Merchandising Food and the Service Industry – yup another school project!

Visually Merchandising Food Service

I guess one of the first things I should probably do is explain the criteria for visual merchandising, or the industry of visually merchandising. Wikipedia explains visual merchandising as “the activity and profession of developing the floor plans and three-dimensional displays in order to maximize sales”. Wiki continues to identify visual merchandising as, “Both goods or services can be displayed to highlight their features and benefits. The purpose of such visual merchandising is to attract, engage and motivate the customer towards making a purchase.” Now I know that I can’t really use Wikipedia, “the most trusted source of information on the internet” in a research paper, but I do like their definition. It’s pretty spot on!  Another definition identifies a slightly different approach in that, “The use and manipulation of attractive sales displays and retail floor plans to engage customers and boost sales activity. In visual merchandising, the products being sold are typically displayed in such as way as to attract consumers from the intended market by drawing attention to the product’s best features and benefits”. (Buisness, 2013)image015image021 image011

Once I decided I was going to identify visual merchandising successes, failures and opportunities for the gourmet food truck industry, I quickly became frustrated at the lack of merchandising space available to these guys . . .and gals. For the purposes of this paper, the first thing I noticed is that the food truck theory really didn’t afford much along the lines of visual merchandising except for their image, their colors used in the paint scheme and the menu boards provided to their customers only on the side of the order window. image009There were few actual merchandising areas that the trucks, already limited on space, could use to merchandise products for sale. There does seem to be one area that I remember often times overlooked on the food trucks. The area I’m referring to is the area of the hot coffee and water dispenser. It’s a small area, and seemingly each truck owner wants to do something with the hot holding area, yet I have yet to see if anyone actually has effectively used it.

image018Looking around on the internet at other opportunities with the merchandising available to the food trucks reveals just an absolutely abundant amount of, 1) different layouts and types of trucks available; 2) the ingenuous visual merchandising with paint schemes, colors and graphics; and 3) there are tremendously gifted merchandisers on some of the trucks out there that are not only displaying products, but have employed adaptive lighting for some of their displays, televisions with videos or the “big game’ on and dynamic audio systems providing incredible overall experiences for the customer while waiting under the flip-up canopy to get a bite at their gourmet masterpiece. image020Some of the gourmet food truck owners have seemingly even hired professional decorators, designers or even “visual merchandisers to masterfully execute the overall customer experience, better enticing them to make the big purchase. Isn’t that what it’s all about?

image013One thing I do know is that the combination of words “visual merchandising” and the words “food truck” produces very few decent examples on the internet. Almost as if no-one has actually thought about the two ideas in the same sentence. A deeper plunge into the internet reveals a much more diverse offering of ideas and truck-owner execution of visual merchandising is rampant through the food trucks . . . I think maybe I just don’t get out enough! When I typed in just “food truck”, I was able to find an infinite number of excellent examples of quality visual merchandising techniques and methods employed by the various owners of these trucks around the planet. Some are really good!

image027image030image025image023Part of the visual merchandising package of “drawing attention” to the food being sold begins with the overall look of the food truck paint scheme or motive. The first attraction could very well be the customer perceiving the thought “that just looks good”. Some of the elaborate paint schemes or using the latest advances in “”pressure sensitive adhesive films” can actually transform a rusty clunker used “roach coach” into a gourmet gastro delicacy in a matter of hours, displaying the premium look of expertly merchandised food on the side of these rolling kitchens. The first step in visual merchandising is getting the customer to take notice!

In comparison, I had to again look at food establishments. I found several in which to select from for this comparison. Seemingly I felt obligated to give each of them their fair shake if I was to be comparing apples to apples and oranges to oranges (get it foodie?). I decided to look at the visual merchandising in fast-food establishments, taking some not-so-known establishments, looking closely at what they are using and how they are “attracting, enticing and motivating” the buyer into making a purchase. I then looked closely at some very well known fast food eateries, considered to be world industry leaders and saw the way they do things . . .  the right way!

