Successful Visual Merchandising can be difficult for independent retailers to achieve on top of the day-to-day pressures of running a business.
Firstly there’s the need to constantly come up with new and exciting ideas, and then there’s the time required to actually implement them – as well as finding the cash to pay for the project, of course. It may seem like a real drag to come up with display after display but, in today’s environment of internet shopping and giant retail chains, it is has never been more important for independents to invest in the appearance and customer experience of their stores. The good news is that although Visual Merchandising is a profession in its own right, you don’t have to be qualified or an expert to succeed in creating competent displays.
Follow the four tips below to streamline and de-stress your Visual Merchandising operation:
Devise a VM Strategy
Once the January sales are over and all trace of the busy Christmas period gone, it is the perfect time to focus on creating a Visual Merchandising Strategy for the whole year ahead.
First you’ll need to decide which festivals and celebrations you intend to coincide your displays and promotions with. Window Displays are for life not just for Christmas! There are so many events throughout the year that it would be unrealistic to reference all of them, but to aim for a minimum of 8 wow-factor window displays per year is good practice.
The main celebrations (in addition to the four seasons) are New Year, Valentine’s Day, Shrove Tuesday / Mardi Gras, Mothering Sunday, Easter, May Day, Harvest, Halloween, Guy Fawkes Day, Remembrance Day and, of course, Advent and Christmas.
In addition, there may be sporting events, different religious observances, regional Saints’ Days or other occasions such as International Women’s Day, Yarn Bombing Day or even International Talk Like a Pirate Day, that chime with your brand and customers. Film releases and news stories can also be a rich source of inspiration, and will speak to your audience. However it is wise to avoid referencing the more political aspects of current affairs – and always ensure that any stories or events you latch on to are relevant to your core business.
Once you have chosen your window display occasions, you can set about planning for them.
Create a Visual Merchandising Calendar
All too often Christmas window displays are left unchanged until the middle of January, at least a week after most customers have already recycled their tree into wood chippings. The superstitious would say this is bad luck, but old wives’ tales aside, it is easy to see how this could harm a shop’s image. Retail is indeed a fast-paced industry, but with just a little forward planning it is possible to keep up.
Setting dates in the shop diary for window-display Change Days is an excellent way to ensure your shop is always current. Designating fixed dates for these overhauls signals to everyone working in the shop that this is an important activity that must be done on time. However; fixing dates just for new installations is not enough. Time for preparation, planning and manufacture of displays must also be accounted for, as must the removal and disposal or storage of previous displays. So it is advisable to always be working around three months ahead so that things don’t get squeezed too close the deadline and either rushed at the last minute or dropped completely.
Being organised takes the pressure off, and gives the chance to make things fun.
For example, Twelfth Night could be a good time for a staff do (particularly if the Christmas period was too intense to arrange a party), during which you collectively and therefore quickly strip out all trace of Christmas, before heading out for a reward meal.
Ideas & Content Plan
Knowing how many different display themes and ideas you will need to come up with is very useful, whether you plan to delegate displays to a freelance Visual Merchandiser or do it all yourself in-house. Keeping a spreadsheet or other type of ideas list means you can add new ideas as and when they come up, and track old or previously used ones so that annual displays don’t become repetitive. This also encourages and enables you to plan and prepare in advance, so you can be ready for an efficient installation, with minimal disruption to the shop floor.
Generating ideas comes easily to some people, but others find it difficult to be imaginative. If there is a budget available, bringing in a freelance Visual Merchandiser to help generate ideas would be ideal – and of course they would also be able to implement them on your behalf. However, if cashflow dictates a DIY solution, consider calling a staff meeting for a communal brainstorm. Design by committee is not usually a good idea, but it will certainly elicit some initial inspiration from which you can then develop the better suggestions. Perhaps running a competition for the best display idea among your staff would be worthwhile, and would have the added bonus of making them feel valued.
An effective Visual Merchandising Strategy does not consider window displays in isolation, but relates them to the in-store experience. So, if there is a product showcase in a window, the in-store display of those products must bear resemblance to the window version. This sounds obvious, but it is a common mistake that in-store sign posting and way-finding are neglected. Tempting customers in to shops with something in the window is brilliant, but it is essential to then aid them in completing the journey first to the product and then to the till! Once a product has been elevated to window-worthy status, it should be prominently and beautifully presented inside too, as having to search for such an item in a cluttered store leads only to frustration and disappointment. Depending on your product lines and chosen celebrations and promotions, stock levels will likely vary throughout the year. This may well impact on available space on the shop floor, so the layout may need to change to accommodate additional stock, in line with your Visual Merchandising Calendar
Of course it isn’t possible to plan for every detail and the exact number of boxes that will be getting in the way at any one time. But a little advance anticipation will help you stay on top of the disruption, and make your Visual Merchandising duties a little more joyful.