Guest Blog: DFF: Design for the Future

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Oct. 24, 2016

I had an idea I’d like to share. While cleaning my apartment, while watching my vacuum struggle with the carpeted stairs, I couldn’t help but curse at my younger self for not planning ahead and buying the better model vacuum. However, why would I have? I was young, struggling with the new expenses of living on my own and my original apartment was all hardwood.

You read so many articles on the web: “Things I wish I knew in my 20’s”, “Things I never thought I’d say in my 30’s”, etc. The one thing I’d like to say to my younger self is:

“Think hard about what you buy, because you’ll be using it much longer than you think.”

As I look back on my purchases, I can clearly pick out the winners and losers. My kitchen knives, where I sprung for fewer knives, but higher grade steel, have served me well and since my knife block came with extra slots I have since filled in my collection. My laptops on the other hand have quickly showed their age. What I wouldn’t give for them to be upgradable, so I could just add in a graphics card and be able to play the latest games.

I also see that dilemma at Westmount. Many people coming in are unhappy with their current setup, but are stuck between a rock and a hard place. Many times they have either displays they got for free from their vendors or they have custom built displays that they invested heavily in. However, with the ever rising rent and competition, making the most of your space becomes more and more important. However, these specialty displays are inflexible, and are often fixed in place and don’t fit new products.

This is the problem we don’t see to begin with. In business school, they call it sunk cost. So for example, take my car. When I bought my car, I didn’t go with the leather seats. So now, if I want leather seats, I need to spend another $30-$40K on a new car with leather seats, but it doesn’t add up. I already have a car so in essence I’m paying $30-40k for leather seats. Which sound ridiculous and it is. So that’s what a lot of customers get stuck with. They already have shelves, so they are only gaining 20% more for the cost of new shelving. But then how much is that 20% costing?  I certainly could have done more with the extra time I spent vacuuming this weekend. Maybe I could have had time to make cupcakes for my Halloween party.  For store owners, that 20% extra, could be the difference between making rent and making profit.

In engineering, they have a term called DFX, which stands for design for X. Many people look at things and go why would you do that? But it’s usually, designed for something different. How many times has something broken, but you couldn’t get it apart to fix it without breaking it further. This is likely because it was designed for cost and assembly. It’s fast and easy to assemble and quickly snaps together. No thought was given to disassembly. How many times have you heard stories of auto mechanics charging hundreds in labour to fix a 50 cent light bulb buried in the car console? It’s because it was designed for style, not designed for repair.

So I propose the following idea: DFF, Design For the Future. This can mean a number of things including: upgradability, versatility and durability. My darn vacuum is durable and I probably have enough replacement bags to pass them down to my grandchildren, but it’s neither upgradable nor versatile enough to really handle carpet. My kitchen knife set on the other hand is super versatile and durable and with the upgrade of adding a sharpening steel there isn’t a recipe I’m afraid to tackle. The same goes for shelving. I know that as a start-up, everything is (and probably should be) bootstrap (i.e. you use what you have) but unless you add a little DFF you limit the amount you can sell and grow.

In terms of shelving, from what I’ve seen, modular systems can cost a bit more, but the boost to upgradability and versatility is huge. Adjustable shelves mean you can add and subtract as your product mix changes, while minimizing wasted space. The other advantage is that with standard style shelving there are more merchandising options available to you. Meaning it grows with you. So a shelf might be all you need to start with, but you will quickly find that ticket moulding saves those valuable minutes while merchandising and once you grow to a multi-location empire having that clean, consistent, recognizable brand image is what sets you apart from the competition. At that point you will pat yourself on the back for DFF and planning ahead and not being stuck in an out-of-date style that you need to spend a fortune to change.

Anyways, I hope some young whipper snapper finds wisdom in my words and takes those extra few seconds to DFF and makes an investment that pays out big time. Thanks for reading.

Jeremy Palmer

Seven years at Westmount Store Fixtures. Bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering (BSc) at the University of Windsor and master’s degree in business administration (MBA) at University of Alberta.

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