Prior to working in Category Management, I managed in-store reset coordinators. Their job was to implement the merchandising schematics (or, planograms) by building the fixtures and placing the product on the shelf according to specification. While those times are farther back now than I’d like to admit, one of the biggest challenges my team faced then is still very relevant today: when the planogram can’t be implemented because it doesn’t match the constraints at the store.

When this situation happens, it can cause all sorts of problems. In the short term, it affects in-store execution productivity because now the team either has to raise the issue and wait for direction or spend time figuring out an alternative themselves. In the longer term, it’s harder to measure sales impacts of merchandising updates because the store is no longer in compliance with the plan.

Great planning and communication are essential to creating accurate planograms that can be realistically executed. From the perspective of someone who has had to deal with this in the field, here are my top suggestions on how to achieve this.

1. Know your store layouts

Before designing planograms for a category, you need to know your stores. Just like how products are arranged on fixtures to create a category planogram, planograms are arranged on aisles and in departments to create a store floorplan. For every category, you should understand how much space is available, where it is, and how the space is structured in order to create the right mix of planograms for it.

There are a variety of ways to get to know your stores better, but some are superior to others. What stage of sophistication is your organization in?

  • Chaotic: assume the same sizes for the category as last time, order the same products for every store and “make it fit” in the planogram.
  • Basic: survey stores to determine linear category space, make planograms that fit the sizes in the responses, and place product orders based on what the store’s planogram can handle.
  • Intermediate: work alongside design teams to bring plans drawn in AutoCAD or Revit into Blue Yonder Floor Planning to precisely plan category space needs.
  • Advanced: use automation tools like Blue Yonder Floorplan Generator to allocate macro-space at the category level using data-driven criteria and feed downstream for micro-space tactics at the planogram level.
  • Cutting edge: leverage AI to enhance decision making and VR to create hyper-realistic store simulations.

2. Account for different planogram heights

Floorplans are typically viewed as blueprints from the top-down, as it is easiest to see how all the categories are arranged. However, this obscures the heights of fixturing in a store. A store may have multiple different heights of fixturing to serve different purposes, such as maximizing the space available on the perimeter walls or lowering the profiles of aisles to make browsing them seem more open and airier.

Including height in your planogram size mix is important to ensure the merchandising space is proper for the area it is contained in. Don’t forget this, or your stores will risk either not having enough space for product or have awkward pockets of empty space!

3. Check your shelf depths and widths

A deeper shelf holds more product. Makes sense, right? But this detail makes all the difference in creating accurate planograms. Making sure to include shelf depth when designing planograms means:

  • Fast-selling products have adequate holding power, preventing out-of-stocks
  • Larger items are guaranteed to fit properly
  • When using racks or trays, the correct size is ordered

Also (in the United States at least!), it is quite common to see shelves in widths of both 3 feet and 4 feet. These can often be both in use in a single store at once, especially in older buildings where the shelving may be mixed to maximize the amount of linear shelf space. This can become a problem for two reasons:

A run for a category can come out to be an odd number, such as 15 feet. If no planogram was created for this size, another size may have to be used instead and adjusted to fit. While stretching something like a 12 feet long planogram may just result in inaccuracies, if the store is forced to use a 16 feet long planogram then the products may not all fit!

  • Any breaks in the shelf heights may be impossible to accommodate. A 12 feet long planogram could fit 4×3 feet wide shelves or 3×4 feet wide, but if the shelf heights change then there could be either too much or not enough space!

4. Know where hard splits occur in your categories

Some departments can have exceptionally large categories. They can become unwieldy to fit, especially in smaller stores. While you could solve this by using smaller sizes that fit better, you may be leaving money on the table for categories that drive shopper visits and sales. Often this is solved by allowing categories to run around corners or onto the opposite sides of aisles.

When this happens, it is very important to ensure planograms take this into consideration. In the example of placing a category on both sides of an aisle, it can be very awkward for customers to shop if their favorite brand straddles both sides of an aisle. Or if a product segment straddles an aisle, it can be harder for customers to compare products.

Another example of where this can occur is in refrigerated coolers. A store may have multiple coolers in use for a single run, which creates hard breaks where the walls of each cooler meet. Products on the planograms that span these walls won’t fit!

5. Consider in-store obstructions

Just like hard splits, other obstructions can make implementing accurate planograms difficult. The most common example I encountered with my team was when an aisle contained a column or pole that supported the building. Sometimes the column would be rather wide and be right in front of the shelf. Other times it was in the same place the shelf was supposed to be and shelves were cut to fit around it!

In either case, this left our planogram less accurate. Blocked shelves obscure product, so they must be placed around the obstruction to accommodate. Shelves that are cut hold far less product, so out-of-stocks can result, or a product may just not fit at all! The worst outcome was when there weren’t enough shelves cut to fit the obstruction, requiring us to either wait for someone to cut another shelf or to figure out how to make the product fit with the number of shelves we already had.

The store design team should have obstruction information captured in construction plans. Don’t forget to consider these when making planograms!

6. Remember, shelves have brackets!

Deeper shelves can hold more product, right? This is true as long as the product fits nicely under the shelf above it. Unfortunately, shelves have brackets to keep them upright. This can create minor obstructions at the ends of each shelf for the product beneath it. Boxy products that straddle two shelves may not fit as much as you expect all the way back if a shelf sits above.

Current versions of Blue Yonder Space Planning support shelf bracket modelling. Use these in categories where you know it will make a difference.

7. Use alternate merchandising styles

Products can be placed on the shelf in a variety of ways. Some just come in a simple package meant to be placed directly on the shelf. Others can be removed from their packaging either for direct purchase or to use as a display item. Clothing can be either folded or hung. Some products come in a case to place directly on the shelf, such as a “PDQ tray”. Still others may have specialized racking that can be used. Or, a product could use any combination of these placements.

Make sure your merchandising style on the planogram matches its intended execution. If items are on display, merchandise them that way alongside packaged ones to take home. If a fast-selling category should be merchandised with trays to enable quick restocks, build the planogram to show it that way.

8. Close the loop on category updates by soliciting feedback

The most frustrating part of managing an in-store reset team wasn’t when things went wrong, but what happened from there. Dealing with unforeseen problems is just a part of any job—sometimes it was fun because we had to get creative! However, it was infuriating when we would communicate back an issue only to find it on the next revision 6 months later.

The teams implementing your planograms in-store are your eyes and ears. Make sure you have a channel for them to give feedback. This not only helps discover ways to make your planograms more accurate but also builds trust with the store personnel and your in-store execution teams.

Improve your planogram quality!

The best way to ensure you have accurate planograms is by staying grounded with your physical stores and the people that work inside them. Gathering detailed information about your stores, staying in contact with execution teams, and keeping an eye for detail will give you great results. By doing so you will not just make your execution teams’ lives easier, but you’ll be able to more confidently measure the results of your merchandising.