Merchandising Madness: Meeting the challenge of merchandising accessories

Every store has a category that is difficult to merchandise and quite often accessories are the culprit. SNEWS Merchandising Editor Robin Enright explores solutions to the challenge.

Every store has a category that is difficult to merchandise and quite often accessories are the culprit. Socks, water bottles, CO2 cartridges and first aid kits all can present challenges in clean merchandising and clarity of messaging.

This column is the first in a series on merchandising challenges and potential solutions for your retail environment. We’ll be reporting on the methods brands and retailers develop to spur sales and improve the consumer experience.

Accessories all too often are organized in a hodgepodge fashion, scattered throughout a store without a strong primary presence. Considering the enormous add-on potential of accessories, that means sales can take a hit. It’s possible a customer service miss as well if you consider that the average consumer doesn’t necessarily know what he or she is looking for.

There are solutions — and sometimes they are discovered through simple communication between brands and retailers. Just ask Nathan, which recently piloted a partnership with retailers. According to Bridgit Lombard, Penguin’s executive vice president of sales and strategy, three key factors can be attributed to driving this concept to fruition:

1) Development of a Nathan Retail Advisory Board focused on understanding the challenges retailers face and helping them formulate a solution.

2) A relentless curiosity and desire to better understand end-users and retailers.

3) Redefining the accessory category as “essentials.”

“In running specialty, we know that accessories outpace apparel sales, yet the name ‘accessories’ sounds like an afterthought, when in fact they should be ‘essential’ to every sale,” Lombard said.

Check out the results of this collaborative effort and decide for yourself if it was worthwhile:

Emily Davis, co-owner of Fleet Feet Winston-Salem came onboard when Nathan not only showed an interest in investing in the store, but also asked the question, “How can we grow together?” The timing was perfect because Fleet Feet had moved from 2500 to 5300 square feet in 2011 and wanted to invest in fixtures that earned their real estate. Nathan agreed to split the cost of the H-frame fixture that now houses the entire Nathan category and Fleet Feet committed to carrying a larger assortment. “You can’t go half in,” Davis said about the decision to organize the entire Nathan brand on one fixture rather than scattering it throughout the store. The collaboration resulted in sales tripling, with a 285% increase in dollars and 224% in units* in Nathan Sales.

John Palabrica, buyer for Fit Right Northwest’s three stores was trying to figure out how to get accessories off the wall and into the hands of customers. Palabrica knew that the add-on potential of the category was being diluted by its scattered merchandising placement, but floor space was at a premium. Palabrica told Nathan, “Draw me a diagram and send me what you want,” after being approached to be one of the pilot program’s guinea pigs. The result was a slat wall gondola tower devoted to the brand. The smaller footprint and the combined colorfulness of the product draws customer attention and makes merchandising organization easier for staff. Palabrica, who also sits on Nathan’s National Retail Advisory Board, attributes the 34% growth in units sold or 125% YTD* to the team effort.


John Rogers, owner of Maine Running Company kept inventory levels the same, but changed up his product mix in addition to devoting eight feet of wall space to the Nathan story and product line. He credits his willingness to give their suggestions a try to a progressive and proactive approach. The Nathan wall categorized and clarified the accessory product line while creating a strong product presence, allowing the store to communicate the needs and benefits of hydration on a highly visual wall. Finishing touches include category signage that provides education and makes product differentiation clear. This resulted in the hydration category being up by 51% with a 154% increase in dollars and 80%* increase in Nathan units sold.

*Data is based on a 2011/2012 comparison.

Do you have a category that is difficult to merchandise or have you found a solution to an accessory challenge in your environment? Write Robin Enright, SNEWS Merchandising Editor at and see if your story has the stuff for the next feature.

SNEWS Merchandising Editor Robin Enright

is the founder of Merchandising Matters,

which provides merchandising support to brands, retailers and their agencies.

Reach her via email at

with questions, ideas and suggestions.




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