Editor's note: This article was excerpted fromRetail in Detail.
Appearance is so important in a retail shop that you should put a great deal of thought into planning and executing your displays. Master chefs are taught the importance of "presentation" of food. It's not enough that food be good and nourishing; it must also be appealing to the eye. That's why parsley growers survive. Not many people eat parsley, but tons are used as a garnish on platters of fish and other foods. Why? To provide a touch of color and make you want to order the dish.
Some restaurants feature color photographs of their specialties, displayed around their dining rooms. They are invariably colorful, balanced displays of their food that invite you to partake. Unfortunately, the real food doesn't always match the photos! But the point is that it's not enough to have useful, quality merchandise; you must display it in a way that says to customers, "Take me home."
Imagination is the key ingredient to planning eye-catching and appealing displays. Don't be afraid to do something different, maybe even a little outlandish at times, within the bounds of good taste, of course. The more distinctive your store, the more your customers will remember it.
Deciding on a Theme or "Look"
Instead of mixing all sorts of displays in your store, you would be better served to establish an overall theme that will unite your merchandise. All displays need not look exactly alike, but they should be compatible or blend in with each other.
This theme can go in many directions, from whimsical to very formal, with anything in between. It's determined mainly by the products you want to sell and the customers you are trying to attract. Have you ever been in a shop that really turned you off because the displays were random or uncoordinated and made you not want to come back? Naturally, you want yours to have the opposite effect and you want the look to be as distinctively yours as possible.
You don't have to settle for an unwelcoming interior décor just because the space you are leasing is plain, box-shaped, and finished in a generic and boring standard decor. Not many people are attracted to a shop that looks like a warehouse bay, unless, perhaps, you are selling industrial chemicals and forklifts. With a little imagination, you can transform "plain vanilla" into a "hot fudge sundae"! When you look at a rental space, train yourself to see beyond the obvious to the possibilities!
Lighting can be a key ingredient of any store's ambience. Most retail spaces are finished out with commercial fluorescent lighting fixtures, which usually give a good level of light, but do little to add to a warm atmosphere.
All this is to say that you can make a silk purse out of a sow's ear if the desire is there. Consider this story about a woman who has a gift shop in a service station. The gas pumps are still bringing in a major portion of her income, but she has added a beautiful gift shop, carrying everything from small gift items to expensive collectibles. She enjoys seeing the faces of her customers when they walk in to pay for their gas--not your usual gas station!
A good way to get display ideas is to look around when visiting other retail shops. Go to other towns and look at shops similar to yours. You may not want to copy their ideas exactly, but it may trigger a new idea for you. See what appeals to you and make a note of it. Likewise, note things you don't like, so you won't make the same mistakes. Does this approach sound familiar? It should, as it's the way most people decorate their homes--looking around, filing away ideas, discarding things they don't like. Your shop may not be able to mirror your home decorating scheme, but it can reflect your tastes. This can be your chance to be a little bolder than you would at home.
You can get some pretty good ideas by going to trade shows and noticing the displays of the vendors. Some are really professional, while some obviously did not put much thought into displaying their wares. Trade magazines are also good research sources, or just magazines in general.
If decorating bores you or you simply can't come up with any good, imaginative ideas, you may want to get professional help on your displays. Some franchises offer this service and some may insist on certain forms of display, but even large card companies give the owners some leeway to inject their own personalities into the atmosphere of their shops. Whether or not you get professional help may depend on your feeling of self-confidence in this area or it may depend more on your financial situation. If you can't afford outside help, brainstorm with your friends and family, develop some ideas, and go with them. Remember: you can always adjust the ideas later, if they don't produce the results you want.