8 Questions We Ask Dealers Before Starting a Retail Design Project

When you look at a typical retail chain, you’ll notice something: all of their stores look the same. All McDonald’s restaurants look the same, all Starbucks look the same, and all Apple stores pretty much look the same. And, for the most part, they all sell one brand—their own.

Independent dealers, on the other hand, typically sell a mix of brands and products. Every store’s product mix is different, and their store design should reflect that. That’s our job at Miller Wittman: designing unique spaces for our clients that reflect who they are and the brands they sell.

Before we start a new store design, we first need to gather some information from a client about their business. The following are eight of the questions we ask our clients that help us determine the direction of their retail design project.

1. Who are your customers? What demographics do you serve?

A dealer’s customer demographics can vary widely depending on what brands and products they sell, where they’re located, and the customers they serve.

Here’s an example: Let’s say a dealer primarily sells UTVs (utility vehicles). How a UTV is used will be totally different on northern Minnesota trails vs on a farm vs on a construction site vs out on the sand dunes in Moab. So before we dig into a store’s design we have to understand what demographics they serve.

Getting to know who your customers are helps us better position the customer journey.

2. What brands (both globally and locally) do you compete with?

It’s also helpful to have a basic understanding of a dealer’s competition both globally and at the local level. What brands are you competing with? What local dealers are you up against?

This information is vital. If you’re competing against someone down the street who has a 10,000 sq ft well defined showroom, and you’re in a 1,500 sq ft outdated showroom, that’s a problem! You won’t be there very long if you don’t up the ante a little bit. Knowing who you’re up against helps us determine what areas need improvement so you can remain a strong competitor in the market.

Your competition can extend beyond your category, so it’s important to understand how and where your customers spend their hard earned dollars.

3. What is the average time a customer stays in your store?

If you’ve been around for a while, you understand why this question is important—especially if you’ve gone through a store redesign before.

The longer someone stays in your store, the more apt they are to buy something. This concept is true for any type of store in any market, from motorsports showrooms to department stores. If a customer stays in your store for an hour, they’re more likely to buy than if they only stick around for 10 minutes.

So if you can create reasons for a customer to stay in the store, you’ll be much more likely to sell them something.

For example, selling brand accessories and clothing lines gives customers more opportunities to shop. An added bonus: these products tend to have great margins (and if you don’t sell them, you can bet your competitor will!).

4. What stores within your industry or adjacency do you enjoy shopping at or aspire to look like?

This question helps give dealers an understanding of why they appreciate the spaces they like to shop in. This helps us determine what elements to bring into their store when we do their design.

An example of a well-done shopping experience is a grocery store (yes, really!). Quality grocery stores in this day and age have literally tens of thousands of SKUs. When you think about it, that space should be utter chaos!

But when you navigate that space, their category management is flawless. You see all the sales, you get all the silent sellers, and for the most part you don’t even know you’re experiencing it until you step back and go, “ok, I got through the produce, bakery, dairy, and frozen sections, and I knew where I was going every step of the way.” As customers, we’re not always aware we’re experiencing that kind of top-notch category management until we step back and consider it (or visit a store that doesn’t have it!).

When we design your space, we want to make sure your customers have the same kind of experience you enjoy at your favorite stores.

5. [If the project is a ground up] What are the opportunities for growth, better location, larger space, etc.?

Building something new is painful. And here’s why:

If you’re doing a ground-up project (i.e., constructing a new building), that means you’re coming from something. And most likely your current store is smaller or in a worse location than your new build will be. After all, you don’t typically build something new without hoping it’s better than what you have.

But beneath that guise, there’s this concept of “I’ve been doing things a certain way for 20 years. My salespeople have always been in this position on the showroom floors, my service department and parts guy were the same guy,” and so on. So when you create something bigger or better, the way you operate your business is most likely going to have to change…which is painful.

And all too often, dealers don’t recognize this until we really dig into the design process.

