"A doctor can bury his mistakes, but an architect can only advise his clients to plant vines."
– Frank Lloyd Wright
Volume 74 | Issue 3
May 2006

Automation Innovation: How the University of Kansas is saving thousands in energy costs

Elizabeth Beltramini

Retailers continuously monitor their facilities to ensure they appear fresh, trendy, and easy to navigate for their customers. Commercial retailers generally remodel their stores every seven to 10 years, after the store’s construction, equipment, fixtures, and décor have been written off and amortized. Chain stores in malls or shopping centers are always looking to improve their position and strengthen their brand identity in the marketplace by remodeling.

However, college retail stores typically have much smaller budgets for renovation and yet serve an increasingly consumer-minded student population. Collegiate bookstore directors might have the opportunity to be involved with the renovation, expansion, or planning of a new bookstore only once or twice during their career. Therefore, it is important for the campus bookstore director to think and react like chain store operations to maximize the facilities’ appearance while minimizing cost.

There is one inexpensive trend that collegiate stores haven’t caught onto yet: cosmetic remodeling. Cosmetic remodeling means taking a complete inventory of your store in square feet and stock, comparing those numbers to dollar sales, and expanding or contracting department sizes, shapes, and locations based on what will make your store more successful. This also includes a relay of the store fixtures, traffic aisles, points of service, and décor. The relaying of a facility can greatly improve your business, providing a higher level of perceived service to the customer, minimizing staffing, possibly reducing headcount, and expediting sales. Store planning consultants specializing in retail facility planning and design offer many solutions and quick fixes to improve operations and profit per square foot. This laundry list of items will help you rethink how you can improve your store operation, visuals, and staffing with minimal expense.


  2. When a customer walks into a retail store the first thing they see are the lights on the ceiling, then the aisles or navigational path, and then the merchandise. Ceilings are meant to be plain and disappear. Remove any handmade signage hanging from the ceiling, other ceiling clutter, or dated décor elements that detract from the merchandise.
  3. Improving overhead lighting is one of the most cost-effective ways to maximize a store’s appearance and visual impact on merchandise. Eliminate any flood light usage in incandescent light fixtures—it only spreads light and wastes energy. Also be sure to consistently use the same type of light tubes; a combination of different light tubes in your light fixtures draws negative attention to the ceiling.
  4. Remove any existing decorative light fixture drops that do not coordinate with the fixture plan or that look dated. If you have an older type of lighting fixture, known as prismatic lighting, using (three or four) T12 light tubes, this type of fixture spreads light across the ceiling and calls attention to the lighting pattern. These fixtures are recognizable by the plastic diffusers that appear to be white and hide the light tubes. Prismatic light fixtures are used only in office and non-selling areas of retail stores today.
  5. If you have a black or darkly painted ceiling, consider painting it a reflective white. Dark colors on ceilings drop the light levels, as the color diminishes any bounce in lighting and the overall lumens of light.
  6. Remove any water-damaged tiles from the sales floor and replace them with tiles from the stock rooms or offices. (You want the color of the ceiling tiles to match and don’t want to distract the eye with a new tile.)
  7. Vacuum all air distribution ducts and surface dirt on ceiling tiles. Also, wipe the entire interior surface of lighting fixtures with a damp rag.
  8. Open the doors to ceiling light fixtures and remove the prismatic lenses in the fixture. If they have yellowed from age, replace the lenses (about $3–4 each).
  9. Replace older light fixtures with new parabolic light fixtures and energy-saving ballasts that use only three tubes (T8 fluorescent, 3500K, 32-watt) and push the lighting down onto the merchandise instead of spreading it at the ceiling plane. Older cool-white fluorescents provide a cold light that is blue-green—not a full color spectrum. The T8 (warm white) tubes are a good source of color rendition with an average life span of 24,000 hours. A new 2' by 4' fixture costs about $60–65. The existing drops can be reused and changed out by the maintenance department, and the savings in energy consumption will pay for itself in a relatively short time.
  10. The lighting plan needs to direct the light lumens downward, spreading an equal amount of ambient light to the sales floor. The standard foot-candle measure in bookstores and collegiate retail stores is 65-foot candles measured three feet above the floor. This distribution of even light will ensure no shadowing of merchandise. A local lighting consultant can assist in the relaying a new lighting plan that will ensure a 65-foot-candle of illumination for the general sales area.
  11. Perimeter lighting, when installed correctly, will help to make a store look and feel larger from the higher level of foot candles from overhead lighting. If new track lighting is installed, coordinate the color of the track and fixtures with the ceiling color (white) so as not to bring attention to the system. Use only small energy-saving fixtures and light tubes.


