Brand Identity : 2 – Store Sign & Visual Displays

vmYes, the way you display your tee shirts matters!

How your store looks is sometimes more important that what you are selling. Is your store entrance inviting? Are your tables and wall standards easy to get to? Are you telling a good visual “story” with your windows? We’ll explore the basics on merchandising your store from a visual perspective and also discuss how to build a formula to keep your store fresh and exciting to your frequent shoppers as well as your new guests.

Let’s start off with a quick definition from ddi magazine – “Visual merchandising takes your consumer from the retail display to the cash register. Encouraging sales through creative color and commercial retail design is a key element to keeping a customer interested.” Nicely put. So what does this mean?

Here are a few goals to keep in mind with VM (visual merchandising)

  • Create excitement to draw your customer into your world
  • Stimulate all 5 senses – attract not only with sight but smells (aroma therapy but not too strong), touch, sound (watch the music in your stores as it may scare the moms and the dollars they are attached to away) and taste too (salt water taffy bits for tasting – you will sell more boxes this way).
  • Plan! What is your traffic flow? Do I have the merchandise to set a promotional display? Set a clear image to your end result
  • Demographics – the who and what. Who are you attracting and what are you selling them
  • Be inspired! Visit other retailers and capture the environment around you.

Let’s also think in terms of KAOS in your merchandising

  • Kinetic – depict motion, not just static imagery
  • Assortment – show depth in your presentation of multiple product offerings
  • Over Communicate – Carry a sales theme through the department or entire store and make sure your associates are in the loop
  • Sale! – Again, your end result is to attract sales by leading the customer through the entire store. Make sure discount merchandise is in the back


Plan on what you are merchandising; what tools, fixtures or props will be needed. Do you have a shipment of product meant for display? If so do you have enough? Again, keep the end result in mind and share your presentations if you have multiple locations.

Your planogram should also include a “blueprint” of the entire store. Take time to study the traffic flow. Are there any dead spots or un-shoppable corners? What areas of the store will a display have the most impact? Your main goal here is to focus your guest’s attention as you want them to shop the entire store. The planogram is the roadmap to your merchandising success.


Traffic flow

As you study the traffic flow put yourself in your guest’s shoes and absorb what they see. Let’s take a walk…

  • Your windows facing the parking lot or walkway outside your entrance set the theme for the visit. Make sure graphics are clean or the story you are telling with a display has clarity.
  • Enter your store into the “Transition Zone” – about the first 5 feet or so past the door. Here your customer is taking the store in, removing sunglasses, adjusting to the sights, sounds and smells. Not much retail is done here, so no need to worry about merchandising.
  • Past here is the “Strike Zone” — or your first impression “speed bump”. Place a table presentation here with a good average price point. Not “sale” items, but not high-end either. Continue the theme from your windows here.
  • Next stop is likely the inside wall to the right of the entrance. In western cultures we tend to move to the right of an obstacle. Continue with the medium-priced product and possibly carry on with like-product or similar branded items from the front focal presentation.
  • The back of the store should be reserved for high-demand and higher-priced items. This makes your guest walk the entire store to get to the good stuff – whether it is a sale zone or your high-ticket merchandise. Make sure this area is visible from the front. Display add-on and impulse items here as well to help with your multiple sales.
  • Keep your aisles wide. Make sure you are ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant (36”wide or face the possibility of up to a $5,000 fine in some states) and it helps your customers roam a bit more freely through all your merchandise. Allows for better visibility from your associates as well.
  • Your cash wrap is an important security post! You need great visibility of the sales floor here – especially if you are asking a minimal sales force to protect your merchandise. Avoid clutter and keep an open counter top for your guests to place their purchases. If there is a bunch of junk on the counter the guest will be confused and might limit additional shopping. You should place add-on and impulse items here for that last grab for their cash but place items above, near or behind the
    associate – neatly. Be aware of the size of your cash wrap – too big and you are taking up valuable floor space! The best placement for the cash wrap is to the left of the entrance (to the right facing out).


So you know your store plan a bit better but how do you display all the stuff you want to sell? On fixtures! Take a look at your needs – they are different by store type and they can be different between departments. Are you fixturing for ease and speed (likely in gift shops catering to tourists) or are you creating ambiance (think resort, surf, skate or other board sports environments).

Make a checklist next as you’ll be looking for sturdy fixtures that offer the most flexibility to your store. Make sure the fixtures will relate to your needs – can you attach shelves, hanging bars, a waterfall or face-out? Make sure you get all the hardware too – screws, bolts and attachments. Look at the return on your investment as well. Don’t buy a $10,000 fixture to display low priced accessories or sunglasses. Keep round racks and straight bars for sale merchandise and use four-ways for non-folded apparel and gondolas for accessories.

Just like the cash wrap watch your size here. Don’t bog down your sales floor with a huge shelving unit but don’t waste space by placing a fixture with little impact that may go unnoticed. Think outside the box with your fixture solutions – have fun with an armoire you found at a yard sale! Furniture makes great displays. Also take advantage of your vendor’s hospitality with any fixtures
they offer but don’t overdo it when placing them on the sales floor. Too many different themes upset your floor balance and confuse your customer. One final note – rotate your floor pattern often. Especially if you have a repeat customer base – Moms and the locals hanging out. You may have put a fresh stack of tee shirts on the front table but if it’s the same table in the same place your customer will not “see” or notice the change.


