Marketing in the Store Fixture Market

Advice on how to get the attention of buyers in the retail store industry and on how to satisfy the customer once you make a sale. October 19, 2014

Question (WOODWEB Member) :
We are in the process of looking at other market segments. For those of you who do or have done store fixture work, how did you break into that market? I know it can be very customer specific. Is there any type of middle man or are you working direct with the company?

Forum Responses
(Business and Management Forum)
From contributor B:
We do a lot of store fixture work. It's high margin and fairly easy. The deadlines can be tough to meet sometimes. Just find yourself a few good clients and you'll be printing money in no time.

From contributor R:
I've gotten my store fixture work by word of mouth, but they were local independent stores. Also consider church work. If you work with the church folks, be prepared for a long decision process with lots of meetings, but if you work for a church restoration company or GC, they have to do all that work.

From contributor L:
We've been doing store fixtures for 25 years. Not so sure about high margins and printing money! Deadlines are a killer with much of it. There is a lot of crappy work done by some companies so decide how you are going to compete. Big chains typically award contracts for one year based on price, controlled by the bean counters. Miss a ship date and you are likely out. Don't expect any up-front money and likely not being paid for 60 days after your invoice.

Advantages: once you are in with a company and don't screw-up you will have a repetitive product that doesn't require a lot of up front office time, design time, programming etc. If you are working for three or four store companies you will sometimes run into the problem of all of them want their stuff at the same time. Fixture work tends to have seasonal highs and lows, often with short lead times. To offset that, some will want you to stock a certain amount of finished product to ship nearly instantly. Planning and coordination are not the hallmark of retailers! Establish good communications with their contractors and don't rely on fixture buyers to keep schedules straight. We often produce just part of a job or all of smaller jobs for larger fixture manufacturers. The disadvantage of that is our name never gets to the final buyer. It's typical in this business to have just a few customers taking most of your capacity. The disadvantage of that is 50% of your sales can instantly disappear when they change suppliers, go bankrupt, get bought out, etc. Always have a plan B!

From Contributor G:
If anything becomes an ATM you can rest assured that there will be plenty of competition in short order. What I have seen in the past few years is that many big fixture manufacturers have gone broke. I don't think there is as much opportunity in fixtures as there once was because of what I call the franchising of America. In other words store chains are now much larger and have taken the mid-size retailers out of the market. The ante in this segment of the market is big in order to be competitive. China has taken some of the market as well.

From the original questioner:
Thanks to all who have responded so far. Let me rephrase the question though. How would you market to get Store Fixture work? I'm assuming there isn't an exchange where you bid on work like commercial projects.

From Contributor G:
The way I did it in the past was telemarketing. Telemarketing no longer works. The trick is to find the right person to talk to. I would try talking to the marketing people or the designers as they are geared towards inflow where as the head of store construction is geared toward outflow (he does not have the time or interest in talking to a salesman). The marketing guys may be interested in a tradeshow exhibit which often leads to store fixtures. Your opportunity will come when a company goes through change (when they get a new head of construction or marketing or are expanding). The trick is to build a full list of prospects and stay in touch with them. My preferred method is through the mail. Some do it through email, if by mail once a month will do the trick. Email from what I hear has to be a minimum of once a week. Then the trick is to get them to actually open the email. Sometimes it will take two years to get work out of a company. As I stated the market has changed towards bigger stores. I would look towards clothing stores as they have a higher turnover. Your marketing will also dictate the machinery you will need and how much you will need to be able to finance. Some stores will want you to inventory their product with no guarantee of them buying it.

From contributor F:
Read display and design ideas, join A.R.E. There are lots of small specialty retailers and magazines focused to selling to them. Single store owners can be like residential, many times the customer has no idea about what is required to open a store or how to market their merchandise. Finding small local chains with multiple outlets would be best for getting started. Go walk around the malls and strip malls, look at the way merchants display product and how the fixtures look. One-off stores will often have architects that make beautiful fixtures, stores sell merchandise and that is what should be the focus, the environment needs to be pleasant and help reflect the retail image but the fixtures shouldn't take the focus, they are part of the process of helping to sell merchandise. If you are going to design a fixture for someone make sure it works for selling product, is durable and easy to use. Store fixtures have a three-five to seven-ten year life in chains. Don't make something that installs to be there forever. Find a retail architect or store design firm and ask if you can bid on there one of a kind stores to start, if you perform at a competitive price on time then you will have an in.

The key to retail is when they open the registers start bringing in cash so delaying the job can cost thousands to millions depending on the ad budget, what sales and catalogs are planned. You don't want to be late and complain about the poor plans, you need to solve the problems and get the doors open. It takes a different attitude to succeed by helping the retailer reach their goal in spite of themselves and their problems.

From contributor S:
If you can get some work from the GC, and have a good referral from the GC that is doing the Tenant Finish such as back room desks, shelves, running trims or whatever they may be able to help you with getting a contact or you could happen to be there during the time the companies' construction managers or designers are there to punch and quickly introduce yourself. They will be on a tight schedule so respect their time and ask to be put on their bid list. The backroom stuff often is not part of the fixture package and is part of the GC bid. It's hard because they probably already have a national account set-up, bugs worked out, a relationship and really aren't looking to add to their work load by starting with someone new.

From contributor L:
Excellent response. Getting a foot in the door at the ground floor of a new chain is probably the riskiest of all. Have extreme caution with new chains. They are overly optimistic to say the least. We've gotten in via the recommendation of GC's. Small local GC's often provide the interior work directly to small chains rather than the chain buying from a manufacturer. You may have to change the way you think of your business. Cash flow! Get a bank line of credit. Establish connections to help in peak seasons. Outsource when it is to your advantage. Pass on some opportunities. You will run up against designers that insist on unstable fixtures or methods that could put you at risk.