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Spring 2000 Trendspotting

I get several calls a month from friends and associates in the specialty retail field, and the question is always the same: “Have you seen any new products?” While new products and new ideas are certainly the lifeblood of this industry, we also need to look at new ways to display those products, and use the resources and equipment we have.

Two interesting new display directions emerged in the Visual Victories 2000 competition. Both demonstrate a creative, new approach to using the standard mall-owned RMU.

Joined venture

The first trend was spotted in The Mall of America: Two RMUs were joined together with roof-mounted custom signs to create the look of a specialized kiosk. This approach offers advantages to both the retailer and the mall. For the retailer, it creates more display space and an opportunity, through signage, to generate a much stronger business/brand identity. The image-building power of custom signs vs. the generic cart-name sign gives the business a real presence. The proximity of the two units and the sense of enclosure the sign provides give the retailer inside and outside space for customers to move through as they shop. The need and ability to explore and walk into the unit reduces their speed—a key benefit, as additional shopping time equates to more multiple purchases and a higher average sale.

From the mall’s point of view, this dual-RMU set-up allows the two units to be placed closer together than would otherwise be acceptable for two unrelated businesses. By grouping units this way, the total number of RMUs may stay the same, even if radius restrictions limit the floor space that can be used for RMUs. This new way to use existing equipment looks like a win-win development we may see spreading to other centers.

Window dressing

The second trend reveals innovative use of space. In the past, most of the merchandise on an individual cart or RMU was displayed in the area above the deck, and the shelves surrounding the base of the unit were allocated to backstock or bulky items. The new design trend, spotted at Rivertown Crossing, makes the area above the deck function as a store window. By means of props and great visual merchandising, the retailer uses this space for maximum customer attraction. The deck and the shelves surrounding the base of the cart then become the major shopping surfaces stocked with the entire range of merchandise.

This display technique creates a more sophisticated and upscale presentation. The result is an RMU that resembles a department store’s cosmetic or jewelry counter. The cart’s appearance is more pleasing to shopping centers’ upper management and in-line permanent retailers alike. This technique may be readily adopted by RMU retailers with smaller products, such as candles and jewelry; but it requires careful space management to display bulkier products.

As this trend emerges, it will create the need for greater professional visual merchandising assistance, and more frequent display changes. Themed seasonal installations tied to marketing programs will increase the professionalism of the presentations. If the developer’s specialty-retail program is committed to this direction, providing visual merchandising assistance, adding storage on site, and modifying existing equipment may facilitate its adoption by more retailers.

Some of the newer RMU designs, such as the oval units in the Taubman centers, provide beautiful cases forming the base of the RMU. These cases offer flexible display options such as removable glass doors, positionable glass shelving, and concealed storage. These sophisticated yet user-friendly units may encourage more retailers to test the “store window” display format.

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