When we meet with a dealer to discuss their project, we seek to get an understanding of how they do business. Then we try to help them understand what might look different in their bigger space or new location and where they’ll need to make adjustments to their process and do business differently.

6. What is your unit add-on sale process at retail?

This gets into up-selling. How do you sell a motorcycle and then encourage the customer to upgrade to chrome, get a different level leather seat, etc? All of these toys and tools have the opportunity to up-sell…even lawnmowers have upgrades and cross selling opportunities.

Sometimes this step involves training, and sometimes it’s about adding visual aids, computer screens, or a fully guided experience to the space to show the customer their options and encourage upgrades.

For example, one recent design we worked on included a 42-inch touch/swipe screen customers could use to customize and accessorize the product. They could rotate it to view it at all angles, see upgrade options, and check the inventory of what’s available at their local dealership. An interactive digital display like this is one interesting way to do add-on sales.

If a client already has a pretty good add-on sale process in place, we’ll also discuss their average add-on sale per unit and ways to refine that process and increase their add-on sales.

7. What percentage of your sales are parts and accessories? Are you at your potential?

Ultimately, as a dealership, you’re hopeful that you’re not only the place people buy the equipment or machine, but the place they come to in the future for all the extras: accessories, parts, add-ons, gear, etc. If you don’t do a good job merchandising those things, people will just buy them online or from a competitor, or skip them entirely.

But if you create an immersive world people can enjoy, with a customer lounge that has coffee, snacks, and so on, you’re going to keep them there…and they’ll be more likely to buy the parts and accessories they need from you. We’ve even seen dealers hosting live music events, dealer group meetings, and family BBQs!

We experienced an amazing example of this concept at one dealership we visited. They built a full-on diner within the dealership. It was fantastic…and packed! They’ve created a whole culture where people just come to hang out, eat, and ultimately buy the items they need.

They built a world for their customers to exist in that centers around their product.

While not every dealership will go this far with their customer experience, having an area that keeps customers engaged and makes them want to spend time there will help sell the parts, accessories, and other items that go alongside your main product.

8. Describe your typical workflow

This gets into inter-departmental communication:

  • What is and isn’t working? For example, how do your sales and service departments interact with your parts department?

  • How do customers drop off and check in for service? Is it separate from where your whole goods receiving and UPS receiving is?

  • How does your sales team work with customers?

…and so on.

It’s important for us to collect this information on how a dealer works, because every dealer is different. For example: In a smaller dealership, the parts manager and service manager could be the same person; whereas a bigger store might have multiple parts counters, multiple service bays, and dedicated managers for each.

Next Steps: Getting Started on a Retail Design Project

Once we gather this information from a client, the real fun begins: designing their space. Typically, because these are such big moves, we like to take dealers through a series of baby steps. That way, everyone understands what’s needed and we have buy-in every step of the way. Here are the general steps we take in a store design project:

☑️ Identify the three major areas. First, we have to connect with the architect or general contractor to figure out the size of the building. Then, we look at it from the top down and cut it into three major parts: showroom, service, and offices/parts/customer common areas.

Cutting the space into three pieces sounds easier than it really is, because you have to consider details like where the driveways come in, parking, where the access points are, exterior product display areas, sightlines, and so on.

  • Identify the smaller, individual areas. Then we lay out the individual spaces within the larger areas. We map out the parts space that’s needed, the sales offices, etc. This helps us determine how much space is needed for each area and how to fit it all in effectively.

  • Draw in the walls. Then we actually get into drawing in the walls to separate and delineate the different spaces.

  • Design the showroom.Finally, we get to the most exciting part for clients: determining what we’re doing in the showroom.

This is just an overview of the long list of things we go through to help customize a store design for our clients that reflects who they are and the customers they serve. Every dealer is unique, which is what makes each retail design project so fun and rewarding!

If you’re planning a store refresh or redesign, the Miller Wittman team would love to be a part of it. Contact us at smiller@millerwittman.com or 612 865-5864 to discuss your needs and learn how we can help you create spaces that draw in customers and keep them coming back.