When to Invest in Store Renovations

If you haven’t changed the signs on the wall since the first Bush administration, it might be time to spruce up the store a little.

When to Invest in Store Renovations

The hunting retail store was more like a dusty antique museum. When I entered in search of a box of .30-06 ammunition, I discovered lots of vintage hunting gear in dusty boxes that had been there since the ’60s and early ’70s. Many items had outdated camouflage patterns. Some hunting firearms I noted on the gun racks were now more for collectors than hunters. The older gentleman behind the counter peered across his glasses and directed me to a nearby row of shelves with ammunition. There I found more dust and disorganization. Time had passed this retailer by.

Ask yourself, is your retail business due for a makeover? Could a reorganization or substantial renovation increase sales and customer visit numbers?

Take a quick inventory around you. When were the walls last painted, new racks or display cabinets installed, or the floor plan reorganized? Find any dust? If you have settled into routine ways, with the same old surroundings like they were five or 10 years ago, your customers may have noticed and are now spending more time in updated surroundings — with your competitors. The average home gets remodeled approximately every seven to 10 years. Are you behind in remodeling and sprucing up? Your customers notice when you make changes and upgrades. Some of those customers may wonder what took you so long.


Making the Decision

The decision to reorganize or remodel can be based on many factors. First, look around you, across the street, around the neighborhood, and at your competitors. Have any added fresh paint, new signs or parking upgrades, new racks and shelves inside, and other things that deliver a fresh look? Next, step back inside and give your business, building and surroundings a close and honest look. If things look just like they did five and 1- years ago, it’s probably time to make changes.

Updates can attract more and new customers — and give them notice that you are prepared to better serve them. Timing is also critical when updating. You should not be doing major remodels the months prior to opening days for dove season, big-game rifle seasons, and spring turkey season. Those are times when you should focus more on serving customers, selling hunting-related merchandise, and collecting dollars. So when is a top time to renovate?

“We have always aimed for the middle of summer, which is historically a slow time for our industry,” says Patrick Hayden, owner of Kentucky Gun Company. His business has been through four major renovations in the past two decades. Each has meant more floor space, more product lines, or more reasons for customers to visit.


Set Your Sights on Costs and Timelines

The first thing in successful remodels or renovations is determining what you want to do and how much it will cost. It’s important to get a plan of what you will do, when you want to start and stop, and the hard numbers of what items cost so you can set an accurate budget. It’s very important to get your plans on paper. As a rule, most projects tend to run 10 to 20 % over estimates, so calculate accurately when getting estimates and allocating dollars to projects. Base your budget on a percentage of income the past three years — but forgo the 2020 info, because this year has been everything but normal. Stay focused on the deadline, also, because renovation projects can take on a life of their own if you do not keep them in check.

Another often overlooked item in renovations are necessary local and possibly state permits. You probably do not need a permit to paint, but some neighborhoods do have restrictions and zoning ordinances on exterior colors. If a hammer and nail are involved, you probably do need a building permit.

Next, it’s best to get at least three construction estimates or costs if you will make interior changes or additions. Moving walls, adding doors, upgrading plumbing or lights, building a new section, and other major changes can become expensive — quickly. Ask for a written contract and bid, get a thorough list of materials and ask for references of past customers. If possible, visit a recent remodel job with the contractor to learn how that contractor completes a project and thinks about retail spaces. Call and check references, and visit their locations to better judge results. Renovations are a huge decision, so spend your time and dollars wisely before the hammer swings.

Be honest in determining if the dollars spent will increase customer flow and aid you with selling wares. An easy-but-quick upgrade can be installing energy-saving LED lighting to replace standard incandescent lights. You may have monetary incentives from local governments or utility companies to make these upgrades, so ask and do your research. Your customers will instantly notice this upgrade.

There are businesses that specialize in store redesigns. Ask around or do your research thoroughly before committing. Some of these redesign experts can save you money by offering discounts on lighting, new shelves and up-to-date fixtures. When dealing with any redesign team, be certain they understand your customers are hunters. Note that your employees can also be a good source for input and feedback from customers, so let them know your renovation plans and ask their input.

One final guide on renovations is to avoid the “I can do this myself” mistake. You are a business person and retailer first, not a carpenter, electrician or plumber. Even mundane tasks like painting the interior walls can give the wrong impression to customers if not completed with crisp edges and proper color selection. Leave renovation work to the pros.

