Having superb supplies means nothing if customers won't spend money. By using everything from effective displays to free popcorn, a dealer can encourage customers to stay longer in a store–which, merchandising experts say, encourages them to buy more.

SURE-FIRE SHOPPING: Left, True Value Co. uses a "store within a store" setup to make the maximum amount of stock available. Right, Grattan works with dealers to customize their displays and keep products front and center of the customer. At the root of merchandising lies one simple fact: shoppers need to see something to buy it. "It's a fine line," says Lauren Wagner, category management supervisor for Do It Best, a cooperative for hardware and lumber stores. "You need a minimum presentation quantity to make a product look good, but you can't sell down to nothing."

This drives some manufacturers to make specialized displays. Fastening products manufacturer Grattan began distributing custom-made racks for lumberyards last year. "We help [dealers] by doing an evaluation of their customers, and what they need to stock," company president Jack Grattan says. This keeps salespeople from constantly having to restock an area, he says.

Wagner suggests using a product by HS Spring that pushes items to the front of shelves, keeping spaces from needing frequent adjustments.

While working on a new store layout, Steve Mahurin, chief merchandising officer for hardware cooperative True Value Co., uses a "store within a store" setup to allow for a multitude of products in each area. "A department is not relevant if there's not enough product there for the customer to make a buying decision," he says. "Customers go where they know they'll find a large assortment."

Along with adequate displays, dealers need to provide enough product information. More shoppers do research online before going to a store, but they still may not know the differences between brands and prices. "I found that if customers learn more, they will take risks," says John Enerva, project manager of showroom design for Dixieline Lumber, a dealer in San Diego.

A product called Infoshade lets dealers offer information without cluttering shelf space, Wagner says. Infoshade rolls up when not in use and unrolls when customers pull on it to get more information.

Information can help dealers in other ways, such as educating employees about products, says Carmen Pastore, sales development manager for General Electric. Point-of-purchase displays also command attention. Wagner says the best give shopping a sense of urgency. Placing items in a cardboard bin, for example, makes them look temporary.

Unique displays draw customers. A customized design for a bike shop by Vanguard Countertops made an ordinary product interesting, company president Brian Gilligan says. "How do you get excited about a bicycle tube?" he says. "Make it into a glass-front vending machine? I've seen customers pull one [box] out and say, 'That's neat,' then pull another one out."

Digital signage on television screens can provide up-to-date information. Enerva from Dixieline says the company uses 42-inch screens in its contractor offices to transmit product and event news, and Dixieline would like to use some in stores.

Helius launched a program called MediaAuthor, which uses PowerPoint to fuel digital displays and make them easier to create. However, Mahurin warns that these types of displays are expensive and lose their value if not constantly updated.

Methods that stimulate other senses also get customers to stay and shop. Offering food with enticing tastes and smells, such as popcorn, encourages customers to linger. Having an ice machine lets contractors fill up coolers. Dixieline has coffee and donuts in stores every morning, and on some mornings manufacturers set up banquet tables with food such as breakfast burritos.

"We open our stores at 6 a.m. and have to cater to our contractors," Enerva says.