Window treatment

If only merchants put as much thought into their store windows as they do into their Websites. Most toss in a few of their latest products and hope for the best.

What a waste. A window can communicate your brand message and draw people into the store — if it’s done right.

“Print is two-dimensional,” says Dave Gaidousek, executive vice president for The Drake Co., a packaging and display firm. “With store windows, you can create depth, perception, motion.”

How do you achieve all that? Here are some tips from experts:

  • Make sure that your store window resembles your catalog

    “If there’s a message on the front cover of the catalog, we want to keep it consistent,” says Julie Krbec, manager of retail at Fair Indigo, a firm that sells fair trade clothing and accessories.

    People may see the catalog and then choose to go to the Website or store, she notes. “Also, repeated exposure helps to reinforce whatever message we’re trying to get across.”

    For example, the Hammacher Schlemmer catalog once featured a Zoltar fortune-telling machine (like the one in the movie Big) against a purple background. How did it replicate that in a store window? Linda Drummond, manager of the chain’s New York store, bought a matching fabric at a Jo-Ann fabric outlet and used it to cover the sides and floor of the window space.

    L.L. Bean has gone even further. It reinforced its 2007 holiday theme “Who’s on your list?” in its catalog, its store windows, and on shopping bags, using identical colors, graphics and fonts.

    The challenge is to translate a print message into 3-D. “You want a consistent theme, but the way it’s interpreted may be different,” says Sean Salter, director of visual merchandising and store design for L.L. Bean. “If we did an image of three puppies in a sleigh on the catalog, it could be stuffed animals in the window.”

  • Create a fantasy

    “You want potential customers to picture themselves in this lifestyle,” says Gaidousek. “They’ll go by the window and say, ‘I can see myself wearing that or doing that with the product.’”

    So use your product and props. You can feature a family of mannequins wearing your new fleece sweatshirts on a snowshoeing trip, or show your spa products arranged near a clawfoot tub with candles, a glass of wine, and an open book.

  • Use color to reinforce your brand

    “We try to keep our brand color, which is a burgundy, visible in the window,” Krbec says. “If we’re doing signs, that’s the background color.”

    Fair Indigo also deploys color to convey a holiday or season without being too obvious. “If you’re trying to get people in the mindset of Valentine’s Day, having red and pink sure helps,” Krbec adds. “You don’t need hearts and ‘Be Mine’ — the color can tell the story.”

    Another option is to coordinate your window with featured products in the store.

    “Color reflects the garment line and the seasons,” says Mary Wilson, vice president of creative for Hanna Andersson, a children’s apparel marketer. “What colors we use come out of the collection. We also have an in-store color palette of four colors that’s part of our key branding that’s used for more generic messaging, such as with special promotions or at sale time.”

  • Let there be light

    This can really make the difference between a dull display and an eye-catching window.

    “The product and the imagery must be represented with good coloration and great lighting,” says Gaidousek. Most windows in modern storefronts have directional lighting, which you can use to create depth, highlight certain items, and create primary and secondary elements.

    Let’s say you’re marketing a T-shirt. Highlight it and hang it in front of a less bright set-up of a girl on a bike wearing the same shirt. This showcases the product while secondarily reinforcing how much fun it is to wear it.

    But don’t put the products under the light, Drummond warns. Instead, place them in the best location and move the light towards them.

    In addition, check the display at night to make sure the lighting doesn’t create a glare. This is especially important if, like Hammacher Schlemmer, you leave the lights on in your window all night. “There are bars nearby and people could walk by at two a.m. on the weekends, so we don’t want the windows all dark,” Drummond explains.

  • Check the angle

    You know what feels terrible? When you spend days arranging your window display, and then realize that shoppers can’t actually see it.

    This happened to Fair Indigo. “We’re in an indoor/outdoor mall and our shop is outdoors,” Krbec explains. “We tend to gear windows towards people walking by, but then we realized that most of our traffic is across the way by the indoor shops. Those people can see nothing but the awning.”

    To fix the flub, Krbec and her staff elevated some of the items in the window so people could see them over parked cars, and hung vertical signs with the message repeated at the top, middle, and bottom.

    “That brought in a lot of traffic from people who couldn’t see it before,” says Krbec. “Always look at it from the customer’s point of view. You forget that people are walking from all different angles.”

  • Keep it simple

    There’s more to creating a display than throwing in a bunch of items. Or should we say there’s less?

    “The product really should speak for itself in a window,” Salter advises. “Not that it shouldn’t be enhanced by props or messaging, but the purpose of the window is to draw people into the store to look at your product, so that’s the main focus. People have only a few seconds to register what you’re getting across.”

    One trick is to display only the product you’re trying to market — no props, no signage. Drummond tested this and concluded that if people can’t figure out what the product is, they may come into the store to ask about it.

  • Communicate

    Use signage to tell passers-by what benefits you’re offering. Are you having a 30% off sale, do your body products promise glowing skin, are your clothes made from organic cotton? Put that in the window.

    Do you want the customer to come in and test out your lotions, check out your new skis, ask a salesperson about the benefits of your laptop sleeves? Say that, too.

    And don’t try to do all this with glossy signs. One new trend is to use signs of woven fabric-burlap or jute, according to Gaidousek. This will give your message a warmer feel. In addition, vinyl window clings can be printed in large sizes.

    You can even have clear plastics emblazoned with images — these can be hung in succession to create depth. “That’s really hot right now,” says Gaidousek. “When you light it, you create even more drama.”

  • Change the window

    Even if your catalog comes out only four times a year, you’ll want to alter your window displays more often. “People decide in an instant that they’ll go in and learn more or keep walking,” says Krbec. “If you don’t change the windows up, people will assume you don’t have anything new in your store and keep going.”

    L.L. Bean switches out its windows every four to six weeks. Hammacher Schlemmer does it about every three weeks.

  • Get going

    Put as much effort into your displays as you do your catalogs and Internet store, and you’ll create a window of opportunity.

Based in Concord, NH, Linda Formichelli has written for Call Center Management Review, Nation’s Business, and USA Weekend, among other publications.

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