Renovations doesn't have to mean modern. Renovations can add that clubhouse effect and old-time gun-room feel.
Renovations doesn't have to mean modern. Renovations can add that clubhouse effect and old-time gun-room feel.

Staying Open

If renovations occur during normal business hours, plan on signs in the parking lot and on the front door and windows indicating that you are OPEN during renovations. Let current customers know a month before renovations begin about what will be happening — and what this will mean for them when the project is finished. Oddly enough, sometimes when renovations and upgrades are underway, some customers driving by incorrectly believe there’s a new business going in at your location.

“Letting customers know that you are expanding is critical,” said Hayden. “They need to know what is happening! By keeping them in the loop, this creates excitement and anticipation.” Remember to leave open parking spaces for customers near the entrance and have service trucks and contractors use rear or side entrances when possible.


The Space You Have

Sometimes expansions are out of the question in the location and building you occupy. A floor plan redesign could be beneficial within your current walls. The great news is that there are several sources for software that can guide you through rearranging shelves, moving counters and better utilizing retail spaces. Along with a new floor plan for shelves and counters, consider new paint, upgraded lights, and new floor coverings. Thorough upgrades can wow customers and have them talking — and word-of-mouth advertising is powerful.

Better use of your current space can be costly but rewarding. The U.S. standard upgrade costs of retail space ranges from $100 to $200 per square foot. If you have a limited budget, consider spending dollars on the entrance and check-out counter areas — where you can wow customers and make them excited about shopping with you. Customer bathrooms are also a place where dollars invested are well spent. With all upgrades and remodels, remember to meet guidelines for disabled shoppers. A minimum distance is that aisles be at least four feet wide so customers can pass one another easily while shopping. If you have wheeled metal carts for customer use, five feet should be the minimum. Remember that as a rule, when customers enter a business, they tend to turn right. This is the prime location in most stores, and displays here can ring the register.

As a rule, cosmetic upgrades are best undertaken every year or couple of years. Major redesigns with a new floor plan and additions, however, should be undertaken every five to seven years. The more you keep things fresh, the more customers like to visit — and spend.

There are things to consider if a floor plan upgrade will be underway. Most stores have grids where there are rows and rows of shelves, and customers can move up and down aisles — like most grocery stores. Loop floor plans permit customers to come in, circle about, and return to the entrance. This is a great pattern for smaller spaces. You can also do a free flow pattern where rows of shelves are opposing. This is a great way to separate hunting gear into areas away from the firearms counter, tactical gear, camping and fishing items if you offer those.

Brick-and-mortar stores have an advantage over online retail because customers can see, feel and experience hunting gear, operate the actions of hunting firearms, and try turkey calls. Plan all renovation projects to increase this customer-and-hunting-gear interaction and you are well on the way to increasing sales.


Build Your Brand

It’s important to keep your brand and company identity in mind as you renovate. Strive to prominently project merchandise and services that set you apart from your competitors. If you are known for selling hunting rifle packages complete with a riflescope and a carrying case, incorporate this product line and all top-selling items or categories into your layout. Making shopping easier for the customer is a win for them — and you.

Remember to work with vendors such as firearms, footwear and treestand manufacturers, and others, to incorporate their displays and hands-on customer-centered aids as you renovate. Get the details and necessary dimensions as you make plans to move shelves and add new displays. Be careful not to crowd customers.

Remodeling and new layouts in the store are a great time to also rework your business plan. This presents a chance to expand deer-hunting gear areas in the fall or turkey decoy and gear displays in the spring. Think about your top 20 hunting gear items and arrange the new floor plan so these items stand out in locations to catch customers’ attention.


The End

Completion of a renovation project is a great time to bring customers inside. Work with the local chamber of commerce and news outlets — especially the ones you advertise with — to cover renovations if they are major, like an addition of indoor shooting lanes or archery ranges for hunters, newly renovated classrooms for hunter education courses, and any addition of square footage. Spread the news on all of your social media channels, too. Becoming the exclusive dealer for a line of hunting footwear, optics, firearms and such may also qualify you for coverage. Check with manufacturers for co-op dollars to help cut costs.

“Do an open house when you are ready to reveal your expansion,” says Hayden. “Make an event out of it. You can buy cheap costume hard hats for your employees for under $1, or you can do a cookout in the parking lot. The possibilities are endless, but make it stick in their minds that you are expanding for them — the customer.”

Renovations done correctly can put more dollars in your cash register. Are you ready to hear hammering or see brushes and cans of paint? Your customers could be waiting.


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