Use the Elephant Strategy to Avoid 4 Retail Looks

A  famous sculptor (some say Michelangelo) when asked how he created such a lifelike elephant from a block of marble, answered that he simply chipped away anything that didn’t resemble an element.

Hundreds (thousands?) of retail merchandising articles and websites are dedicated to telling you how to create the perfect store.

Nothing wrong with that.

However, what’s rarely covered is what you don’t want your shop to be like; what you should remove to reveal the ideal shop.

If your shop resembles any of the below – start chipping!

A maze







Your customers aren’t Dr Livingstone – they can only take so much exploring. Unless you have the staff levels, technology and catalogues that Ikea does, please don’t try to emulate Ikea.

By all means, attempt to draw people further into your shop, but if you hide escape routes and over-manipulate customer movements it will end badly.

If your store is too difficult to navigate, there will be a certain proportion of humanity who may suffer anxiety attacks, who will ‘escape’ without purchasing anything, who will actively advise others from visiting your shop.

Why would you want that?


  • Ensure popular items are easy to find.
  • Ensure the store is well-lit
  • Ensure staff members know exactly where everything is
  • Keep aisles as wide as possible
  • Have a vantage point in your shop where customers can get their bearings.

An art gallery







There are some shops that people are afraid to purchase at. The owners describe them as having ‘minimalistic design’; but visitors call them ‘scary’.

You know the ones – polished concrete everything, a couple of tastefully placed items on a couple of tastefully placed stands in the centre of the shop, and little else.

What happens when people visit? They are afraid to touch anything, they feel conspicuous, oftentimes they assume it’s all out of their price range, and… They leave.

There’s nothing wrong with a lack of clutter, or with tasteful presentation, but you don’t want to ostracize customers.


  • Keep enough products in your shop so customers don’t assume you’re closing down,
  • Remember that every square metre of your shop should provide Return on Investment – are you making enough sales to cover costs?
  • If your store is minimalist, please at least show some warmth in your greeting when a visitor enters.

A storeroom







Have you ever been into one of those shops that the owner thinks it’s ok to create shoe stands from shoe boxes? Or where you stub your toe on unnamed objects pushed under the bottom shelf?

It hardly needs to be said but that’s what your storeroom is for.

Cluttered shops have been described at length in this post, but remember:

  • Clutter is discriminatory and dangerous
  • You will sell less in a cluttered shop.

A showroom for your supplier









It’s an all too familiar scenario for many independent shops – pressure from suppliers leading to overstocking a brand, needing to then reduce prices to sell last season’s stock and eventually losing money.

Your shop is not and should not be a showroom for your supplier’s brand. Don’t stock every item in the collection just because your supplier’s salesperson recommends it. If the brand is well known, chances are you won’t be able to complete with the internet on the pricing anyway, so avoid turning into a showroom for a brand and reducing your customers to making price based decisions.

Instead, if you must stock a well-known brand (and often you must, as a drawcard for visitors)

  • Choose a select few items from the collection that you like, or that you believe will be popular
  • Don’t have such a high mark-up on them
  • Mix in with them lesser known labels that may be less expensive, but that you can afford to mark up more without the same competitive concerns

Above all else, strive to be unique and put your customers’ needs first. That is how you discover the ‘perfect elephant’ under all your marble.

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