Imagine being lost in space — floating around with no defined direction. Last year, we wrote in Running Insight about the value of adding accessories and essentials to a product assortment. The purpose of having these items is to ensure that your location is a one-stop-shop for all running needs.

While expanding the assortment is important, retailers must consider how it’s presented in-store. Retailers should thoughtfully insert accessories/essentials into the entire in-store customer journey. We refer to this as “space planning.” 

Otherwise, accessories might be presented in a way that does not entice the customer to buy. In other words, lost in space.

Selling Space

Sales per unit area (commonly, by square foot) is a measurement of success for a physical store. The value reflects several factors — merchandising decisions, footfall, the ability of staff to sell and more.

For context, Apple stores are best-in-class at $5600 per square foot. The average value for retailers in the U.S. in 2020 was $325 per square foot. More importantly, the average value has been decreasing for some time. This is likely due to e-commerce growth with the customer able to buy products anywhere, anytime. So, getting customers to visit repeatedly and make larger purchases can improve sales per unit area.

Therefore, it’s even more important to focus on optimizing store space. The key is to weave accessories/essentials throughout the customer journey in-store. This includes utilizing different store areas: feature tables, walls, cash wrap and fitting room space. Also, “dead” space, like the top of fixtures.

We provide a few tips in this article and showcase a local, small business, Source for Sports in London, Ontario, Canada, as a demonstrative example.

Best Sellers = Best Space?

Although it seems counterintuitive, best-selling items need not occupy “prime” space in your store.

Best sellers are the best for a good reason — this is because of the brand’s strength. Consider On and Hoka footwear as examples for running. These items are a strong customer draw. Also, they may be the main driver of the first visit. The power of that draw holds regardless of where the product is in-store. As such, these products are better placed up on a wall versus taking up prime real estate on the shop floor.

Source for Sports has a strong presence of Yeti-branded products — coolers and tumblers in various colors. The team has arranged most items on the wall and the bright colors grab attention. The added benefit is that customers must walk through the store to get to the product, then again to cash out.

Almost like how the hotels in Vegas have you walk through the casinos to get to your desired restaurant. It’s the same idea.

This opens up an opportunity for product discovery.

Product Discovery:

The steak always benefits from a potato on the side. Similarly, footwear benefits from being next to relevant accessories for running stores.

The idea is to create a one-stop-shop for all pre- and post-running needs. Make it easy for the customer to visualize (and buy) everything they need by having products near each other. This enables the customer to discover all relevant items.

For example, running shorts, tanks, socks and insoles are great to group with footwear. You can even have a mannequin showcasing an entire look, making it easy for the customer to buy. Source for Sports has a footwear section displaying shoes on the wall. Sandals, flip-flops, socks, insoles and other accessories complement these.

The store is further organized by sport — running, hockey, football, soccer and baseball. The same “side dish” pattern holds across each sport. A core item, like a baseball shoe or hockey skate, is immediately beside the appropriate accessories. 

Signage and product knowledge help elevate the hockey example — this is how “dead” space becomes alive. There is information on how to sharpen the skate. Above that is information about hockey insoles and their relevant features, advantages and benefits. This way, you can’t leave the store with only skates. You’re either buying an accessory or at least discovering the relevant accessories you might need.

Cash Wraps:

The cash wrap is a lucrative space for selling accessories and essentials — if the items meet specific criteria. The best examples of cash wraps come from Sephora or TJ Maxx stores. The space has easy pick-up items and customers can make a simple “yes/no” decision.

Nothing should be here that requires a lot of effort to buy. That means no items that need a fitting room or specialized attention. In other words, no items that force the customer to leave the area.

Ideal items are add-ons to core items already in a basket or products the customer would never need, but wants. Hence the term “impulse buy.” Colorful shoelaces, shoe cleaners, water bottles and snacks are good cash wrap products.

The cash wrap at Source for Sports was populated with sports bras, which did not sell. It would force customers to try on the item, which meant exiting the line. That’s too much effort to buy.

The space has been refreshed with hockey tape, smelling salts, laces and a surprise best-seller in a “moon ball.” These items are available in bright colors, which helps draw the eye to them. This arrangement plus hydration products have proven to be a customer winner.

Dynamic Tables/End Caps:

Sales per unit area reflect footfall — the value captures new and returning customers. So, how can space planning be used to drive valuable, repeat customer visits?

Customers become bored when visiting a store frequently and not seeing new items and looks on display. Consider the appeal of the off-price retail category; the premise is the “thrill of the hunt.” New inventory arrives often, so visit again and see what you might find. This creates curiosity in the mind of the customers and encourages the repeat visit.

So, turn feature tables and end-cap space into dynamic assortment displays. They should have accessories or essentials that are easily swapped out. This way, new products, brands and items you test can live in these spaces. Having the flexibility to do this will give customers something new to look at.

As an example, when working at Sporting Life, we featured new products from our latest delivery drop. Those products were then swapped out at a high frequency. We would feature Nike first and showcase the newest fleece and performance wear. Adidas would follow and then a brand we tested would go next.

Refreshed displays have the added benefit of being immediately usable social media content. This could be a video with staff presenting the new display and a clear call to action for customers to visit.

Driving Profit Through Essentials

Driving profit performance from your store comes from selling accessories and essentials. Adding them to the assortment is not enough — the store space must be strategically used to showcase these items. 

Space planning puts accessories and essentials throughout the customer journey. Driving sales of these items contributes to a key performance metric in sales per unit area. This way, your accessories will not be lost in space. 

About the authors

Raj Dhiman and Liza Amlani are founders of Retail Strategy Group, a firm working with global brands and retailers on improving profitability and increasing organizational effectiveness. Clients span performance apparel, accessories, outdoor, footwear and retail technology markets. The firm produces a monthly newsletter, The Merchant Life, for C-suite executives seeking valuable merchandising and product creation insights. Learn more at or