End caps. PDQ trays. Pallets. Side kicks. Power wings. Even those who don't know them by their trade names know them by their familiar looks, because everyone who has ever shopped has encountered these ubiquitous sales aids in store aisles.
Merchandising professionals know and respect them as POP (point of purchase) displays—product-bearing installations that rescue packaged goods from the relative anonymity of store shelves and make them highly visible in the thick of the retailing action. For packaging professionals, POP may be something of an afterthought, but that perception doesn't do justice to the fact that a well-designed POP display can be the best friend a well-designed package ever had.
POP displays belong to the category that Veronis Suhler Stevenson (VSS), the media investment firm, calls consumer promotion—a segment that also includes signage, banners, floor graphics, and other kinds of in-store media that advertise but do not contain product as POP structures do. POP, says VSS, is the largest slice of the category, accounting for about $20 billion worth of promotional spending in 2007.
POP appeals to merchandisers because it reaches and influences a captive audience of shoppers at the point of sale—inside the store, where POPAI, the trade group for at-retail marketing, says that 70% of customer purchase decisions are made. POP thus comes into play at the moment of truth where the package either makes or fails to make the connection that triggers the purchase.
Objectives are identical
This means that POP and packaging have identical objectives even though they typically follow different paths into the store. Like good packaging, good POP strives to be cost-efficient, visually attractive, versatile, and "green"—attributes that probably will deepen brand owners' reliance on POP in an economically challenging time for retailing.
Although they eventually come together in aisles, on counter tops, and elsewhere in the store, packages and POP displays seldom proceed from the same creative brief. George Moretti, vice president and general manager, Smurfit-Stone Image Pac, notes that the greater speed-to-market requirements of packaging usually rule out simultaneous design. But in cases where packaging and POP can be created in tandem, he says, brand owners will get better-than-expected brand- image presentation and, as a result, stronger product sales.
Rick Markson, director of design, Sonoco CorrFlex, says that in some newproduct launches, the POP provider may be given a preview that includes basic specifications such as size and shape of the packages that the display will contain. Ideally, the design display brief also specifies how many packages must be accommodated and in what kinds of retailing environments the display will be installed.
Design sometimes can be synchronous in line extensions as well as in newproduct launches, says Michael Williams, vice president and national sales manager of Shorewood Display (a division of International Paper's Shorewood Packaging). In such assignments, Shorewood analyzes all products and packages in the line for which the POP is being created to identify common elements.
Package, perhaps not
Ethan Goller, president of Structural Graphics, says that the designs of the package and the POP should "dovetail" so that each is easily identified with the other. He points out, however, that POP isn't always tied to a packaged product. For example, Structural Graphics created a series of desktop and counter-top displays for use in auto dealerships offering the LoJack vehicle recovery system. The displays promote the installation of LoJack, which doesn't involve the delivery of a product into the hands of the end-user.
But in many cases, observes Mike Lauber, CEO of Tusco Display, the critical decisions about what POP items look like and how they are to be presented may rest not with the POP producer or even the brand owner, but with the allpowerful chain retailer.
Lauber says that although 30 years ago, the brands might have ruled in the retailing marketplace, nowadays "the retailers have really taken over their space." Their control over the POP displays they use is so extensive that they may even be able to dictate changes to elements as fundamental as brand colors. In the case of POP for private-label brands, he adds, their control of creative decision-making is near total.
While the brand owner retains control of the packaging, final say on the merchandising of packaged product belongs to the retailer, according to Lauber. As a result, a display concept that works for, say, Home Depot will have to be made over to Lowe's liking before that rival home improvement chain will consider it.
Types and time frames
POP displays can be designed and produced to order, or they can be adaptations of stock components. Sometimes they are temporary, installed just for the duration of the instore promotion they were designed to support. Permanent and semi-permanent displays are built for longer life and may have modular components that enable them to be re- stocked. A semi-permanent display permits the retailer to amortize and thus drive down POP cost over a greater length of time of than would be possible with a temporary setup.
More than three-quarters of what Shorewood produces is custom work, but Williams does see a trend toward mod- ularity in the design of common fixtures such as PDQ trays, (prepacked displays that are ready to use upon removal from the shipping box), power wings (free-standing modules placed at ends of aisles), and pallets (displays with wooden bases in various sizes for club-store use). Although Image Pac, another custom producer, uses stock items only occasionally, Moretti says that they can be helpful when there is a particular need for speed or when the client is conducting a one-time-only test marketing exercise.
