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Leading the Way: Exclusive Insights on End Cap Innovations That Outshine the Rest

By Mike Wilkening, Communications Manager, ARC

In the shadow of the perimeter of Chicago’s O’Hare Airport sits Great Northern Instore, a designer of retail shelving and packaging solutions, including endcaps, with a whos-who of major clients, including PepsiCo, KraftHeinz, and Starbucks, among others. Great Northern Instore is a division of Great Northern Corporation, which offers a variety of packaging, shipping, merchandising, and distribution services for retail, consumer, and industrial clients.

To get a view into what’s hot in the endcap market, as well as display trends at large, we caught up with Paul Eifert, Vice President of Development at Great Northern Instore and a 38-year veteran in consumer packaging. Below is an edited recap of our Q&A.

Space Planning Community: How has the business changed most since you started from a design perspective in terms of what retailers, suppliers, and customers want?  

Eifert: There’s definitely a push right now for sustainable material. Sustainability’s become a big buzzword with trying to have displays that are more circular, that have more recycled product materials and that also have a clear path for recyclability. Some brands are very committed to it. Sometimes it’s the customer that’s driving it and they’re just trying to align to their brand. Sometimes it’s the customer’s customer. Certain retailers are starting to really push sustainability standards or kind of red-listing certain materials, and that’s at the heart of it as well.

One thing we also see at the shelf level is labor-saving devices. Things like pusher systems, roller systems, shelf organizers, that self-front the product to keep things from getting disarrayed by shoppers. That saves money for the retailers from a labor standpoint, and it usually also generates lift because the sections look better, shop better. You start adding things like light strips that illuminate the product and you can do a lot of things that can really optimize your sales, particularly areas like cosmetics, where probably 90% of the items are lit now. But if you go into certain areas of the store, there’s much less lighting at play. And when you can be one of the first movers in one of those areas, you can get a tremendous advantage of creating focus. So lighting is kind of a big deal, whether it’s under-shelf lighting, or you’ll see Starbucks put in a very nice decorative architectural light to draw attention.

You are also seeing where there’s more about (the shopper) experience, whether it’s through technology and interactive displays, lighting, even sensing technology that reads shoppers and then pulls video content to their age, demographics and things like that. In general, whether it’s high-tech or low-tech, brands and retailers are trying to create these little areas of experience.

Space Planning Community: What are some areas of innovation for grocers when it comes to endcaps?

Eifert: It’s a good question. In some cases they are experimenting with putting some of their big anchor brands on the endcaps like Frito-Lay or Starbucks as a lead-in to some of these aisles, and it seems like that continues to be a pretty effective strategy.

Space Planning Community: What do you like most about your job?

Eifert: I like the creativity. I like solving big problems and being able to ultimately see it in the field.

Space Planning Community: What’s one problem you’re particularly proud of solving? 

Eifert: That is a hard question. I know in the toy industry, and you don’t see it much anymore, we were doing a lot of interactive displays that would put a toy in a kid’s or a parent’s hands. It would be out of the box, and they would be able to kind of experience it. You could power it, or you would have a small video screen. I thought that was a really interesting way to display toys that led to some really good business over the years.

Space Planning Community: How does the endcap design process work with a retailer or CPG? How much creative freedom do you have?

Eifert: Some brands come to us with clear design briefs, and we just try to bring that to life to follow their specifications. The retailers are really trying to control their environment more than they have in the past, so they’re writing detailed style guides and things that you have to work within to design within that space. In some cases, we’re brought a very detailed planogram from the brand, maybe with the help of a retail space planner.

Others, they know they need a display, but you have to work with them to develop a brief, and then you kind of prove that out with multiple concepts, multiple rounds, and you can get something that gets there. So we work sometimes from a blank piece of paper and sometimes we work with a very detailed list of things. We do it both ways.

Space Planning Community: What is the typical endcap size that you build?

Eifert: The standard size that you think about very often is 3-to-4-feet wide. Four feet is probably standard, but there are definitely narrower ones and there are wider ones. The same is true on depth. Sometimes they’re as small as 18 inches, but sometimes you are really seeing some pretty monstrously deep endcaps.

Then there are endcaps where they kind of cut them down, where they come out 60 inches or more. Walmart has some endcaps where they create a little stage that might come out five-foot by five-foot in the furniture department. So the standards are changing, where it used to always be four-feet wide and maybe two-feet deep, eight-feet tall. Even within one retailer, you will see different size endcaps in different sections in the store.

Space Planning Community: Describe the perfect endcap.

Eifert: I’d say the perfect endcap is 20% to 30% with theater and education and excitement. That creates excitement about the product. And then that other 50% to 70% is actual merchandisable product that the shopper can pull, and it has strong graphics, has the visual pull. It screams the brand, yet it works well in that particular retailer key environment.


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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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