Gimme a V!

As a merchant, you know it can be easy to slip into neutral and follow last year’s patterns and processes of product creation, trade show travel, and vendor meetings both domestically and internationally.

But by doing the same thing, you could be slipping your brand into fatigue and, potentially, irrelevancy.

The remedy for that is verve: liveliness, energy and enthusiasm — not just about the products, but for your customers’ real needs. Take some time to study your product offering and ask yourself a few questions about the vitality of your merchandise selection:

  1. Are your products meeting your customers’ intangible needs of more time and less stress?

  2. Are your products enhancing your brand story?

  3. Are your products giving your customers something compelling and worth remarking about to their friends?

Have a “vitality index” conversation with your team

If you find that your vitality index could use a boost, try a few of these ideas to add verve to your merchandise mix:

  1. Focus on components

    What goes on inside your products? Often it’s the little things that make the biggest difference to your customers. Dell’s recent ad campaign for its computers focuses on its hinge: “the cockiest hinge on the market.” Perhaps some of your products have “inside out” stories that need to be told in a bolder way.

  2. Luxe it up!

    Take a lesson from Neiman Marcus and add a bit of “luxe” whimsy. The retailer’s holiday catalog offers a $15,000 crystal chess set and a pair of $60,000 his-and-her life-size sculptures created out of Lego bricks. Perhaps some of your products can be taken up a notch.

  3. Make a metaphor

    Evian recently decorated its water bottles with a lace motif and called it “water in a party dress.” Lands’ End one year put black bathing suits on its front cover and connected this product to the “little black dresses” that every woman needs each season. What metaphorical connections can you make with your products to help your customers perceive them in unique ways?

  4. Creatively name it

    Look at what Ben & Jerry’s did with ice cream flavor names — who can resist Chunky Monkey or Cherry Garcia? L.L. Bean’s product names enhance its brand positioning, from its Casco Bay Windbreaker to its Bean Canteen.

  5. Theme it

    Anthropologie shows its merchandising passion by creatively “theming” its products. Its cold weather fashion collection is arranged by artfully themed outfits called “Fireside” or “Jubilee” or “Sweet Bough.” These themes make shopping easier, faster and more fun.

  6. Pair it up

    What products can you mix and match or combine via functionality in some unusual or practical way? Chef’s catalog sells an eight-cup “Multi Pot” with a strainer lid that does double duty and then some.

  7. Leverage the icons

    L.L. Bean constantly extends its iconic boat tote in numerous ways: by shape, by size, by price point and by fashion trends. Don’t tire of your icons — find a way to re-energize them!

  8. Package it

    Add verve to common products via packaging. Sundance places all its jewelry in signature felt bags, adds a story card and then puts the items in branded jewelry boxes. Packaging adds verve to the gift experience.

  9. Add a little whimsy

    Multichannel retailer Little MissMatched pairs whimsy with function (three socks sold as a “pair,” clothes with detachable short and long sleeves). New Pig, a supplier of industrial products, adds whimsy with its “Kiss a Pig, Hug a Swine” on-hold song.

  10. Stretch your bestsellers

    Sometimes we take our bestsellers for granted. We forget to look “underneath the hood” at what drives their success and brainstorm ways we can maximize that success. That’s where real merchandising vitality can pay deep dividends.

So, go ahead and gimme a V and an E and an R and a V and another E. VERVE. It all adds up to customer-pleasing products. Give it a try.

Andrea Syverson is president of IER Partners, a consulting firm specializing in brand and merchandising transformations.

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