid shelves.

“The idea is, you’re placing items from different areas of your store, so if somebody doesn’t go into another part of the store, you already have the item there to tease them,” says Sandy Bradbury, co-owner of the

Waterin’ Hole Inc. in Columbus, Ohio.

The graphics can be switched out depending on the season. In summer, consumers see a picture of a colorful beach ball. In autumn, the display features a couple relaxing in a hot tub at night. “Underneath the picture, you may have candles or fragrances, aromatherapy products, whatever you’re pushing at that

moment,” Bradbury notes.

Nate Brickner, who invested in wire grid gondolas for his 3,000-square-foot showroom, explains why: “We usually bring in more hot tubs in the fall. These are easier to move [than the old shelving].”

Some of the shelving units come in smaller 4-foot-high sections. This allows the retailer to connect them to form one big unit, as well as adjust the sides to sit flush against a wall if needed.

Brickner, who owns Superior Pools, LLC, in Westchester, Ohio, likes to use the shelves to display spa accessories such as steps, umbrellas or cover lifts. Or when the store brings in a new product such as a toy for Fourth of July, he can shift the fixtures to place the highlighted item in the most optimal part of the showroom.

“It makes it nice when you can change the look of your store so [return customers] aren’t seeing the same old things,” Brickner says.

But there’s only so much floor space, which is why hanging wall units have improved. Some retailers still use traditional pegboard units, but others have switched to slatwall. “It’s much easier to work with because you can slide your hooks one way or the other. More room to display,” Mosher says.

His store carries a line of floating baby swimwear. Rather than laying them flat on a shelf, he improvises and hangs them on the slatwall in the style of displays at children’s clothing stores.

Still other retailers have opted for wire grid wall shelving. The grids hang from hooks that can be easily removed and put up elsewhere; plus, they’re open patterned. For Mike Lott, owner of Dibs Chemical & Supply Co. Inc. in Gulfport, Miss., that means the bright colors he recently had painted on his walls can show through. “It looks so much better, and you can put more on it,” he says.

Material truths

One of the more interesting current trends in retail fixtures is shape. Most manufacturers are bringing out shelving units with curves. And because stores are mostly filled with right angles — the buildings, rooms, boxes for the products — curved shelving units command attention.

But what should they be made of? One of the most important traits for shelving is strength and durability.

With that in mind, Brickner opted for metal units to avoid the damage done to wooden shelves by the humidity from hot tubs.

Another concern for pool and spa dealers is the likelihood of chemical spills, which could corrode the metal or wood. Sometimes they have to make an aesthetic choice at the expense of durability.

Henry Gruber selected a natural, custom wood display, but he’ll use a special varnish to protect the surface.

“It’s going to be a little more upkeep, but we’ll get a different, softer look,” says the owner of Hanks Hauser in St. Cloud, Minn.

These days, most manufacturers of high-end retail fixtures are powder-coating their shelving units. The high-cost procedure allows the retailers myriad color options, but also ensures that the metal will last even under the worst conditions.

Finally, when arranging fixtures, seek consistency in the showroom.

For example, Kathleen Carlson says her vendors sometimes provide display units to her company, but she’s picky about what she uses.

“It needs to look beautiful and functional, and it cannot be too big a footprint because you can’t give up that much space,” says the senior vice president of sales and marketing at Aqua Quip, a retailer/builder in Renton, Wash.

“There are a lot of different fixtures out there,” says Carlson, whose firm also is a Pool & Spa News Top Builder. “You need to find one that matches the feel you want in your store and stick with it.”