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Retail Design & Display: Chain Store Personal Injury

By: Jerry Birnbach
Tel: 917-691-4853
Email Mr. Birnbach

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Introductory Statement

I have been retained by a law firm as an expert witness in the field of Retail Design and Display. I was asked to review a furniture retail Store located in the above referenced address. It does need to be noted that I was not able to review the actual piece of furniture in question nor the camel statue that fell off of the chest and onto the plaintiff.

According to the store employees questioned regarding the whereabouts of the pieces involved in the accident no one knows where this evidence is currently. Contrary to the furniture retail store accident report which states that the staff are to take the evidence and remove it from the floor and save it in a safe place for future review, this standard procedure was not complied with, thus missing.

As a result of the lack of evidence, I am forced to review current similar items, situated in the proximity of the accident report location, under current store conditions. In my opinion the inability to recreate the exact condition at the time of the accident creates some question in my findings and proceeding review of the store and merchandise.

Areas of Review of potential factors in store that were contributing factors leading up to the accident

Overall Store Appearance and Merchandising methods

This store has the look of a chain store operation which is very clean, well maintained, quality building materials used for floor, walls, ceiling, display fixtures, lighting, window trim, signing and customer circulation aisles. The look of this store is very consistent to other furniture retail store locations that I have visited over a one year period.

The store staff was attentive and helpful in answering questions and providing assistance in finding items both on the floor and on line. The most glaring deficiency with this store is the method of merchandising their product to the consumer. It is not uncommon for a furniture presentation to have accessories (lamps, pictures, art work, glassware, and statues) placed on or next to the furniture to accentuate the visual presentation. It is usually the intent of the retailer to improve their productivity of dollars generated per square foot by placing as many items in the least amount of space.

The furniture category of goods is difficult to generate a high level of dollars per square foot due to the amount of floor space taken as a result of the item size. It is not uncommon to place items onto the furniture in moderation to simulate a decorating idea that promotes a multiple sale of accessories sold in addition to the piece of furniture. In the case of the furniture retail store and the Ashworth Chest Style 2222588 with a dimension of 36"W x 18.5"D x 48"H at a $599.00 retail price, produces $133.33 per square foot upon a sale of one piece. According to a press release by the furniture retail store President ( see Exhibit 1 ) a level of $200 per square foot is their objective. Although this is an average targeted level, it becomes the responsibility of the store to place more items on top of the furniture to increase the desired sales per the 4.5 square feet that the Ashworth chest takes up.

Aisle width at the time of my review

In my photo audit you will see photos of the aisle width within the zone of the chest. It should be noted that several of the aisles currently have a width that is in violation of local fire egress laws, local building code requirements, and lastly ADA requirements for minimal aisle width for handicap access. This lack of conformance is often created due to the retailers desire to maximize the dollar per square foot productivity. By placing more product onto the floor, by narrowing the aisle width, a greater sales performance level can be reached by the retailer. It is my opinion that the same lack of concern for municipal and federal safety aisle width regulations extends into the merchandising thought process.

In summary, the non compliance to aisle width creates a much greater chance of accidents occurring throughout the store. A reduced aisle width can cause customers to nudge into objects causing them to shift and eventually fall off their base. As illustrated in my photo audit, there is a small margin of error in the distance items are positioned from the edge of object they are sitting on thus creating an unsafe condition. This practice of encroaching on the aisles is part of the staff training but loosely enforced when making a choice between profitability and customer safety.

Product merchandising above and around this product presentation

It is common practice in modern day retailing within chain store operations that a standard for merchandising and presentation of product is determined by the home office and conveyed through "planograms", a visual drawing showing the display front view, that defines the item, location and how to visually present the product. In the case of boxed items on a shelf, which is not the case with this furniture product, a section of display is indicated showing length,width and depth along with an indication of the product and what shelf it should be located on as well as quantity per shelf. In the unique condition causes by a single piece of furniture, the retailer would show the piece, either as an illustration or an actual photo, and situate any accessories or other product they feel will spike sales as a result of its position on or next to the furniture. In addition, the location on top of the chest for each item would be defined and any comments, warnings, or points of interest would be stated. It is my opinion that this practice is true of the furniture retail store, but I have not been presented with such documents to review.

The merchandise presentation that I saw in this store was alarming to me due to the amount of product that was found on top of the main selling object, the lack of concern that the product position was often located dangerously close to the edge of the item supporting the product and the inability to recreate a real furniture vignette found in a home. The defects noted above were found in every part of the store and as a result at any time or any place within the store an accident caused by a customer's nudge against an object, trying a sample drawer, or any method of reviewing product could result in a shift of product in the general vicinity could cause potential harm to a customer or employee.

Warning label inside drawer

. . .Continue to read rest of article (PDF).

Jerry Birnbach is a 35 year veteran in the Retail Industry for all venues of Retail and Product Vendors, Product Showrooms, Display Design and manufacturing able to determine the cause and effect leading to accidents occurring inside and outside of stores.

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