Let’s first look at where these establishments are located, because in my opinion, it makes a difference because 1) the patrons are a concentrated demographic with known purchasing habits; 2) the patrons are somewhat restricted in their purchasing power because of their location; and 3) the customer almost invariably decides fast food is the way to go for lunch selections.

image032The first establishment I looked at was the latest addition of a Mexican fast food eatery on the MCAS Miramar military installation. I was told their food was “pretty good”. Well my intuition says I’ll probably check them out someday in the next 10 years . . . no hurry. A quick visit to check out what would entice me to buy revealed minimal counter-side enticements of . . . well, nothing! What I found was some signage with their name on it, some flames on the bottom and a couple of very common American gringo type of menu items listed. Ok, I think I’ll give myself an additional 10 years before I check them out. Something obviously missing here!

The next place I checked out was right next door in the same food court area. Now, just before I continue on, this is the kind of stuff us military get handed to us. Ok, the food might be ok, but no research goes into some of these fly-by-night businesses to ensure they are going to be putting their best foot forward for our military. They somehow got a bid in on the contract, and won.

So the second stop was a new sushi shop just 20 feet to the left.  image034            What I found was minimal counter-side enticements for the customer to make choices from, or from which enticed the customer to partake in the dining pleasures of the establishment.   What I found with Win Sushi was creative lighting and color schemes that make the customer feel as though they are getting authentic Japanese sushi, only this time the cuisine is from the refrigerated sales case at the front of the store. The additional refrigerator in the back houses some popular standard sodas and other soft drinks, though they are creatively displayed in the standard Coke refrigerator (NOT!)  Between the two “no-name” establishments, I really found no sign of effective visual merchandising, not even any creatively displayed food items or pictures of their food. I didn’t research either of these establishments to see if they have any other locations or if they even have a website. So, for the purposes of this research, I am just passing through.

I’m very glad I pursued this study as I did, and in the sequence I pursued; because now, not only does this make sense, I can better understand the effectiveness of good visual merchandising.

Next stop is yet still within the same food court on the base. Now stop for a moment and think back to when you were in a Subway. Close your eyes and visualize what you saw. Visualize what products are being displayed that backs their menu. What items do you remember being on sale? Do you remember the $5 dollar Foot Long? Maybe you remember the television or radio advertisement and never been to the actual Subway. What I found is how the visual merchandising of the world’s 2nd largest fast food enterprise does their merchandising, and in the visual sense of the realm.image040image042image046image044

image036Upon visiting Subway I immediately identified about 6 different menu items of menu items combinations I desired. I was inundated with choices from which to select; chips, bread types, combo meals and cookies. Everything to make my wallet shrink and increase my awareness of immediately available items and promotions.image038

A quick stop to Subway could not have been any more complete without an equally invasive photo session at the leader world-wide for fast food. Yes they are on the bases here as well. They are everywhere . . . McDonalds!image048

McDonalds has a similar approach to their visual merchandising as Subway in that getting the product in front of the customer so it becomes an option, an instinctive choice to fulfill the emptiness in the belly. Colors, sounds, interactive is the name of McDonalds nowadays. First of all, McDonalds has changed their look even before you get inside.

image051As far as visual merchandising, I saw every imaginable opportunity grasped as the logos, advertisements and products were being displayed in every imaginable corner of the restaurant, like the small banner along the wall behind the kid display luring the customer to try an “irresistible cool” drink or smoothie.. The carefully placed high chair, just in case you need it and “whoops”, you saw the sign and now you’re hungry for one of them . . . and don’t forget the kids toy or promotion on the same sign. Hah! Get ‘em from all angles!

This visit to the Big Mac house must’ve been my lucky day as it appeared to be “McWRAP” promotion month. I saw every conceivable advertisement and visual merchandising element touched in this store. What, . . . am I supposed to be thinking “healthy”.?  They pulled out every stop! They were even visually merchandising them on TV . . . and with fake vegetables (that’s another story all together).image055

image053They even had these things hanging from the ceiling.

One thing I learned from all of this is creativity and persistence. Visual merchandising is about getting the product in front of the customer . . . heck, put it in their hand already! It’s especially obvious that the big companies have it figured out. Time for the small kids to get off the swing set! “I want a McWRAP .  .  . NOW!!!”


Works Cited

“What is visual merchandising? definition and meaning.” – Online Business Dictionary. N.p., n.d. Web. 6 May 2013. <;.

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