In today’s competitive retail climate, every business owner is seeking to achieve any advantage available, and retail clustering is one way businesses are managing to increase their sales.

Along with businesses, potential customers are increasingly trying to find ways to make shopping easier. If we look at the overall successful shopping experience from a customer’s point of view, it becomes simple. Customers don’t want to drive across town and back to purchase various items. They are looking for a shopping experience which has access to a variety of merchandise.

Retail clustering fills the bill. It offers the potential customer an easy and efficient experience, and automatically increases the sales from individual stores in the cluster. That is why it works.

A retail cluster is a group of businesses located in the same shopping area. They can be in a mall, a strip shopping center, or a downtown. It really doesn’t matter where they are located; what matters is their composition. It only works when compatible business are clustered together and have the same customers.

Probably the best example would be food courts at major malls where vendors are grouped together. They all have the same customers, many of whom might go into the food court to buy from one vendor, but end up buying from several different vendors.

This works the same way in any shopping center. If a shopping area contains businesses that have the same customers, the likelihood of those customers shopping in more than one business is greatly enhanced.

Surveys have shown a majority of today’s shoppers go to a shopping area with only a vague idea of specific items they are shopping for. In a retail strip with compatible stores, the shopper rarely goes in only one store, since merchandise in the entire group of stores includes items that the customer commonly purchases.

Retail clustering is a way for both businesses and the customer to be served. For both to be successful the customer must have access to a variety of stores and restaurants that cater to him or her, which results in the businesses having higher sales. The idea that a retail business standing by itself can be as successful as a business located in the middle of 15 compatible businesses defies all retail logic.

“Compatible” is the key word, and that means a customer of one must be a customer of all. It doesn’t mean a group of stores should all carry the same merchandise. It is, instead, that the merchandiser or restaurant or shoe store or jewelry store must have the same customer. That customer could conceivably buy a dress at a ladies’ dress shop, eat lunch at an adjacent restaurant, and then pick up a pair of trainers at a shoe store.

Disney did a study that indicated not only did retail clustering increase sales on Main Street in the Magic Kingdom, but the storefronts that are approximately 25 feet wide work better. Actually, Disney designed some of the larger spaces with extra doors to replicate the 25-foot storefronts, which are the standard width for older downtowns.

There are a couple of challenges in the retail clustering concept that should be considered. In the shopping area, the retail stores should all be on the first floor, and there should be a solid line of them. A parking lot or non-compatible store or company is a killer to retail clustering, and professionals such as doctors’ or dentists’ offices should never occupy first-floor space.

Studies have shown that many shoppers will stop and turn around when they come to a non-compatible store or a parking lot, even though there are more stores past the interruption. Office space on the ground floor of a retail area is a sure way to lose the benefit of retail clustering.

Another key to developing a retail clustering shopping area is the economic level of the customer. A resale shop next to a high-end ladies’ clothing store is not retail clustering, even though they both sell ladies’ dresses. They aren’t catering to the same caliber of buyer, and they lose the benefits of compatible retail clustering.

In the same way, if we were to break up the existing strip of businesses with office space or with businesses that carry products that aren’t typical items purchased by the targeted customers, then the entire shopping area would suffer.

The three steps to success, according to retail trainers, is to define and target shopper groups, arrange like-minded stores together to meet unique demands of those groups, then analyze their performance.

In my recent column about the energy impact of the ammunition in AR-15 semi-automatic weapons, I wrote: “A typical AR-15 bullet leaves the barrel traveling almost three times faster than–and imparting more than three times the energy of–a typical 9mm bullet from a handgun.”

Almost every response from readers was about how to lower the death rate from gun violence, and all agreed on the need to keep the mentally ill from owning a gun. Here are a couple:

“I believe it [the AR-15 bullet] actually delivers nine times the energy, because velocity is squared in the energy equation, e equals one-half mass times velocity squared.” That is why the AR-15 kills instead of wounds.

Another writer suggested limiting the magazine to three shots; “a duck hunter has more protection than our school children.”

Email Richard Mason at [email protected]