Markson says that Sonoco CorrFlex satisfies speed-to-market and inventory reduction objectives by using what he calls "generic displays" or "common componentry displays." These are not stock items but on-demand installations that can be quickly and easily assembled from prefabricated parts. The parts can be cut to order from existing dies, printed and decorated seasonally or for a specific in-store promotion, and then filled with packaged product for delivery to retailers. These rapid-turnaround displays are strictly temporary, notes Markson, remaining in use only until the product in them sells out.
Structural Graphics deals almost exclusively in the pharmaceutical industry, it created the E-Z Up display, a quick-setup drug sample kit that pharmaceutical sales reps can carry in quantity as they make their rounds of doctors' offices. The kits, folded flat for easy transport, can be popped up for display in three seconds. For an item like this, says Goller, "temporary" could mean a life span of up to three months.
Custom needn't be costly
Tusco Display is a custom provider of durable store fix- tures, permanent displays, and custom-made POP. What Lauber wants clients to know about made-to-order POP is that this option is "less expensive than it's ever been before." Although bespoke POP used to be "painful" to design and redesign, says Lauber, today's computer-aided design and manufacturing techniques make custom projects cost effective to produce—even in small quantities. These automated technologies include robotics, used by Tusco Display for welding and other fabricating steps.
Regardless of type or life cycle, all POP displays serve the same purpose: leveraging the drawing power of the packages they present to shoppers. As Moretti expresses it, the objective of a well-designed POP display is to "close the sale in the final five feet in the retail store." If the display can "incite involvement" in a way that will "significantly amplify the brand image," it will help the package to transmit the message that wins the sale.
In Markson's view, it's up to the display to "make the product the hero" by surrounding it with an environment that will engage shoppers. The display also can be informational, conveying product details in addition to what is shown on the package. Goller metaphorically calls POP "the wide part of the funnel drawing you into the stem, which is the package itself." POP is "the proverbial street hawker," according to Goller, who also likens it to an amplifier for an electric guitar.
Lauber concurs with all of the above but adds that POP must be easy to assemble, stable, and easily restockable in order to pass muster in the retailer's eyes. Markson agrees that "well-designed" also means easy to work with—a primary requirement for retailers operating with leaner staffs than they once did.
Subject to modification
POP providers are doing whatever it takes to accommodate the changing realities of retailing. They are experimenting, for example, with combinations of different kinds of materials, such as paperboard and plastic, to increase impact. They also are striving to minimize the number of display templates that their customer must work with. If a customer uses several different types over the course of a year, says Markson, the displays should be designed to accommodate a variety of products, not just one or two.
Moretti says that his designers are seeing a reemergence of interest in restockable, semi-permanent displays both for inventory reduction and for sustainability. He adds that expanded production capabilities throughout the SmurfitStone network make it possible to offer customers graphic services—such as seven-color printing plus coating—that were rarities in the POP world 15 to 20 years ago.
According to Lauber, one of the most important retailer-driven trends for POP is ease of use. Because retail outlets are employing fewer people to assist customers, store managers depend on easily shoppable POP displays to make up for the loss of personal attention. As retail environments shift increasingly to self-service, Lauber says, the expectations for POP will grow apace with the transformation.
For special applications, there are displays with attention-getting interactive features. Structural Graphics has added interactivity to its offerings with GameOn, a new lighting technology. Shorewood has created interactive displays for Guitar Hero, the best-selling electronic game from Activision, and Image Pac sometimes produces them for customers in the motion picture industry.
A POP display, notes Goller, doesn't necessarily need light, animation, or electronics to be classified as "interactive." For example, the interaction could be a tactile experience conveyed by a soft-to-the-touch structural material or a pleasingly textured coating.
Lauber acknowledges the trend toward interactivity in POP display, but he warns that these installations can turn out be more complicated and less consumer-friendly than intended once they are in the store. In retailing environ- ments, he says, simpler is always better. Similarly, Moretti says that he sees "no big groundswell" in demand for lights, sound, and moving parts in POP.
POP greens up
Just as package designers are heeding the call for "green" products and sustainable manufacturing methods, POP providers are basing many decisions on the environmental consequences of what they produce. Williams thinks that the sustainability impera- tive is even stronger for POP than for packaging because of the volume of product that POP providers must ship.
In response, display producers are stepping up their use of recyclable materials and materials consisting largely of recycled content. For vacuum-formed trays, Shorewood now sources 100% recycled plastic sheets made from recovered beverage bottles. Goller says that Structural Graphics' plastics suppliers are providing new, recyclable versions of their products. Moretti reports that the container board and liner board used by Image Pac contains a high percentage of recycled fiber. Lauber says that happily for Tusco Display, its primary medium, steel, "is the most recyclable material in the world."
