Merchandising Know-How: Tips for a successful merchandising clinic

There are two kinds of merchandising clinics -- the good and the bad. It's a fact that a lot of time is wasted in clinics that don't result in increased sales and more informed salespeople.

There are two kinds of merchandising clinics — the good and the bad. It’s a fact that a lot of time is wasted in clinics that don’t result in increased sales and more informed salespeople.

Merchandising clinics can cover a wide range of topics from how-to-sell apparel to how-to-display equipment. To make the clinic valuable to those attending, deal with one specific topic at a time and keep the clinics concise — 45 minutes to one hour and no more. Clinics can be held before or after work. Let the staff decide which time is better for them.

Clinics are best held on the sales floor, as it enables the manager or clinic leader to use examples from product at hand. Have an agenda to keep the clinic moving. Send it out beforehand so everyone knows what to expect.

Good clinics start with interaction. This should not be a lecture but should, instead, be an opportunity for hands-on participation and discussion. Engage the attendees. Walk the store to illustrate points. Use visuals like slides, actual product, handouts and magazines to make points. Invite an outside merchandising expert to conduct a clinic. Serve refreshments.

Depending on the topic, ask participants to write down three of their most difficult merchandising challenges. Some people are more comfortable writing than speaking. Read and answer them on the spot.

At the end of the clinic, ask participants to critique the clinic by writing their suggestions down on a piece of paper. Don’t require they sign it. Keep it anonymous.

Incentive games always do a lot to enliven clinics and give them “legs.” Incorporate them in your merchandising clinics, too. Here are some to try:

The Treasure Hunt

Goal: Add-on sales ideas for apparel

Procedure: Provide a clue that leads salespeople to a specific garment in the store. When they find it, it will hold a second clue that directs them to find a specific coordinating piece of clothing. The third and fourth clues lead them to accessory items and the fifth clue (could be footwear or equipment) is where the prize is awarded. The prize can be anything you decide to give — cash, product or a day off with pay. The first person to make it to the end is the winner.

Guessing Game

Goal: Product knowledge

Procedure: Decide on five or six products in the store and formulate questions about them. Example: If you carry Royal Robbins 5.11 pant, ask how many bar tacks there are on the 5.11 pant. Ask about a particular sleeping bag temperature rating or the volume of a certain pack. Have at least a dozen or so questions to answer. Award a prize to the person with the most correct answers.

Push Money

Goal: Stimulate display and sales

Procedure: Put the names of slow-selling merchandise in an envelope with a like number of $5 bills for PM’s (push money). Encourage salespeople to find ways to display these items to help them sell. Each time a salesperson sells one of those items; the product slip is pulled from the envelope along with a $5 bill. If $10s would work better, use them. After all, we’re in an inflationary period.

Mix up your clinic procedures to keep the salespeople engaged and guessing about what’s coming next.

Sharon Leicham is the creator of The MerchandisingHUB, the author of “Merchandising Your Way to Success” and “How to Sell to Women” and is a regular columnist for SNEWS® writing on merchandising and marketing topics. You can access all of her columns by going to, where you will find tons of information targeted at the needs of the independent specialty retailer. You can email us with questions and comments at

For more retail training support and know-how, be sure to check out the SNEWS® Business 101 tools and stories, including our 10-part Retail Merchandising Training series produced by SNEWS®, including a useful online calculator for performing the most common retail merchandising calculations — free to All Access Subscribers.