  12. Install new directional ceiling-hung signage and graphics to help direct shoppers to every general or specific classification of merchandise. Department names will act as navigational tools to direct the customers from department to department.
  13. Install new ceiling-hung signage that indicates ADA checkouts, express checkouts, and checkouts that accept credit cards, checks, or cash.
  14. Install signage that directs the customer to service areas, online-order pick-up, or pre-paid merchandise and books.
  15. Institutional insignias or sports logos can be incorporated into the aisle marker signage as an inexpensive way of improving décor.
  16. Pressure-sensitive floor talker graphics of institutional insignias or logos can be produced by a local graphic company on heavy duty vinyl and be applied to vinyl flooring, reinforcing the store’s brand image.
  17. Pressure-sensitive directional floor talkers on vinyl or carpet can be applied prior to rush/buy-back for queuing lines (e.g., start and stop markers with arrows help to form lines). When rush is over the floor talkers can be removed.


  18. There are many ways of improving traffic flow without recarpeting the entire store. If your carpet is more than 10 years old and is still serviceable, professionally clean the carpet to improve the appearance and knap.
  19. If carpet is worn around the perimeter of the wall counters, have a local flooring contractor provide a quote to remove the carpet between the wall counters and end of gondola counter and the free-standing floor counters.
  20. If the carpeting throughout the store is really showing wear in the aisles between the runs of counters and you are deferring replacement, reset the gondolas over worn spots, exposing the new carpet previously under the gondolas. Then clean the carpet and make the necessary adjustments to other fixtures to compensate the layout.
  21. Strip off all of the old wax and sealer from vinyl composition tile and reseal tile for a newer looking finish.
  22. If vinyl tile is worn in high-traffic areas such as checkout counter, instead of trying to match the tile (which is impossible because of the existing tile’s age), remove the tile, prep the floor, and add an accent school color of vinyl to fill the area. You can also place a few other new tiles randomly among the older tiles to bridge the division between new and old floor. Customers will not know that you have taken economical measures to improve their shopping experience.
  23. Carpeting also can be removed in 12'–14'-aisle areas or near checkout counters. Vinyl tiles replacing the carpet also tie the tile into the store’s entrance. Carpeting receives a transition strip. This accomplishes a clean look at the checkout areas and gives the appearance of new flooring.


  24. Take a plan of the sales floor and define where the existing departments start and stop. Measure the square feet of the departments, and count the merchandise stock and fixtures. This includes the linear feet of shelving on gondolas. With this information, it will become obvious where the sales floor and fixture lines need to be adjusted and where departmental lines need to expand or contract.
  25. Place merchandise in a logical order (not just visually appealing) to promote cross-selling. Fixtures can be readjusted and, if necessary, a department can be moved to the opposite side of the aisle. That is considered acceptable in the retail industry.
  26. Consider where carpet versus tile floor is located. Hard-surface walkways encourage traffic movement and help customers to walk the perimeters of the store and not just the center of the department.
  27. Power aisles can be created by removing carpeting diagonally through the store to the checkout areas. These aisles are typically 12' wide and provide a surface for 2'- to 4'-wide parallel queuing lines to the checkout counters at rush.
  28. The center 4'-space can be used for impulse items, supplies, binders, or gift items, adding to the total sales.
  29. Power aisles perpendicular to checkout area can improve the bookstore appearance and provide valuable staging areas for events and queuing during rush. This newly created wide aisle in front of the checkout aids in rush queuing, and movable impulse fixtures or pallets feature additional supplies and impulse merchandise.
  30. Most gondolas widths in bookstores are 42" or 48" wide. Aisles between gondola counters are typically 48" wide. By removing one run of gondolas, you will have created a 12'-wide aisle. This aisle can be tiled with an accent tile coordinated with the replacement tile in front of the checkout counters.
  31. In the center of the newly formed aisle, 4'-wide by 54"-high four-way gondolas on heavy-duty wheels can replace old gondola counter runs and impulse merchandise with back-to-school merchandise.
  32. Queuing lanes can be formed on the two sides of the four-ways gondolas. As students are in line, additional sales can be made with merchandise the students forgot to pick up while purchasing textbooks. Perimeter aisles also can be used for queuing.


