Squirrel Spotting: Let Your Product Breathe

IndependentsSep 11, 2017

Squirrel Spotting: Let Your Product Breathe

Peter Smith recently went on a trip with his 16-year-old son. Here’s what it taught him about how young people shop.

A display case inside Alexander Fine Jewelers in Fort Gratiot, Michigan is an example of what Peter Smith talks about in his latest column: the importance of letting jewelry “breathe” instead of overwhelming the showcases--and the customers--with product.

I took one of my sons to Las Vegas for a few days in July. Why, you might ask, would anyone take a 16-year-old boy to Vegas at all, especially at a time of year when the weather averages about 114 degrees a day?

Peter Smith has more than 30 years of experience building wholesale and retail sales teams. He currently is president of Vibhor Gems.The short version is that everyone else in the family had commitments at various camps around the country and I had long wanted to take him to see the Cirque du Soleil show LOVE, built around the story of The Beatles. I have seen it many times and it remains one of my favorite shows of all time.

So off we went; Killian, excited about seeing Vegas for the first time--unless, that is, you count the movie “The Hangover”--and me, wondering what I was thinking going back to Vegas just one month after JCK.

We went to see a different show each night, including the highly recommended, and free, lighting and sound demonstration at the LOVE Theatre at The Mirage.

We took the tour of the Zappos headquarters and visited the site of the World Famous Gold & Silver Pawn Shop from the TV show “Pawn Stars.” All of this, while marveling at what it’s like to experience 114 degree temperatures.

We also ate at restaurants my son had never previously experienced (he loved Giordano’s deep-dish pizza!) and, of course, we shopped. We went to Caesars and the Venetian shops, Fashion Show Mall and the outlet stores. And, as we did so, I couldn’t help but conduct my own informal observation about the shopping habits and likes/dislikes of a 16-year-old boy.

“Removing SKUs and creating negative space will result in a more compelling and interesting visual, and make it much easier for your customers to engage.”   
In watching Killian, one of my own instincts about how younger people shop was borne out completely. I noticed, time and again, that he was much more interested in stores where less was more. Whether it was shoes, clothes or even the couple of jewelry stores we visited, he seemed much more likely to take a few moments to look at products when they were displayed with some “breathing room” rather than cases, racks and shelves stacked with stuff.

His attitude and body language seemed
to recoil at the prospect of having to work too hard to engage with products that were not tastefully displayed or easily understood.

When I asked him about what kinds of stores he preferred, he described, without really knowing what they were called, shop-in-shops. He was drawn to ease of experience and visual stimulants, not to quantity and generics.  

There are two factors in play when we merchandise stores.

The first is the paradox of choice; the idea that while we crave options, the more we must choose from, the greater the likelihood that we won’t make any choice at all. To that end, the more products you have in your cases, the less the customer sees and the more difficult it is to make a buying decision.

The second factor is that we tend to make buying choices driven more by emotions than logic.

B. Joseph Pine II and James H. Gilmore wrote in “The Experience Economy” that: “The sensory stimulants that accompany an experience should support and enhance its theme. The more effectively an experience engages the senses, the more memorable it will be.” Jamming cases with “me-too” products just doesn’t get it done.

Even if you are overstocked, suppress the temptation to display everything you own in your cases.

Removing SKUs and creating negative space will result in a more compelling and interesting visual, and make it much easier for your customers to engage.  

And, speaking of compelling visuals, if you haven’t already done so, when you next find yourself in Las Vegas, check out Cirque du Soleil’s LOVE.

Peter Smith is president of Vibhor, a public speaker and author of “Sell Something” and “Hiring Squirrels.” He spent 30 years building sales teams in retail and wholesale and he can be contacted at,, or on LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter.
Peter Smithis president of Memoire and Hearts On Fire, and author of three books, “Hiring Squirrels,” “Sell Something,” and “The Sales Minute.”

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