The head of a large store showed me, not long ago, a system which he had devised for protecting his greeting cards against depreciation. The system consists of showing cards in glass cases.

“That scheme,” the merchant boasted, “is saving us three thousand dollars a year in soiled, torn and stolen cards.”

“Yes,” I volunteered, “but isn’t it costing you many times three thousand dollars in lost sales?”

He admitted that probably it was losing the store some business, but I could see that he had no conception of how much the loss actually amounted to.

If this man could appreciate the full truth, he would gladly throw three thousand dollars worth of soiled cards into the furnace every year and regard it as a good investment.

Merchants, in all lines, are rapidly discovering that goods will not sell unless they are displayed, and that they will sell ten times faster if they are shown out in the open, where customers can handle them. Putting merchandise in glass show cases is a big improvement over keeping them in bins or under counters or on inaccessible shelves. But goods behind glass will not sell as freely as when there is no physical barrier between the hand of the shopper and the merchandise.

Obviously some articles are of such value that they have to be shown in glass cases. No doubt it would be inadvisable for a jeweler to adopt the open display plan of exhibiting his wares. Many things are so fragile that They cannot stand indiscriminate landing. Also in selling merchandise, such as six dollar neckties or a two hundred dollar handbag or a ten thousand dollar piece of tapestry, it is not sound selling strategy to make such things too approachable.

But most commodities do not fall under any of the above exclusive classifications. It is possible to display them openly on tables or counters without damaging them or lessening their value in the eyes of customers.

The Origin

IT was the chain store systems, especially the Woolworth and Kresge organizations, that started this “open display” vogue. The chains owe their success very largely to their display methods. They keep their goods in plain sight. Their stores are so arranged that practically all merchandise is within reach. To be sure, a few articles are stolen and some goods are broken or soiled, but the loss that is suffered in this way is insignificant compared to the greater sales that arc achieved by reason of the open displays.

The five and ten cent and variety chains, depend on display almost entirely for their sales. They do very little advertising, except of an institutional character. Their clerks are not permitted to do any selling. All they are allowed to do is to offer to help a patron.

Customers practically wait on themselves in these stores. They usually select the articles they want and hand them to a saleswoman to be wrapped.

It has been found that when people are left to their own volition, in this manner, they will ordinarily buy more than when a sales-woman takes the initiative in the transaction.

AN interesting fact about chain store display methods is that they usually increase the size of a product’s display with the advance of its season. For instance, the F. W. Woolworth Company stores will give Christmas tree ornaments about two feet of counter space early in September. This space is increased gradually until by December 15th it is occupying entire sections. These ornaments, by the way, are fragile and yet the company places them on open counters, where customers can easily poke their fingers through these gaudy baubles. The loss is terrific, but after all it is only a reasonable sales expense which the company gladly pays to achieve a high ornament volume.

Saturation point in display space

The chains have discovered that there is a saturation point in display space.

Increase the size of the space up to a definite point and sales will increase likewise. If space is increased beyond that point, sales will diminish.

There is no such thing as an ideal space for a certain product. It varies in every community. The manager must constantly make experiments.

Much could be written on this point, but suffice it to say that chain stores have been highly efficient in their display methods — so efficient that independent stores in other fields have been feeling the pinch of their competition for years.

Hardware stores, especially, have felt this competition severely. The sales of tools to the householder have dropped off considerably. There are several reasons for this, but one of the principal causes is that people are buying cheap tools from the variety stores.

The chains also do an enormous business in cooking utensils, kitchen ware, cutlery, etc. Most of this business is taken away from the hardware merchant. He has also been losing out to the chains on such miscellaneous goods as curtain rods, picture wire, hooks, screws, casters, drawer pulls and numerous other articles of this type.

A well established misconception

For years it was assumed that the chains were winning out because of their superior buying power and their consequent ability to sell at lower prices. It is true that the chains have some advantage on price, but it is not nearly as great as had been supposed. At least seventy-five percent of the success of the chains can be explained on no other basis than that of good merchandising. And they, themselves, freely admit that their merchandising consists largely of the art of displaying.

OF course, the chains have no monopoly on this art. There is no reason why an independent merchant cannot have as effective displays as any large store organization. Since independent merchants have begun to give some attention to displays, they have found that they can arrange their goods just as attractively as the chains.

The idea of the “open display” has been spreading like wild fire in the hardware trade. Hardware stores from one end of the country to the other have been throwing out their old fixtures and completely remodelling the interior of the stores. Many of them have, at the same time, put in modern store fronts.

So great has been the interest in this matter that hard- ware men have been glad to engage display experts to help them lay out their stores so that the entire stock carried will be on display.

Fixture concerns, too, have recognized this development. They are now offering fixtures that make it possible to have “every item in stock — out where customers see them, price them and buy them.” One of these fixture concerns advertises:

“Take the pictures out of the mail-order catalogue and they won’t do any business. Your display of the original article is more appealing than any picture that may be had.”

From the mouth of an expert

The editor of Good Hardware, in writing on this open display development, said:“The open display idea is almost revolutionizing the hardware store. In a sense the chain and department stores showed the way. For years hardware dealers figured they could not display their merchandise in the open because of pilferage, but that theory has been exploded. Of course there is some pilferage with open display but the loss is more than offset by the increase in sales.