Markson expects recyclable display materials to replace non-recyclable ones despite the fact that some of the green substitutes may be less durable. He cites material reduction as another way to reduce the environmental impact of POP manufacturing and logistics, noting that displays still must be made robust enough to withstand shipping and store use.
Moretti says that Image Pac's designers continually look for ways to reduce material usage without compromising structural integrity. The trade-off, while tricky, is achievable. In one case, taking material out of a display increased its topto-bottom compression (an index of strength) by 5% to 10%—an improvement that the customer hadn't thought possible.
Delivering displays in smaller cartons, building shipping pallets with more pieces per pallet, and double-stacking display consignments inside trucks are ways to improve transportation efficiency, cut fuel costs, and reduce carbon output. Moretti says that Image Pac makes sure that there is "a minimal amount of air in the trailer" by packing displays as flat as possible for shipping. Lighter product is less expensive to ship, and when shipping costs are reduced by 20% to 30% in this way, says Williams, "that's very green."
Outlook is POPtomistic
Green is good, but the merchandising power of well-designed POP displays is what makes them evergreen. The effectiveness of POP, like that of packaging, is tied to the prevailing mood in the retail marketplace, and the near-term outlook for retailing is uncertain. But Lauber, for one, thinks that tough economic times could have a silver if not a golden lining for Tusco Displays and other providers of in-store promotional products.
He says that those in the trade who remember the "year-plus" recession of the early 1980s also will recall that spending on in-store displays rose during that time in comparison with other forms of retail promotion. Brand owners looked to POP for "immediate impact" then and will do so again now for the same good reason. Lauber says that because brand owners, marketers, and retailers will rely on POP for the in-store impact they're seeking, they are definitely looking for '09 to be better than '08.
Merging POP Design and Package Design
Today, package designers have to think about all the possible retail environments. POP displays can impact package design for a more effective in-store solution. We explore the current trends in POP with a special Q& A with Joe Berzok, senior vice president of sales at POP Displays (www.popdisplaysusa.com).
PD: How strongly does the design of a package influence the design of a POP display? Shouldn't they both come from one creative brief?
JB: The package brief should be the basis for the display brief. In the end, the real win is one integrated brand communication to shoppers through package, advertising, promotion, and retail merchandising. Frankly, that is rarely the case. But we see more and more of our customers appreciating the need for a more strategic approach to merchandising solutions, which helps us produce the best results.
PD: Are POP displays designed after the package has been sent into the marketplace, or simultaneously?
JB: Designing simultaneously is the exception rather than the rule. But when it happens, we can impact package design for a more effective in-store solution without compromising the integrity of the package. For example, while designing a wall unit for a cosmetics brand, we determined that reducing the width of the package by 1/8" could add an additional row of product. This modest change substantially improved the brand's presence and assortment at retail.
PD: Does every POP display have to be custom-designed for the packaged goods it will contain, or are there "stock" POP designs that can be modified for many different products?
JB: There are stock solutions that can be modified, but we believe custom programs generate the strongest in-store results. Custom programs acknowledge that each brand is different and, just as the details in the package define one brand vs. another, the details in the display do the same. One-size-fits-all does not allow for the strategic considerations that are unique to each brand.
PD: A well-designed package is supposed to attract the shopper's attention, evoke a response, and trigger a purchase. What is a well-designed POP display supposed to do?
JB: A well-designed POP display should do the same. In addition, it should align with retailer needs. More and more, retailers are demanding solutions that fit their own strategic platforms and are less willing to accept generic solutions. At the very least, displays need to acknowledge differences by class of trade and satisfy general retail considerations.
PD: How is the demand for "green" and sustainable" packaging affecting the design and manufacture of POP?
JB: Sustainability is taking the industry by storm. In addition to designing displays with less materials, thinner walls, and lighter weight to lessen freight cost, we also believe that sustainability needs to start at home in the facility of thwww.tuscodisplay.come POP provider. At POP Displays, we recycle plastic, oil, and corrugate; use energy efficient lighting; and participate in a voluntary New York State energy reduction program. We've also installed a cooling tower on our roof that recycles water.
PD: What other design trends in POP are important right now?
JB: The most significant trend is the desire for retailers and CPG companies to align with POP providers who have a greater strategic orientation. In this era of less is more and emerging research on shoppers, just making a display isn't enough anymore. We believe POP providers need to add value and be a consultative, strategic partner.
SOURCES MENTIONED IN THIS ARTICLE: Shorewood Display | www.shorewooddisplay.com Smurfit-Stone Display Group | www.smurfit.com Sonoco CorrFlex | www.sonoco.com Structural Graphics LLC | www.structuralgraphics.com Tusco Display | www.tuscodisplay.com