DESIGN TWEAKS CAN BE HIT OR MISS

In their quest to differentiate the center aisles, retailers have been eagerly plopping in new fixtures and signs. In the rush to dress up their stores, though, some are making changes that fall afoul of the design police. Here are some rules:- Keep a total-store perspective. The nicest signs, colors and fixtures have the opposite of their intended effect if they jar with the rest of the store flow

In their quest to differentiate the center aisles, retailers have been eagerly plopping in new fixtures and signs. In the rush to dress up their stores, though, some are making changes that fall afoul of the design police. Here are some rules:

- Keep a total-store perspective. The nicest signs, colors and fixtures have the opposite of their intended effect if they jar with the rest of the store flow and color scheme.

Bill Carlson, vice president of sales for Borgen Systems, Des Moines, Iowa, said he's seen retailers grow wine sales as much as 30% when they created a lush display of high-end wine, using a Borgen refrigerated case.

When he came across one of his company's tall, black, well-spotlighted cases used as an endcap, surrounded by squat ones, though, it just looked out of whack -- "like a Frankenstein, actually," he said.

"You throw that in the middle of a central store without consideration of how it looks with other items -- it can look like a mess," Carlson said. "People tend to overlook that, and it looks like a garage sale. When people are spending money on fixtures, it's a bigger expenditure, and they have to put some thought into it."

- Consider store image. Carlson recalled visiting a Chicago store of a Midwestern supermarket chain that was decorated California-style. The attempt at "Northern California cool," recalled Carlson, a Chi-town native, "just didn't look right."

- Match the fixture to the merchandise. John Clontz, marketing and e-business director for Madix, Terrell, Texas, said he's been getting "a lot of crazy requests" from retailers who want to use Madix's new lighted shelves for everything, even wine, without considering that exposure to light can damage wine.

David Blaich, director of specialty foods for Clemens Family Markets, Kulpsville, Pa., has seen convex shelving in some stores that seems like it's going to break under the weight of the products. "You have to keep in mind the ... integrity of the shelf," he said.

James Emmett, owner of Magnolia River Manufacturing, Greeley, Colo., warned against letting fixtures take over by showing "too much wood, not enough product." Designed right, a shelf will hold many items without sacrificing facings. "We always try and keep in mind they are selling groceries," he said. "They aren't selling the shelving."

- Follow though. In the end, a shelf is only a shelf. "The shelving is kind of a sign to the customer that we care about you, but that absolutely has to be followed up with customer service," Emmett said. "You've got to do more than just shelving."