“And then we have learned many things about how to prevent pilferage. By eliminating all high displays, for example, in your store by having everything open so that the customer or sales person can see from one corner of the store to another, by removing obstructions and displays behind which people can hide, theft can be greatly reduced.”

3 Principles of Display Art in Retail Stores

There are three principles being followed in this new displaying art. They have been so well defined by R. A. Ostram, a store arrangement expert, that I am going to quote him.

He says:“First– The interior of the store must be equipped with the type of equipment that will display most effectively the largest possible number of items at the lowest cost per item.

Second– This equipment must be so arranged as to make the store inviting and to pull or urge prospective customers from one display to another, until they have seen all the merchandise carried in the store.

Third– All the merchandise carried in stock must be openly displayed so it can be easily seen and examined, and each item must be plainly priced. This pricing of each item is as important as the merchandise itself.”

ONE of the things that the new equipment does for stores is to save the time of the sales people. It gives them a chance to concentrate the larger articles which require demonstration. Says Mr. Ostram:

“The smaller profit items — the common demand items; will take care of themselves when properly displayed and plainly priced. Store equipment is in reality a merchandising machine, and is to the hardware store what modern high speed machinery is to the factory. In the hands of a capable manager, it will produce the maximum retail profits.”

A major side benefit

Another accomplishment of this newer method of displaying is that it pulls customers to the rear of stores. Not over five percent of the traffic in the old-style hardware store ever got to the rear of the establishment.

Since this “open display” movement got under way years ago, publications in this trade have reported case after case where dealers have greatly increased their sales after adopting this new method of selling. The trade, itself, regards “open display” as the best sales-making idea that has come into the business in years.

“Open display” has also been making headway in other retail lines. Druggists, grocers, book dealers, and dealers in sporting goods are showing their goods where customers can get at them. But the movement in these other fields has not been so well organized as it has been in the hardware business.

The Modern Big Bazaars

PERHAPS it is the grocery trade that is running second in its appreciation of the value of this sales idea. And where the idea has been tried by grocers, the results have been even more startling than they have in the hardware industry. A grocer in Canada reports that a better display of his stock increased his sales 100 per cent in one week of the item displayed.

Grocers, in other parts of the country, report sales increases on specific articles, ranging up to several hundred per cent, as a result of displays.

Department Stores

Strange to say that department stores, except in some departments, have not been strong for open displays. They fear the damage to their stock. Wherever a store tries an open display stunt, however, the results are usually extraordinary.

Enough progress has been made by the “open display” plan of selling to make it pertinent to inquire if this revolutionary method of retailing will have any effect on such established merchandising practices as packaging, trade-marking, etc. If people prefer to buy goods that are out in the open, where they can be handled, would they not also prefer to have the goods unwrapped or unpackaged?

Yes, for the most part they would. Unquestionably packaged merchandise does not sell as fast in “open display” as do unwrapped goods. For this reason, the chains have been in the habit of unwrapping a portion of their display stocks to give patrons a chance to see the actual product they are buying. Does this mean, then, that we aoing back to the days of bulk merchandise and that packaging is to be tossed into the discard?

Not by a long shot. Packaging is here to stay and nothing can dislodge it,

What most stores do, that have open displays, is to leave goods unwrapped in their counter trays and to have the same goods in their packages in the trays near the inside of the counter. When a customer makes a purchase, unless he deliberately selects one of the unwrapped pieces, he is given one of the packages from the inside of the counter. These packages are piled in various parts of the store to give a trade-mark backing to the open displays.

Of course, most articles in the hard- ware field are still unpackaged. The trade-mark is on the goods, themselves, rather than on a package or tag. This probably explains why the “open display’ plan has made greater progress in the hardware trade than in others.

Where the trademark is on the package and it is impossible to put the mark on the article itself, it is a good plan to attach a tag bearing the trademark to the product, if that is at all possible. This is a wise precaution in case the package is removed from the article.

“Open displays” have really done much to demonstrate the strength of trade-marking with the consumer.

The same thing has happened everywhere else when the consumer is given a chance to express his preferences. Invariably buyers will select the better known merchandise. This shows that instead of making trade- marking unnecessary, the “open display” plan of selling makes trade- marks more necessary than ever.

Manufacturers, for the most part, favor this new retail development. They are for it because they feel that if worked out to its logical conclusion, it will greatly increase the sale of their goods.

A few manufacturers are already advertising this display method to the trade.

Some manufacturers, on the other hand, feel that this development cannot help but have a trading-down influence on business. They are of the opinion that it will put all selling emphasis on price instead of on quality or utility.

The other side of the argument, however, is that if the hard- ware merchant were to depend on his high grade tool business, today, he would soon starve to death. Not electing to starve, he has determined to sell other things that he can sell.

That is one reason for open displays, and a good reason it is. Another reason is that hardware merchants, in come-on with retailers in nearly all other fields, are getting most of their business from women. A store that wants women business must cater to women the way they want to be catered to. And since it happens that the chains have been very successful as caterers, there is no reason why the independents can’t use the same methods.