Creating Sales Through Killer Displays
Written by
Biff Ulm

My grandfather was my first business mentor.  He owned a small, local grocery store.  He used to always say, "You can't sell from an empty cart." I remember him explaining this concept to me at a young age.

Close your eyes. Imaging two large apple bins right next to each other.  One is filled full with apples.  It is packed so perfect and high that not one more apple could fit without them all tumbling down.  The bin next to it has the same apples but only three are in the entire bin.  You can pick one perfect apple.  Which bin do you pick from?

If you are like me and 95% of the public, you would pick from the full bin.  Why? There is a lot of small bits of human psychology that are extremely important in selling in retail.

A full bin says the product is fresh.  It is a good seller because there are so many on display.  The store cares for their merchandise.  I have lots to choose from.  An empty bin say the direct opposite and no matter what the retailer does those last apples will sit and rot until they are replenished. It doesn't matter if you are selling baked goods, sporting goods, candles, mugs or magnets, the you can't sell from an empty cart rule applies.

I have seen the can't cell from an empty cart rule play out over and over.  This holiday season in my wife's and my retail store the book Wonky Donkey was a monster seller.  We were ordering it by the 100s and selling dozens of copies a day.  We made a beautiful display with about two dozen copies and some stuffed animal donkeys to go with it.  (We will chat more about cross merchandising later, because the stuffed animal donkeys were an equal hit.)  About a week before Christmas, we got down to a single copy.  It sat there for days and days until someone finally bought it.

The second part of the can't sell from an empty cart rule works like this.  You need to make a statement with some products in order for them to sell.  I just about made the biggest mistake with one of our biggest volume sellers a few years back.  Swedish Dishcloths were another phenomenon in our store for a couple years ago before they flooded the market.  They are this awesome cellulose based dishcloth that are used in Scandinavian countries. They are machine washable, leave surfaces streak free, never get that sour dishrag smell and 100% compostable when they wear out.

We just about gave up on them before they ever started selling.  I first found Swedish Dishcloths at a temporary market before they were everywhere.  I brought in six designs to test them out.  We sold a few but nothing to get super excited about.  My store managers wanted to clearance them because their performance was lack luster even after moving the display a couple times.  In the meantime, my wife and I were using them in our home and loved them.  I doubled down.  (Actually, I quadrupled down.) I brought in 24 designs total.

We made a big display.  Customers couldn't miss them!  They immediately started asking what are these?  It opened up a conversation.  They would buy one.  Next thing you know they were coming back buying five, eight, ten or more at a time. We sold almost 8,000 pieces that first year.

With some items we need to make a statement or don't sell them at all!

I keep detailed records of what is selling best at any point in time.  Here at MN Nice Enough, our premium decals are huge right now.  Stores that have a display with 16 or more designs of our stickers sell 12-20x the number of individual stickers than stores that simply pick a half dozen designs they like.  It is hard to argue with numbers like that!

As a retail buyer myself for the majority of my career, I know how much work and money is in play. How do I help minimize that risk here at MN Nice Enough? First, I watch trends like a hawk. We sell the best and leave the rest. If a design starts slowing, we move on. Second, I am constantly innovating. If you aren't moving forward in retail you are following behind. Last but not least, if you purchase a design or style that simply isn't selling, I would be happy to trade it out for something that is. Simply contact me within 30 days of receiving your order, and I will help you make the swap.

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(Yes, that is his real name! His parents were hippies, and well.... Here he is.)
Biff is the founder of MN NICE ENOUGH. He is the least hirable person on the planet. After signing his first business loan at the age of 16 for $4,000, he has only worked for one company in his 44 years on our happy blue sphere. He accredits his success to unapologetic differentiation and embracing one's genuine, quirky self.
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