Preaching Design

Published in CSP Daily News

Lawshe tells retailers to take control of their tobacco racks

By  Mitch Morrison, Vice President & Group Editor

Mike Lawshe

LAS VEGAS -- Tobacco gone wrong.

A store with myriad overhead racks, more than two-dozen signs and dreary lighting. "Unfortunately, I think this is reality for many of us."

Welcome to Designer Hard Knocks. Evangelizing is the blunt Mike Lawshe, president of Paragon Solutions of Fort Worth, Texas, and faithful of fine design.

At the NATO Show in Las Vegas last week, Lawshe ran through the interior of several c-stores and tobacco shops he has visited in recent months. Most are clumsy, to be candid; hardly a consumer fete.

(See Related Content below for additional coverage of the 2012 NATO Show.)

And that's his point. It's time to look at yourself in the mirror.

"If you look the same as you did a year ago, you're behind the times," he said. "If you look the same as you did five years ago, it's time to blow it up."

Lawshe, ranked among the upper echelon of convenience store designers by many industry aficionados, sounds a bit angry these days. Asked privately, he acknowledges a certain frustration, one based more on lost opportunity than from real anger. Seeing other retailers like Abercrombie & Fitch, Starbucks and Old Navy ramping up their interior design, Lawshe is on a crusade, preaching aesthetics, something to which many tobacco outlets and c-stores readily acknowledge they've given little heed.

Embedded in this message is a sense of self. Lawshe pounds criticism at operators who sacrifice control in exchange of favorable contracts from major tobacco manufacturers, a commentary that rankles some suppliers. "There's almost a give-up [attitude] as it relates to design," he said. "We rely so heavily on big tobacco" contracts to dictate assortment and to furnish racks.

Such arrangements, Lawshe contends, primarily benefit the stakeholders--the tobacco companies themselves. "It's their market share, not yours. … It's in their best interests, not yours," he said. "It really should be about your profit--and theirs--and your market share--and theirs."

Ideally, he continued, the retailer-manufacturer interaction should be a true relationship in which the retailer ultimately determines what is best for his or her store based on demographic and store objectives.

"I'm challenging you to take charge of your store. … and take care of your customer," he said. "I want you to think how you can get back control."

Lawshe cited several examples in both the tobacco and c-store channels of retailers who have undertaken important design changes to enhance customer experience while showcasing their inventory in--both literally and metaphorically--a better light.

The epicenter of one's store design in smaller retail formats is the checkout counter. "It can't be a receptacle for free racks," Lawshe charged. With that, he showed pictures of a recent Cumberland Farms, the largest independent c-store chain in New England. "They have focused messages attached to their brand. Well done! Back of the house is well done. Front of the house is also nice," he said, referring to the back bar and the checkout area itself.

Lawshe pointed to other chains, each with a distinctive design to reflect their personality and customer experience. Among them are Cruisers, based in Charlotte, N.C., and Tobacco Lane, a tobacco shop based in Fort Worth. "Treat cigarettes and OTP as you would any category," Lawshe said. "Don't rely on big brother to tell [you] what to do. … You are the retailer, not them."

With that, Lawshe, the preacher, descended from the pulpit, making small talk with a few of his newest converts.

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What is the latest with the tobacco display ban in the New York Village of Haverstraw? How will Lorillard’s acquisition of blu affect electronic cigarettes? What is the latest with FDA? And how are retailers changing their tobacco sets?  Register today for tomorrow’s Tobacco Update CyberConference.

By Mitch Morrison, Vice President & Group Editor
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