Nowhere is this more applicable than merchandising for a produce department. Especially with the single biggest challenge that even the busiest stores face: Maximizing sales while controlling shrink.

To completely understand this challenge, managers have to look at their department from this perspective: With the display space allotted and tables full—as full-looking as the company-directed ideal stock level—can I sell through or turn each display completely every day?

The answer to this question, especially in most medium-to-slower operations, is no. Even in the busiest stores there are displays that simply do not turn this quickly for a variety of factors, such as having too much space or misallocation of the space provided. If the item is low-respiration, such as spaghetti squash or watermelon, the one-day turn test is not as critical. But high-respiration items, such as tomatoes or berries, require several turns a day to remain fresh.

Ideally, if a manager keeps just a layer or two on display, the product will stay fresh, but often the resulting customer perception is a lack of fullness or selection, which negatively impacts sales. It’s an age-old retail challenge—how to look full without using a lot of product. The answer, in many cases, is to dummy up displays. In this example, we’ll look at the process of dummying up a display of tangerines.

How to Dummy Up a Display
An Overflowing, 16-case display? No, an abundant looking, less than eight-case creation. This display is only three layers high, but thanks to the dummied effort, appears larger, which triggers added sales.

How to Dummy Up a Display
Bottoms Up! - By using original shipping cartons that would otherwise be thrown away, a nice false base is built. Note how the inner box is trimmed and inverted so the top layer of fruit will begin at near top-box level.

When you dummy a display, you are replacing good product with a false bottom. Preferably material that is of little value. What’s important is the end result. Does your display appear full? Is the display easy to work with? You’ll want something everyone in your crew can work with. More than anything else, does the dummied display work? Are you turning your product quickly?

Any display will sell some product. To optimize sales, spreading out a display is always better than squeezing in on space allocation. And given expanded space, most good managers use some sort of dummy to minimize shrink. Dummies also help keep displays fresh, which maximizes sales.

Which, as the old ‘Hokey Pokey’ song says—“That’s what’s it’s all about.”

  1. Consider how much you would sell if you didn’t have to worry about rotation or shrink and your display was kept ideally full throughout the day. Suppose this came to eight cartons. Compare this to the amount actually on display. If you have a base of eight cartons and another eight cases are piled on top, you’re using 16 cartons to sell eight. Ideally, to turn once daily the fully loaded display should only be eight cartons.
  2. Build up your base. If it’s a bulk display, you can displace that dead space below with any of a variety of materials: wood, foam, inverted crates—anything that builds up the base and minimizes the amount of merchandise actually on display. In the tangerine photo, shipping cartons are used, cutting and inverting the telescoping box so no product is in the base of the display.
  3. Stock the display. Following the typical routine of new product on the bottom and rotating older stock on top fill the display to the desired height, straightening as usual. Note how less product is needed while the result is an abundant appearance.
  4. Cull and rotate frequently. With a dummied display, product will be fresher and sell quickly. Keep up the image of fullness with constant attention, rotating with each stocking trip, which requires less labor with such a shallow base.
  5. Maintain the fresh-built look. In our box-on-table example, replace cartons that become old or damaged. Try to keep the cartons consistent, placed tight and level with labels up and facing the same direction. Attach signs and keep bags handy.



Armand Lobato works for the Idaho Potato Commission. His 30 years of experience in the produce business span a range of foodservice and retail positions. E-mail