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2024 CMA-SIMA Conference Recap: Found in Space

By Mike Wilkening, ARC Communications Manager

You’ve seen them: people walking out of a store to their cars, bags in hand, crossing in front of you, their shopping journeys complete.  

They bought something, yes.

But did they have a good time?

As retail design expert Kevin Kelley tells it, shoppers’ faces tell a story, and they tell a story about the store experience.

“The secret to a store is that if people are walking out exhausted, you failed,” Kelley told attendees at the 2024 CMA-SIMA Conference last week in Dallas. “You’ve drained their battery; you’ve made them do too much work.”

Kelley’s keynote address, “The Bonfire Effect: How to Create Stores That Survive and Thrive in a Digitally Dominant Era,” was one of the highlights of the CMA’s biggest annual event, and it was a presentation focused on the importance of bringing people together in a world that increasingly drives us to our mobile devices.

And isn’t that what space planning is all about?

As much as any other profession in our industry, retail space planners have a unique perspective on what it takes to get shoppers to visit physical stores – you know, ones with people and things and sights and sounds and scents. And space planners are absolutely essential to delivering an in-store experience that keeps people off their phones, if only for a little bit.

For a second consecutive year, the CMA was proud to put on a series of expert presentations dedicated to space planning at its annual conference. Here’s a recap of what you might have missed:

Shaping Tomorrow: A Roadmap for Virtual Twin Stores

In this presentation, Meriyem Kaf, Director Merchandise Strategy & Execution at Home Hardware, took attendees through the process of executing virtual twin stores. Among the key elements covered were the metrics used to determine twin store success – a must if looking to measure efforts and determine next steps. Another interesting takeaway was the opportunity virtual stores can afford when it comes to more sustainable business practices, food for thought as stakeholders continue to push for more of an eco-friendly approach across seemingly all business practices.

Creating a Space Scorecard Horizon: Current Location vs. Future Destination

This lively panel with Flora Delaney of Delaney Consulting, Tom Tester of Ahold Delhaize and Kent Rodina of O’Reilly Auto Parts took attendees through the key issues in building the right space scorecard, including the question of whether to build one internally or purchase one externally.

In addition, the panel addressed other key space planning issues, with Delaney delivering a great bit of wisdom on how space planners must thread a needle when it comes to delivering recommendations. In short: space planners have to be clear, but they cannot oversimplify, and they must be prescriptive.

“You really have to distill down — this is what this is telling you do,” Delaney said. “Because for a category manager who’s got to make decisions about things that effect probably 15 different disciplines, they can’t be expected to be an expert in any of one of these.”

Trailblazing Collaborative Macro Space Planning for Suppliers and Retailers

In this Monday session, Pepsi’s Scott Taylor and Erin Cathey showed how Pepsi’s insights help retailers at shelf, including a case study on stopping category leakage. Other issues attendees considered were the ranking and segmentation of assortment using shopper metrics.

One other key learning for attendees was a thoughtful review of choosing the right space solution for certain key business objectives, such as winning new shoppers, driving loyalty, improving category performance, boosting omnichannel, and increasing impulse purchases.

The Bonfire Effect: How to Create Stores That Survive and Thrive in a Digitally Dominant Era

The last word goes to Kelley, whose Tuesday keynote hit both practical and hopeful notes about the future of retail. Some retail, he said, was gone for good — “the couch warehouses and unfinished furniture warehouses and mattress warehouses” — replaced by online shopping.

Many other challenges abound. Offices aren’t yet full, which is bad news for downtown business districts. You’ve seen the empty storefronts.

Still, Kelley’s message was clear: if you build it, they will come — if it’s good.

“If you’re gonna build a place today, you better make sure the amount of effort I have to go through to get to your place has a payoff,” Kelley told attendees. “That means I gotta deal with parking elevators, escalators. You better give me something. And it can’t be price, variety, or convenience. Those are gone. Those are gone for places.

“You better give me an emotional, social, cultural payoff.”

If the stakes sound high, they are. But what an opportunity all the same — and especially for you, the space planner.


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About the Author: Mike Wilkening, Communications Manager, for the Association of Retail and Consumer Professionals (ARC).

Mike brings more than two decades of communications experience to the CMA/SIMA. He began his career in journalism, spending more than 10 years covering the National Football League for Pro Football Weekly and NBC’s Pro Football Talk. His bylines have also appeared in CBS MarketWatch, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, NBC New York, and ESPN.com. More recently, he has pivoted to corporate communications, including strategy and messaging experience for a Fortune 500 company. Mike holds a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and a bachelor’s degree in accounting from the University of Illinois.

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