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10 Tips to Become a Visual Merchandising Expert

What every shop owner ought to know about his silent sales person

Are you a small business with a retail shop? Do you feel stressed about how to decorate your store? Have you heard about visual merchandising but don't know how to get it right?

Especially in difficult markets it is vital not only to focus on discounts but providing shoppers with an atmosphere of entertainment and giving them a positive shopping experience. There are two things that help you increasing your sales figures: one is an outstanding customer service, the other is your silent salesperson, visual merchandising.

How many hats are you wearing?

But often visual merchandising is neglected, especially in small businesses, where the shop owner wears many hats every day, being the sales person, accountant, product buyer, marketing manager, recruiter, trainer, cleaner and decorator. Visual merchandising ends up at the bottom of the job list and does not get the necessary attention.

This article provides you with valuable information every retailer ought to know about his silent salesperson, visual merchandising. My 10 tips will help you to get started with visual merchandising and create a unique experience for your customers. Eventually you will make your store a destination where people return because they love your shop.

Become a Visual Merchandising expert with my 10 tips to make your store a destination

1. Have a plan

Before you start moving anything around, take the time to make a visual merchandising master plan. You think you don't need it because your store is only small and you have everything in your head? If you do not have a plan, you play a game of dominos: move one item and the knock-on effect begins.

Your plan can be scribbling down bullet points or a detailed description of what you will do. But it is crucial to allocate some time to planning and write down your thoughts and ideas.

2. Think like a designer

Have you ever wondered why it looks so good when the merchandisers have set up a product or window display? Well, there is no magic behind it. It all comes down to understanding the elements & principles of design. All designers, no matter if they are interior designers, stylists, artists, graphic designers or landscape designers, use these design principles in their work.

Elements of design are line, direction, shape, size, colour, tone and texture. Translated to your retail environment, elements are all things that make up your shop: windows, floors, walls, fitting rooms, fixtures, posters, tickets, signs, etc.

Principles of design are repetition, unity, contrast, rhythm, balance and harmony. In other words the basic guides to visual organisation. In retail it is simply what you do with all your store elements to create an overall pleasing display for your customer.

3. Tell a compelling story in your window

Which story does your window tell? Stories are an important element in creating ideas that stick. Humans process information much easier when it is in the form of a story.

To create a story for your window think about which particular product you would like to highlight. Your window should always tell a clear and compelling story as it is the first touch point with your customer.

But before you start moving anything go back to your master plan. Write down answers to the following three questions you need to think about:

A. What is my story?

B. Which colours do I choose?

C. Which technique do I use?

You can choose your stories or product themes according to fashion trends/ new stock, promotions for Christmas, Easter, Valentine's Day, Mother's Day, anniversaries, lifestyle/ celebrities, science/ technology, art/ design, movies/ literature or seasons, e.g. summer, winter. Think about six product themes during the year and you can do a major window change every second month.

Once you have chosen your story, think about colours you want to use. Colour is the most powerful tool when it comes to non-verbal communication and the design element that makes a space come alive. By choosing the right colours you can literally stop people as they pass by your store.

You can choose your colours according to stock in your store, seasons, current colour and fashion trends, promotions, e.g. Valentine's Day. If you focus on a specific colour, this colour becomes your window story.

Step three is about choosing your merchandising technique. Now you need to display your story and colours in the best possible way. This means you decide about a method how to place every item in the window.

Techniques are horizontal, vertical or pyramid merchandising. Live merchandising means to set up a scene or picture like in real life. For example, a fully decorated Christmas table, if you sell home ware and kitchen products. Hero merchandising means focussing on one single product in your window display.

4. Make your hot zone sexy!

The hot zone is located just inside your front door and the first point of contact for your customer. Your customer will decide at this point if he keeps shopping in your store or if he turns around and walks out. This area is crucial and you must make a statement here!

Your best products should be merchandised in the hot zone. Treat this zone like another window. This area is great for promotional merchandising, e.g. Christmas, Mother's Day etc. Rotate products in your hot zone on a fortnightly basis. Don't overload your hot zone. Less is more!

Always remember: first impressions make all the difference!

5. De-clutter your counter

Don't overlook the importance of merchandising your POS area. Keep it clutter free and display impulse items or selected products. Use a fixture or a stand on top of the counter for smaller items and to create an interesting waterfall display.

Stylist's Tip: Engage a graphic designer to create point of sale material that is unique to your store

6. Keep your store clean and tidy

Housekeeping should happen every day. Dust and vacuum clean once or twice a week. Make sure your windows are clean by hiring a weekly cleaning service. Maintain the good appearance of your shelves, racks and other point-of-sale material. If something is damaged, repair it or decorate the damaged part.

7. Enhance the ambiance of your store

Create a sensual shopping experience for your customer by using a scented candle, playing music and adding the right light.

Lighting not only creates atmosphere, it helps minimising theft in the store. Illuminate your displays from an angle a customer will see it, which is usually front-on. Only show light beams and hide the light source away.

Don't hang lights directly above a product to avoid creating shadows. Use lighting to highlight focal points. Be careful not to create glare. Be aware of how different lights will change the colours of your merchandise. Save energy by using LED decoration lights.

8. Regularly check your overall store merchandising

Take some time with pen and paper and write down what catches your attention. Go into detail and look into every nut, bolt and screw. Then brainstorm what you would like to change in your store, what props you would like to use for your windows. What needs to be replaced or repaired? But be realistic with what you can achieve and afford. Write this down in your master plan and go step by step. Remember, your plan will help to manage your time and resources!

9. Add icing on your cake

Props can be a great finishing touch for your product or window display. To work with props you need to invest some time sourcing them and they cost money. But by using interesting props in your display you can add value to the existing merchandise and enhance your story.

If you are not sure where to find props in your area, contact a stylist, or browse antique stores and auction centres for a wide selection of interesting pieces.

Always remember to first merchandise your products! This is what you sell and has priority. Everything else is an addition.

10. Be an explorer of the world outside your store

Keep your eyes open and go shopping every couple of month to see what your competitors are doing! Visit a big shopping mall or discover a suburb where you normally do not go for shopping. Draw inspiration from everything you discover. Take your camera to take a few pictures of window displays and store presentations that speak to you. Make notes and gather as many ideas and inspirations you can!
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