Visual Merchandising?

Jay H

PFG, Picture Framing God
Dec 8, 2003
I don’t know that this is as much a question as open-ended rambling.

I have been obsessing about storefronts and merchandising in retail stores lately. I have spent more time in the mall in the last 2 weeks than I ever have in my life. I have no idea how I want to design my store.

Has anybody hired or worked with a visual merchandiser? What tips have you gotten that stick with you?

I have been able to spot some common design techniques.

Like how a (usually tall) display always stands front and center just a few feet inside a door. I would guess that this creates interest and forces you to walk around it.

Many stores have a wall about half the width of the window. There is always a window display but you still see around the wall and inside the store.

Almost none have rows or distinct “isles”. Instead they have clusters of displays. The clusters usually offset each other, like movie theater seats, forcing you to weave between the displays to get to the register.

There is almost always a professionally printed sign of some sort in the window or throughout the store. Does anybody know where I can get this wide format printing done and for what price? Wouldn’t it be neat if the PPFA (or somebody else) could help design indoor sinage specifically for frameshops and sell them (like FS did with postcards)?

No matter how many times I leave Kirkland’s or Pier 1, I can’t recall what color their walls are. I think that’s because there isn’t one square inch of wall showing. There is merchandise covering every bit of it.

I haven’t noticed anything common about lighting other than its always interesting and rarely comes 100% from the ceiling.

Anyway I spend so much time taking mental, or physical, notes about the merchandising of a store that I’m afraid I will never fully enjoy the shopping experience again.

Has anybody else incorporated ideas they got from other retail stores into their frameshop? Have you noticed any common threads in design of retail stores?

***End of Ramble***

Carry on!
I have read several books on retail, and there are always tips on merchandising, etc. One that I found a lot of good practical information in was "Retail Success" by George Whalin. This talks about breathing space for the customers when they first come in the door (don't put stuff too close to the entrance), how customers shop to the RIGHT and how you should place your items that you want to attract attention to in that area. Visual space is important, because you do get overwhelmed when your senses go into overload (I never find anything in stores like Pier I because as a "nonshopper" I get overloaded and can't wait to get OUT! Also, they mention merchandising products together in small groupings - showing the customer how things can be put together - lots of times they want the whole grouping because they can visulize it. Moving product around and mixing things up, keeping the store fresh, etc. There's lots more, but I would recommend getting that book plus if you search on Amazon under retail, you will come up with lots more - well worth the reading if you begin to implement in your store.

We sell lots of photoframes - UNIQUE photoframes along wth some quality basics; people want different things - not everyone is a WalMart shopper or wants the mass produced look in their home/office. We get lots of complements on the variety and quality of our photoframes.

Read, Read, Implement, Implement - I've found this helpful in the merchandising arena. I came from the corporate world with absolutely no background in retail, but I'm learning lots and I pick up a lot of nice tips from watching other "small" shops that are unique in their own character.

Also, a signage shop of decent size can help with you indoor signage requirements - check out a few and see what levels of printing they have to offer. Not all sign shops are created equal in work or in pricing, so I recommend checking out atleast a couple. There is also some software available for printing smaller stuff through store merchanising catalogs like "Store Supplies", "Robert Hamm", and a few others (do a search on web and see what comes up)- They also have "some" larger signage options.

I'm sure there's more, but I have to go to work!

Hope this helps get you started

Jay, if you are a LJ customer, you might try contacting Greg Perkins. He is the best in this industry for this type info. You can learn a lot from looking the booths he designs for shows.

The LJ adds with frames would make a great store display. Just tweak them a bit for your store.

One of the best things you can do is paint your ceiling a dark neutral color. That will bring your customers eye down to the merchandise.

Store layout has just about been turned into a science. There are lots of books about it. Check PPFA for them.

Local fast sign companies can do inexpensive signs for you. Check out what they have to offer, and check different companies.
Jo, I think he is the one I talked to recently. He said he would help me set up.

I like the idea of using their ads for signs. Good idea!

I worked as a visual merchandising manager for Federated Dept. stores and then May Dept. stores for several years. After that, I was independant contracting for a number of companies for 2 years after I moved to Poplar Bluff. I covered SE Mo and NE AR; a variety of companies and about 30 stores.

Visual Merchandising is a lot like framing in that at it often looks simple on the outside, but it takes quite a bit of concentration and time to do it correctly.

You are doing the best thing you can--go to the most successful stores and see what they are doing. I guarantee that the national stores spend a ton of money on merchandising talent.

Also, like framing trends, there are visual trends that keep the store looking fresh and up to date with the retail and decorating climate.
That is one area where so many framing stores do fall short. A couple of VM (very) basics:

A few feet inside the store, the customers eye should land on a strong display of, preferably, your newest "look", or merchandise. It should be strong enough to make the customer at least pause, or want to linger. Much like the foyer of a home, it sets the first impression.

Your second strongest statement should be on your back wall, or depending how your store is designed, the far right wall. Most large retailers will have "last months" front display merchandise rotated onto the back wall.

Lighting should exist in 3 forms : Direct, indirect and accent.

Professional signage is a must, and it sounds like you are already on the right track. Hand written signs, of course, are an absolute no-no.

I just spent half of a day last week visiting stores in St. Louis to see what's new in the merchandising arena. Of course, there are trade mags that you can subscribe to.

I will say this. I see so many stores completely miss the boat with their windows. Most stores (not just frame stores) will just put merchandise in their windows (a couple of nicely framed pictures on a couple of easels).

A window is where a store can sell their image and talent, and that doesn't have to be limited to framed pictures.
Ohh and I'm 2.5 hours from St. Louis. Whatcha charge?
Jay, you might want to pick up a copy of VM+SD
(visual merchandising-store design). It's a pricey subscription, but a copy or two might give you an idea of what the content is like.

Do you sell items in addition to the framing? Artwork? Gifts?

I love to talk merchandising, but it is a pretty broad subject.
I bet they're gonna wonder about the sudden influx of requests from framers!

LOL, I was just thinking the same thing as I requested mine...

Good stuff, Barb. Thanks for sharing.

Ricko Colin Chock (did I get that name right?) welcome to TG..
It so happens that my best friend used to do window displays for Holt Renfrew and Chanel. I bring her in on an as needed basis to redo my store and windows. People that drive by say they come in because of the windows. The most important element of window merhandising is providing a wall back drop to anchor the window. We have three 6ft by 6ft hanging walls in front of every window. Our windows are redone every 4 weeks and so is the store. Major re-merchandising is done every 3 months (rotations on both floors). We go by colour grouping in each window and/ or art style. Old merchandise/floor models is drastically reduced in price every 3 months to make room for new ones.

We also plan on touring Soho soon just to see how the leading experts in home decor merchandise their stores.
Great ideas!!!

Jay, ironically I was doing a mall crawl just the other day to investigate lighting only, and I have noticed a theme.

Almost all use a combo of recessed cans, evenly spaced for ambient light. Then track lighting, particulary around the perimenter to accent the merchandise absolutely COVERING the walls. (When you walk into a store, don't you go right to the walls?) Some tracks across the ceiling, to accent the floating displays. Occasionally, pendants are hung from the tracks.

Like Barb said, direct, indirect, accent.

It felt pleasing to have all three lighting elements. But the interior details also made a difference, particularly the colors of the walls, floors, ceilings.

I found that the bath shops (Crabtree & Evelyn, Bath & Body Works, etc.) had the most delicious lighting and merchandising.