Merchandising Parts for More Profitability

The keys elements to increasing sales of aftermarket accessories are knowing what to display, where to display, how to display and how much product to display.

Large retail stores spend exorbitant amounts of money trying to determine the right products to display and the correct way to display that merchandise. RV parts departments do not have these available budgets, so the responsibility for this task falls to dealership employees.

There are four key elements to product merchandising: what to display, where to display, how to display and how much of each product to display. Only departments that consider all four of these key elements can hope to generate significantly more income for their dealership’s parts department.

What to Display

Determining the proper product mix for each department will vary due to many factors. Each parts store should have a unique personality and thus a unique product mix. Certain parts, such as chemicals and toilet paper, will be a stable in all RV parts departments, while the rest of the store should be tailored to meet the particular and special needs of that department’s customers.

The simplest category of parts to stock in a parts store is the parts that sell. Each department will have a group of high turn parts that must continuously be stocked in the department. Typically these will consist of sewer hoses, water hoses, sewage treatments and hitches. But even within this category comes the opportunity to personalize the department by choosing which types and brands of each product to keep in stock and which parts to make special order.

Sometimes there are parts that need to be stocked to help attract customers. These are parts that are either advertised heavily or have strong consumer recognition. Consumers will sometimes shop only at locations that have the newest and the greatest parts, such as electronics or other high-tech items. These parts may not have the strongest sell-through but they can be cheap advertising when it comes to bringing in new and existing customers. If people will come into the store just to see a particular part, it might be a good idea to stock that part.

Some parts have to be seen by consumers before they make a purchase. Some of these items may even need to be demonstrated to the customer for them to realize their true value. These are the types of parts that if you stock them you may sell them, but if you do not stock them you will never sell them. If a department wants to be in that market, they will have to step up and place these items on display.

The question of what to display comes down to stocking parts that move, parts that bring in customers to the store and parts that need to be touched and played with before being purchased. By dividing up parts into one of these categories it will be easier for a parts department to determine whether or not to stock them. 

Where to Display

Most parts departments have some rudimentary design or layout to the display floor. They are usually divided into product types such as sanitation, electrical, plumbing or towing. If no other type of organization is chosen by the parts manager, make sure customers will be directed to the general area of a part by dividing the department up into these basic categories. This will ensure that if a customer is looking for toilet chemical they can reasonably assume that it will be found somewhere near the sanitation area.

It should be a given that if a department is going to put up signs dividing the sales floor into general areas that all parts that fall into that general area be located near the sign. This can get complicated by the fact that some products could be classified under more than one general term. Water hoses could be thought of sanitation or as an accessory.  Trying to predict which category a customer is going to look in can be a risky business. The more specific the signage is, the easier it is to classify products, but there are some products that may need to be displayed in more than one area.

There are some products that are complementary and the purchase of one should inspire the purchase of the other. Sewer hoses and plumbing connections are an example of these types of products. Whenever a customer purchases a sewer hose, the parts specialist should inquire whether they need the connectors and hose clamps. In order to expedite this procedure, these parts should be displayed next to each other.

This type of layout also will help encourage a proper flow by the parts customer. One part should lead to the next so that consumers are persuaded to walk through the store in a predetermined path to see the most parts and to help promote impulse sales.

Another consideration when determining where to display a part is if that part needs to be demonstrated. Bigger, bulkier displays that require extra room for demonstration need to be placed in the store layout first and then complementary parts fanning out from there. If a parts department is going to go to the expense of stocking a part that needs to be demonstrated to sell, make sure there is room to do the demonstration.

When deciding where to place a display in the parts department consider what type of part it is, which sign will most invite customers to that part and its location and where parts that may be required to go along with the part will be placed. Try to design parts types and signage to direct the customer around the store in a precision flow so that new and exciting items can be emphasized.

How to Display

Most of the store will be displayed simply by putting the products on the shelves or hanging them on the peg hooks. These are by far the most common ways to display RV parts and are very effective.

The key to making a store more effectively designed is ensuring that the rest of the store is more appealing to the consumer. This can be done by doing special displays and promotions that will help keep the store from looking stale and make customers want to come back to see what is new.

A very simple way to make a special display is to build a large bulk display of some of the fast moving items. Large stacks of product say to the customer that the part is in demand and priced right, otherwise the store would not have so much of it.

Items such as chemicals and sewer hoses in boxes lend themselves easily to these types of displays. A very appropriate saying from the retail world is “Stack it High and Watch it Fly.” This saying signifies that customers want to buy popular items they feel are priced right – and large quantities subconsciously make that impression.

These displays also attract attention to products that customers may not have previously considered but will purchase after seeing the display. Customers will only purchase what they see and bulk displays gather attention quickly.

Another important display area is end caps. Most large retail stores use end caps for special promotions and sale items; RV parts stores should use the same philosophy. Placing new items and specially priced products on end caps can create additional sales.

The only way to continually generate special interest in the end caps is to rotate the displays regularly. Keeping the store fresh is easiest by changing the end cap displays.

Parts departments can generate additional excitement by building large bulk displays. Making a display that grabs people’s attention and makes them take a closer look at the product will create additional sales.

But keep in mind that if special displays remain for too long they will lose their effect and the store will become boring to customers. Boring stores do not make customers want to spend more money. Do not let the department become predictable.

How Much to Display

The consumers of today are used to shopping in warehouse-type retail stores such as Costco and Wal-Mart. The more a dealership can make the parts department resemble these types of retail locations the more customers will feel comfortable shopping in those stores.

An RV parts department can be made to look more like these types of store by simply removing additional stock from the back room and putting it on the display floor.

The more the parts department can look like a warehouse store, the more time customers will spend shopping. The more shopping a customer does, the more products they will purchase. Look like a big store and the sales will follow. 

It is also true that people want to feel like they are buying something in demand. Nobody wants to buy the last part hanging on the hook. This gives the consumer the thought of “Why doesn’t anyone else want this part?”

If a part is worth stocking, it is probably worth stocking more than one. Some high-ticket, low-turn parts do not fall into this category, but those parts are generally not hanging on a hook.

One of the biggest mistakes is to not have the store looking like it is full. Open hooks and empty shelves do not attract customers. Sometimes instead of displaying a product one behind the other, expand the display wider or on more than one shelf. This will both make the store look full and make the product appear to be more in demand.

If a parts department is going to carry fewer parts, expand the display out to keep the store appearing to have a good variety. Stores that look empty appear to be going out of business and nobody wants to buy from those stores.


The look and feel of a store will go a long way to determining its success. This feel will come from the product merchandising approach chosen by the department. Knowing what products to display, where to place the products, how to set the product up and how much of a product to display will provide the ambiance of the store.

With help from distributors and vendors, combined with some common sense, the department can help attract and retain more customers. Parts departments with more customers will provide more profit to their dealerships and isn’t that what we all are working for?