Ask the Expert: Using Customer Flow To Improve Your Store Layout

February 18, 2019
The merchandising and branding of a store can be difficult to plan, especially when you’re trying to update a long-standing, successful business. Liliana Piazza is the new owner of the Ottawa Bagelshop & Deli, recently stepping into the shoes of her father, who founded the Shop 35 years ago. We spoke to Liliana as part of our continuing Ask the Expert series to find out how she figured out the right formula for merchandising and branding.

Lilianna Circle
Liliana Piazza is the new owner of the The Ottawa Bagelshop & Deli. She has spent most of her life in the shop, and has exciting plans to keep it going in the years to come.

The Ottawa Bagelshop is about to undergo some big changes thanks to some careful analysis and strategic planning. Liliana looked at the way the business was run in the past and developed a plan to bring the store back to its roots. By refocusing on what matters most, she’s learned a lot about the importance of customer flow and layout, and she’s here to pass that expertise onto you.

Solink: Your store is about to change in a pretty major way; what was the process like as you started to figure out your new layout?

Liliana: We’ve been talking about customer flow a lot; it’s a huge part of how we are restructuring our systems and layout for our new store.

Ottawa Bagelshop Retail

Our current layout isn’t ideal; we have the grocery, the deli, and the restaurant, but our customers don’t always see everything we have to offer. Some customers don’t know we have a tea section, while others can’t find the restaurant. It’s wild what people do not see! This was something that was really shocking for me to learn. When planning the new space, a big priority was to ensure that when you walk in, you’re instantly going to see what we are and what we offer: the bagels, the seating, the deli, and the retail products. The whole idea of the store will be obvious in a single glance.

Planning took a lot of questions and answers, talking, brainstorming, creating scenarios, looking at the plan, and trying to recreate current scenarios. We know that sometimes you have to wait for bagels, and if people are waiting for bagels they clump around; so we asked ourselves, ‘How do we get them to not clump around?’ We’ve been problem-solving the best we can to make sure our renovations improve the layout to maximize the visibility of everything.

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Solink Heatmap is a valuable tool that can simplify the process of studying your customer flow. The heatmap can show you the exact spots in your store or restaurant where customers are spending the most time with the simple click of a button — no extra equipment needed.

S: Were there any scenarios you had to plan for?

L: We can run into problems at times because our seating area is so large; it holds 80 people. If 80 people come in all at once, our kitchen gets stressed. We get through it the best we can in our current setup, but it’s not ideal. That’s why we’ve been so strategic in planning the upcoming renovations to create the best possible solution for controlling the line and customer.

Ottawa Bagelshop Bagels

S: What variables did you have to consider when finalizing your layout plans?

I look at flow like, “This is the space, this is the layout; now what can I do to increase the line? What can I do to be faster, more efficient?” There are certain things to consider, especially with our bagels: we only have one oven; it’s only so big; it’s wood; we cannot bake faster. So that’s a variable we cannot change. If only three dozen bagels come out every three minutes, and we have a long line of customers, maybe I can implement a limit that customers can only buy one dozen bagels. I haven’t done that yet–I don’t want to do that–but that is a possible solution. You have to be willing to adapt to the changing situations while trying to prepare in advance as much as you can.

How Solink Helps 1
Making a change to your layout doesn’t have to be unpredictable. With the Solink Daily Digest delivered to your inbox each morning, you’ll have a clear view of how changes made the day before have affected your bottom line. Analyzing your changes is easy when you have Solink on your side.

S: What do you hope to accomplish with the changes to your layout and merchandising?

L: My hope is that we can influence customer behaviour so that they don’t all come at noon or 10 am. People will learn that if they want to get a table at the Bagelshop they should come at different times throughout the day instead of all arriving at peak times. To help encourage a better experience, I’m committed to creating a menu that allows people to order quickly, and we will also have a person that helps manage the line. When we first reopen, I will be there to help customers get used to the new menu and new space. My goal is that when the customer gets to the front of the line, they will know what they want and can order quickly, and our kitchen can get it made.

While making changes to your merchandising and branding can be difficult, Liliana and her Bagelshop show us that using the right research, planning, and experimentation will lead to changes that will grow and improve your business. It’s a risk to make a change, but customers expect an ever-improving experience; take courage and advice from the Bagelshop’s example and try something new today!

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