  33. Paint is one of the least expensive ways to freshen bookstore décor. If you are going to paint walls white, make sure the walls above the wall gondola counters are painted a reflective white. If you are adding signage, use the school color for the signage.
  34. Don’t be afraid of color. Think of school colors and paint an accent wall above a wall gondola with an accent color. Repetition of a color scheme or the same color brings attention to a wall. The trick here is to paint the walls where you want the eye to focus. The new color will accent the bookstore and if you add premanufactured foam letters, use white for the letters.
  35. You may also want to add bibliophile quotes to the textbook departments to add excitement to the space between the top of the wall fixtures. Textbook departments are normally just a vanilla box; be creative and paint the back wall with an accent color.
  36. If you have an area that is subject to wear, consider installing a commercial heavy-duty wall covering in a neutral color to stand up to the abuse.
  37. The largest problem with slatwall is that retailers purchase slatwall from companies and do not realize there are different grades of slatwall. Most stores will shop slatwall based on cost and not durability. There is lightweight, medium-density, and heavy-density slatwall. Even with heavy-density slatwall, the slats can break if the brackets are overloaded with heavy merchandise. If you want to ensure the slats do not break, the slatwall should be ordered with metal inserts. The most common color is natural aluminum or an anodized finish of black, bronze, or brass color. Aluminum is the least expensive. These slats are preinserted into the board before it is shipped.
  38. Slatwall comes in a variety of finishes and colors. Most commonly, slatwall can be ordered in a neutral tone such as tan, gray, beige, or wood tone. The finish on this slatwall is a melamine that in most cases is durable. Slatwall can be ordered in 4' by 8' or 4' by 10'. The slats can run the length of the panel or width, so consider how you will use the slatwall panels to ensure you will get the best use out of the material. To allow for fewer seams, use the 4' by 10' panels with slats that run the length of the panels.
  39. If you want to update old gondola counters in a supply department, apply slatwall to the back of the old counter from the base deck to the top of the fixture. The slatwall can be affixed with panel adhesive, screws, or bolted to the existing back panels in between the slotted uprights for the shelves (you don’t want to cover the slotting for shelve insertion).
  40. The slatwall with metal inserts can be applied from floor to ceiling and will provide the structural strength to triple-hang sweatshirts, backpacks, on straight faceouts (hangbars) of 16"–18".
  41. Backstock of sizes can be placed on the top row to eliminate merchandise in the stock room and give the store a fuller appearance.
  42. To complete the display, 18"-wide display shelves with half-mannequin forms and other merchandise can be added to the slatwall.
  43. Columns are the most unused real estate in a store. Think of putting slatwall on all four sides of a column and merchandise all four sides. Trim out the corners with an “L” metal or wood trim to clean up the edges of the finished installation.
  44. If you have columns in your clothing sections, install a mirror on the backside (opposite the wall) as a convenience to your customers.


  45. Checkout is the customers’ last memorable experience in the bookstore. Your checkout needs to be designed so that you minimize the time in line and the sale transaction time.
  46. Checkout and service countertops typically will show the greatest amount of wear and surface scratches. A lot of old countertops also have colors that look dated. Countertops can be refinished by sanding the laminate surface and applying a polyurethane paint. Check your local paint or home improvement store for polyurethane paints. Your maintenance department can perform this treatment, and it will extend the life of the counters.
  47. Applying new laminates is another way to freshen countertops. After sanding or removing the existing laminate and cleaning the surface, the new laminate can be applied relatively easily. This can be performed by a local contractor or cabinet shop. Select a color that is neutral or bold.
  48. Don’t forget about the face of the counters; they also can be polyurethane or laminate covered.
  49. This is also a good opportunity to clean the insides of the counter and wipe them down; often this area can be ignored, leaving an unsightly appearance.
  50. Inventory all of your clothing racks on the sales floor and the conditions of each fixture. This includes four-ways, T-stands, round, and vendor-provided fixtures. Eliminate any fixtures that are a hazard to the shopper, such as those with broken parts, busted wheels, sharp edges, or sagging hangbars.
  51. Place the newest four-way fixtures on wheels at the edge of the aisle with the older fixtures next in line behind the new fixtures. (This is a department and specialty store trick.)
  52. Call all of your vendors to see what new fixtures you can get from them and request similar styles of rack fixtures. Most vendors supply fixtures in a silver powdercoat finish.
  53. Round racks should only be used for clearance merchandise and placed in the back of the department. If you order glass for the tops of round racks, make sure it is frosted as the frosted finish minimizes the appearance of dust.
  54. Hang small, medium, large, and extra-large apparel on separate hangbars. It makes shopping much easier for the customer.
  55. If your budget allows it, order all fixtures on heavy-duty wheels or casters. Most carpet is damaged by clerks dragging the fixture and causing runs in the carpet.
  56. Some gondolas on wheels are useful in helping to relay a store. Fixtures on wheels can be added or removed for special events, sale items, or book signings. If you are going to order new fixtures with wheels, each 4'-unit should have end panels to strengthen the unit for structural stability and ease of movement.
  57. End panels on gondolas with slatwall provide a means to support other types of related merchandise and promote cross-selling.
  58. Not all gondolas need to be on wheels, especially in the textbook department. However, you may want to have a certain number of gondolas on wheels that are at the aisle line to increase the width of an aisle during rush.


