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A Written Manual Helps Maintain Your Branding Throughout Your Business

Absence of this might be one of the reasons for a drop in a store’s sales.

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ONE OF THE BEST WAYS to guarantee that your employees maintain the look and feel of your store is a custom visual standards manual, or CVSM. Such a manual details how a store should look and how to keep it looking that way. A good manual allows room for change and teaches employees how to be creative while staying within the boundaries of the business’s image and brand.

Visual standards include everything that can be seen as you drive or walk up to, into and through a business. It includes: lighting, signage, flooring, surface materials, fixtures, merchandising, displays, focal areas, aisles, wrap desks, daily maintenance, safety standards, back room standards, washroom standards and office standards.

Each person has his or her own style of creativity. Some of those creative endeavors may not exactly be in keeping with your image. A standards manual clarifies your image and gives clear direction and boundaries to the various styles and quality of individual creativity and expression.

If a chain of pet stores (of any size) has an image that requires presentation standards, or you are recreating your image, a manual is one of the first steps to making this transition happen consistently.

How to develop a CVSM:

1. Assign this job to one or two people who have a clear understanding of your visual merchandising, fixtures, signage, store design direction, and overall brand and image. If you choose two people, consider one in marketing and one in operations. Or, hire someone from the outside with CVSM and pet store experience.

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2. Develop an outline for the manual. Add a chapter for each area of your store. You’ll be describing the fixtures in each area and how to merchandise each one. Add chapters on non-selling spaces, lighting, signage and safety.

3. Take a ton of photos. Before and after shots of merchandise presentation and displays are especially valuable and great teaching tools.

4. Determine what final format will work best for your employees and stores: a loose-leaf book, a bound printed manual, a webinar in several parts, or a training movie. In each case, you may consider a quiz after each section to make sure your employees actually looked at the CVSM. Flexibility for changes is important so plan that into your format.

5. Have company-wide meetings and introduce the manual either in a seminar or hand it out to each person. If it’s in digital format, give everyone the link, and let them know when they will be quizzed on the book. That’s pretty much the only way they’ll look at it all the way through.

Rather than just stating rules, explain why the rule exists and why it’s necessary. Pare down the information so it’s a good mix of photos and copy. People today are used to reading bullet points and listening to sound bites. Less is more, and a picture is worth 1,000 words.

The ultimate purpose of producing a CVSM is to have a standard that all employees are required to live up to on a daily basis. If one store is falling down in sales, one of the most easily observable issues may be the visual presentation.

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Consider a CVSM even if you have only one location. It will help your business stay attractive, neat, clean and welcoming. All this will reflect on your sales and service in a positive way.

Linda Cahan of Cahan & Company, is an internationally known retail design expert specializing in visual merchandising and store design. She helps stores look and feel better to sell more. Cahan consults, gives seminars worldwide, has written 10 custom visual standards manuals, three books on retail display and design and hundreds of B2B articles. She taught visual merchandising at Parsons School of Design in NYC and now teaches part-time at The Art Institute of Portland in Oregon.

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