Think about how most airports work: Arriving aircraft land at high speed, often requiring well over a mile to slow down enough to exit the runway and taxi to the terminal along taxiways that mingle arriving and departing aircraft from all airlines and destinations. Once at the terminal, airplanes cluster by airline to take on passengers, luggage, and fuel. That done, they taxi back out to the runway and take off.
Each of the departments, aisles, or other divisions within your store are roughly comparable to the airport terminal because customers tend to segregate themselves by what they are shopping for. If you own a hardware store, then someone looking for a faucet washer will probably end up in the plumbing aisle. Of course, the airport analogy only goes so far here because one customer can visit multiple locations in your store.
The areas around your cash wrap and doors are your taxiways where arriving and departing customers mingle on their way in and out of your store. Orderly management goes a long way to ensuring smooth traffic flows in both examples.
Have you ever placed merchandise, signs, or other items near your door hoping to boost your sales? If so, then youre not alone. Look around whenever you walk into any store and see how many businesses are doing the exact same thing. I once even saw an author doing a book signing from a table set up right next to the main entrance. This is an extremely commonsense thing to do. After all, if its near the front of your store, then everyone will see it, right?
The area extending from roughly three feet outside your door to almost ten feet inside your shop is the runway. Arriving customers will walk in, slow down, and then begin absorbing their surroundings. Departing customers will adjust their bags, make sure their wallets are secure, and accelerate towards the door. Any pilot will tell you that takeoffs and landings are the most dangerous phases of any flight. As such, scenery is the last thing on that pilots mind when she or he is on or near a runway.
Same with your customers. If youre wondering why your front-of-store promotions havent turned out the way you wanted them to, heres your answer. Your stores entrances and exits are great for getting people in and out. They are not great at driving sales. Fear not, because proper use of these areas can make then anything but wasted space.
Your stores runway area is your first chance to direct incoming people wherever youd like them to go. At many supermarkets, this more often than not translates into the produce/deli and beverage sections. This is not coincidence. Some researcher discovered that people needing to get in and out of supermarkets quickly tend to want deli and beverage items. What do your customers tend to grab when theyre in a hurry and how can you arrange your merchandize to suit those needs?
While youre at it, how can you arrange your runway area to funnel people into those areas? Im not saying your runway area should resemble a chute that forces people in a certain direction. I am saying that your runway area is your one best chance to guide people wherever in your store you want them to go.
Above all, resist the urge to clutter up the runway area. The last thing you want is people bunching up near the door and creating a traffic jam that will keep the rest of your store unprofitably empty.
There is a fourth area around most airports that I have yet to mention: the many beacons and lights that guide planes to and from the runway. Window displays are the retail equivalent. I'll talk about them in my next article.