  59. Look at the displays in the windows of department stores and notice their simplicity. They focus more on the merchandise and not the props or clutter.
  60. Contact the visual merchandising office of a department store in your area; visual merchandisers often are willing to take on a freelance job to help your staff create exciting displays. (Visual merchandisers often will work for an hourly rate on their day off.) Working with a professional a few times will help the staff start to display merchandise like pros.
  61. Use craft paper or inexpensive cloth banners (e.g., felt, cotton) hung from the ceiling and supported with a dowel rod as a backdrop for displays on the sales floor or in a show window.
  62. Frame or mount historical photos or newspaper articles from your campus to highlight insignia merchandise.
  63. Don’t mix too many ideas or products in a display; it detracts from the display’s focus. Keep cross-merchandise to a minimum and focus on the big-ticket items.
  64. Use a half or full headless mannequins and risers to add height to a display.
  65. Add seasonal fauna or props purchased at the dollar store to add interest to your display.
  66. Hangers are one of the most distracting fixtures used on the sales floor. Purchase black hangers for the entire clothing department. This is a small investment and will unify the sales floor merchandise. Also the black color fades into the merchandise and places customers’ attention on the apparel.
  67. Nesting tables in groups of three is a great way to display folded merchandise such as T-shirts, sweatshirts, hats, and other coordinated merchandise.
  68. The largest nesting table is a great place to use a headless mannequin that attracts attention to the merchandise grouping. Use a few headless mannequins (women and men) to illustrate how combinations of merchandise will look coordinated.
  69. Three-tiered 42" round tables with two shelves also are great for fanning folded merchandise.


  70. Placing the director’s or manager’s office on the sales floor within view of the service desk is helpful if any problem arises or if assistance is required. If it is possible to elevate these offices, the associate working in the office will have a higher viewpoint over the sales floor and can see if shoppers are in their area.
  71. One of the largest changes in campus retail planning and design today is to bring the buying staff out of the stockroom and onto the sales floor. What you accomplish by doing this is having an additional set of eyes watching the sales floor and a perceived sense of service to the customer.
  72. Workstations strategically placed on the sales floor for associates also assist the customer with questions and can help to reduce headcounts. This may require moving fixtures.
  73. Moving employees’ lockers out of the stock room and locating them with the coin-operated lockers near the service desk eliminates any questionable merchandise in the lockers.
  74. Don’t forget about the stockroom. This is where the business begins, and it is important that the stockroom gets a good cleaning twice a year to remove all old fixtures and unused point-of-purchase fixtures.
  75. With the increase of online ordering, many stores are not prepared to expedite these transactions. A mobile service desk on heavy-duty wheels can be placed so it is easily accessible to a stock room where orders can be ready for pick-up in prepacked bags or boxes with the name of the recipient. A temporary overhead sign helps to eliminate question: “Where do I go to pick up my order?”
  76. Make sure there is plenty of room for receiving, staging, shipping, clerical/processing areas, recyclables, and merchandise storage.

Cosmetic remodeling and relaying of the sales floor is one of the most commonly used practices in department and specialty stores to increase sales. A cosmetic remodeling means cosmetics and not a total remodeling or entirely new fixtures. Many times you can achieve a new look to the college retail stores by examining all of the elements included in the sales floor. Cosmetic remodeling also means reusing most of the existing fixtures, updating some of them, and adding a few new fixtures where you will get the biggest bang for the dollar. Incremental adjustment to the décor with some paint, signage, reworking of worn flooring, and other elements can help defer a major remodel for years.

For more information or if you have questions about college store retail, e-mail bulletin@acui.org, and we will collect the questions for a future follow-up story.