Consumers walking through the product or furniture displays of mass-market retailers such as Costco, Sam’s Club, Target and Walmart make split-second purchase decisions based solely on the sample displayed. There is only one opportunity to catch their attention as they pass. Consequently, the floor sample quality can seriously affect the item’s overall success. It can also influence repeat business for a manufacturer.

Far too often the display samples are assembled incorrectly, broken due to the high amount of abuse from consumers, or made of materials that are not of high enough quality to withstand the amount of wear expected in a retail environment. They are also often displayed in ways that hurt the sales potential of an item that otherwise is properly made and a good value. While some of the factors, like the amount of display space and the location, result from restrictions the retailer imposes others are unfortunate, self-inflicted wounds the manufacturer should have prevented.

Material Quality: Materials are the most critical factor in a manufacturer’s control! A manufacturer needs to know exactly what materials they are using, and how those materials will perform during display and use.

Recently we observed a sample futon in Target stores. It was well displayed on an end-cap in the furniture department and was competitively priced. We reviewed it and did what every other consumer does – we touched the top corner of the back cushion that was easiest to reach. We were disappointed to feel and see how the fabric had pilled in that area.

That futon had been on display less than a month, and in that time the fabric showed how the entire unit would look after real use. While we know that price points are hard to achieve, and manufacturers need to use low cost materials, in this case, the low-quality fabric used undoubtedly hurt sales of the item. It also reflected badly on the manufacturer, making it less likely for a repurchase next year. Absorbing a few pennies more per product would have been a smart long-term sales investment for this manufacturer.

Intuitive Assembly: In stores, we often see chair arms assembled backwards or desk drawers detached on one side. It is not the primary responsibility of retail employees to assemble furniture.  Because they are always pressed for time, they cannot pay full attention to detail or even read assembly instructions.

As a manufacturer, you must keep it simple! Assembly of the floor displays needs to be as intuitive as possible. Manufacturers need to take extra care when designing furniture to eliminate potential pitfalls that assemblers make. Something as simple as making different mounting screw patterns for the right and left side so parts cannot be installed backwards can prevent problems with little to no cost to the manufacturer. It can eliminate complaints from consumers as well.

Design For All Angles: Mass-market retailers do not always display furniture samples directly on the floor. Chairs might be bolted to an upper platform and dining tables are sometimes placed so high only the underside shows.

It is imperative to successful current and future sales that you get into the store and take the time to understand specifically how your product will be displayed before shipping a single production unit. Think about suggesting label or signage placement to help disguise or distract from the odd view.

Really review all the details of your product from every angle. Make sure screws are properly matched or countersunk to minimize the perception of poor quality. Consider finishing the underside if it makes a difference.

The initial units in your production run will represent your quality and professionalism as a manufacturer, so this is not the time to work out production issues. It is the time to be extra careful and critical in quality control. Once one of those units becomes the display, there is no ability to correct or even change a poorly applied label, let alone fix a quality problem.

The mass-market retail environment in the United States is one of the most difficult places to sell furniture and products. Understanding the limitations, accepting them, and designing to work within them will help you take advantage of a very large sales opportunity. This research and design planning can help insure your return placement as a quality supplier whose products sell.