Mark My Words—August, 2017

By Mark Lipton,

  Filed under: Departments, Mark My Words


Contributing Writer

Big Feats With Small Footprints

There have been lots of changes in the Lipton house lately. For starters, my girlfriend became my fiancée and moved in with me and my daughter. Before the move-in, my daughter and I had often joked, “we’ve known her five years and never seen her in the same outfit twice!” As we stood at the door and watched the line of movers and boxes marching in, it was no joke! We began to understand how such a feat was possible…and then came the shoes! When the shoes came in, we stood stunned at the front door as we made a bet on how many pairs there were in total. We never bothered to count them but now we call my fiancée Imelda Marcos (if you’re under 40, you may have to Google her to get that joke). It was a good day to bet the over!

At the same time, my fiancée was moving in, my daughter was moving out! It makes a funnier story to stop right there, but we had enough drama with both the moves so I don’t need to make it worse. This move was just a trip back to Ohio State for sophomore year. Her boxes and suitcases were everywhere for about two weeks. Just going from my office to the den to watch a Yankee game became a nightly adventure: my own episode of American Ninja Warrior (without the water or nettings to soften the landing if I fell). I am still having nightmares about boxes that appear out of nowhere.

All this thinking about boxes and use of space got me thinking about my work in my own stores. Being an independent paint retailer is often about managing space. Many of you reading this now are in parts of the country where space is not a huge issue, but in New York and other big cities where there are lots of independent paint retailers, space is tight!

My main store is about 2,200 square feet and based on its volume and what I know of other dealers our size it should be closer to 4,000 square feet. I think it would be challenging in places like New York, Los Angeles, Boston and other high rent large metropolitan areas to find a business model where an independent retailer could be successful selling paint yet have a large physical footprint—and the associated high rent. To be successful, we need smaller spaces and we need to organize them more efficiently.

Store layout is more than just about how your store looks: it’s about traffic flow and efficiency as well. Even dealers with larger footprints should spend time on making sure that their layout supports the overall goal of making a pleasant shopping environment while also a creating a productive working environment for your staff. Keeping the tinting bases near the tint machines, a counter conveniently located for customers, and a comfortable flow of foot traffic for customers as they move from the chip racks to the counters are just some of the characteristics of a good store layout.

For us, due to our stores’ (lack of) physical size, we have some limitations. But even in small footprint stores, the basic rules still apply: I try to lay out my stores so that there are brushes and rollers on display right near you when you are chatting with the employee making your paint; we keep like items together for customer convenience (rollers with the brushes, tapes with the drop clothes etc.), we put color center displays in uncluttered areas so they can best serve their purposes, and we try to keep the paths between the color displays and counters uncluttered and easy to navigate.

Small sales floors or small stores create challenges beyond just how our stores look. If your stores are not laid out well, you may need more staff to work them than your volume would otherwise dictate. “Sales per employee” is an important indicator of your success or failure and your store layout can drive this…inefficient layouts require more staffing!

So if your customers and employees have to move like contestants on America’s Ninja Warriors just to get around your stores, it may be time to look at your layout and change your store from an obstacle course back to a pleasant shopping and working environment.

Mark Lipton is the 4th generation owner of Tremont Paint in New York City as well as a consultant to the coatings industry.