How will your guest see the goods? Lighting of course! Lighting is key component in emphasizing your product and promotional displays. Get to know your lights…

  • General lighting for the sales floor, usually fixed in place.
  • Accent lighting for accentuating displays, flexible – cans, pendants or track.
  • Task lighting is for cash wraps, display counters and work spaces

Familiarize yourself on the different types of light bulbs – fluorescent, incandescent, halogen and CFL’s (compact florescent light bulb). Identify the potential cost and weigh your options. CFL’s have a heavier up-front cost but they last a long time (5,000 to 10,000 hours), use less electricity and most come with a guarantee. Think green here – both the environment and your wallet!


Merchandise is now placed on your fixtures and on the floor. Hooray! Let’s communicate, eduand direct traffic with some signs. Up front, remember the windows? Promo decals are a clean and colorful approach to letting your guest know what’s behind door #1.  Take advantage of your vendor’s generosity here as those promo decals hammer the point home on what you carry… in a bright colorful lifestyle-laden message. Just don’t mix and match with brands.

Inside the store carry and reinforce the theme forward by matching the art, font, colors and message to tie the sales floor together. Make sure to develop a sign template to work from for consistency and to avoid confusing your guest. Invest in a laminating machine too. Avoid handwritten signs at all costs! It’s hard to have a consistent theme and even though you can read your writing, not everybody else can. Trust me on this one – why do you think I am typing this?!

promotional displays

You have your traffic pattern set and you know “where and what” to do with your promotional displays. What’s your display going to show?

  • Similar product – This will educate your guest about the depth of product you carry in a particular category. Could be souvenir shot glasses and coffee mugs, could be a collection of “green” organic tees from a variety of manufacturers
  • Cross-Mix Product – Here you are mixing categories to show a breadth of merchandise; perhaps to support the “lifestyle” and boost multiple sales
  • Branded – A promotion for a particular vendor and usually offer a cross-mix to show your guest all that the brand represents in your store

Gather up the merchandise and also think of some props to help tell the story. Get crazy here – witty, attention-grabbing and eclectic. Set your theme to support a local event like a parade or music festival. Theme it out for a holiday sale. Use large items if you can – a bike for instance. Use thought-provoking placements like a mannequin form “shredding” in the top corner of a room or
hang a Christmas tree upside down in the middle from the ceiling! It’s fun and saves valuable floor space! It will definitely catch your guest’s eye and they’ll tell their friends. Make your own props too– buy some brightly-colored plastic bowls. Turn one upside down and hot glue them together and fill to the top for a nice touch.

When setting your promotion display tables or walls follow a theme with your items –

  • light to dark
  • left to right
  • small to large

Tables should be set along an entrance or aisle with the lower items to the inside of the corridor and the taller items to outside like the image below.


When placing tables make a positive impact with your walls. Don’t hide the walls. Instead use your table displays to draw the eye and focus the attention on the wall behind.


We can now clearly see your wall sets but is there a technique for placing product here? Yep – light to dark, small to large, left to right. You can achieve this horizontally or vertically


Just like table displays remember to keep your walls full. You don’t want blank, negative space. If you have a small area that just can’t be merchandised toss in a cool picture or frame a vendor’s logo. Use props around your forms on shelves.

Let’s look at your windows again. As I mentioned earlier, the window is really your first chance to grab your guest’s attention. Banners and decals make a nice, clean statement and can help promote the lifestyle with impact, or they can draw customers in for a holiday sale.

You can also use your windows for promotional displays; same chance for impact here. Use props to tell the story. Take advantage of creating a scene or celebrating a local festival or other local interest theme. Again – big props are fun and whimsical. I love using a Weber grill for summer displays. Crack the top open and use the grill for a shelf, the warming rack for accessories like can
cozies or ball caps and a cooler underneath full of tee shirts rolled into a tube like a can of your favorite beverage.

If you do go the “display route” with your window, remember to check it regularly for maintenance. Pick up the dead bugs, freshen a toppled prop and watch for faded range or purple apparel that receives direct sunlight Change the light bulbs, pgarments. A rule of thumb is not to use red, oas it will fade in a matter of days.


Now that your store is set and your displays are done you need to create a maintenance schedule. It is critical to keep your store looking fresh at all times as everything your guests experience is a reflection of you. General housekeeping aside, train your associates to reload and recover your displays and floor stock. This will maximize your selling as your customer can’t buy it if they don’t see it! Refold and resize your promotional displays to avoid confusion – a clear presentation helps your guest zoom into what they want and eases them to the cash register. This is an ongoing and daily process. You never know when a busload of tourists are going to come in and wipe your displays out, which is a good thing! Just make sure to fill back in.

Here’s a great trick – Take a snapshot with a digital camera of your wall sets, table displays and windows and post them, along with the planogram, behind the stockroom door or in a folder behind the counter. That way your staff can refresh from the visual and make it perfect each time.

Tools and Supplies

Here’s a quick list of tools and supplies you’ll need for doing basic visual merchandising:

  • planner for sale dates, holidays
  • tool box, ladder
  • hammer, nails
  • phillips and flat screwdrivers, assorted screws
  • utility knife, scissors
  • straight pins, tacks
  • fishing line, twine
  • binder clips or clothes pins
  • tape measure
  • pencil
  • two faced tape, velcro
  • zip ties
  • hot glue gun and glue sticks
  • folding board, folding table
  • spare light bulbs
  • glass cleaner, paper towels
  • duster
  • steamer

Some publications, magazines and website to sharpen your skills:
– why we buy
• by paco underhill,
– ddi magazine (display and design ideas)
•, 847.763.9050
– nadi (national association of display industries)
•, 954.893.7225
– visual merchandising and store design magazine
• 513.421.2025
– institute of store planners
• 800.379.9912
– national association of store fixture manufacturers
• 954.893.7300