Creating Sales Through Killer Displays
Written by
Biff Ulm

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

Close your eyes. Imaging two large bins right next to each other.  One is filled full with apples.  It is filled so full and high that not one more apple could fit without them all tumbling down.  The one next to it has the same apples but only three are in the 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 at retail.

A full bin says to people 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.  The empty bin say the direct opposite and no matter what the retailer does will sit until they rot or are replenished. It doesn't matter if you are selling baked goods, sporting goods, candles, mugs or magnets this rule applies.

I have seen the Can't Sell from an Empty Cary 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 until someone bought it.

The second part of the Can't Sell from an Empty Cart rule comes 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 this a few years back.  Swedish Dishcloths were another phenomenon in our store for a couple years before they flooded the market.  They are this awesome cellulose based dishcloth that are used in Scandinavian countries that 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 we ever started selling them.  I found them at a temporary market before they were everywhere.  I brought in six designs to test them out.  We sold a few but nothing to write home about.  My store managers wanted to clearance them.  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 and 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 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 18+ designs of our stickers sell 15-20x the number of individual stickers than stores that pick a half dozen designs they like.  It is hard to argue with numbers like that!

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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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