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Front and Center

Posted: August 30, 2013, 12:00 p.m. EDT


Carefully strategized and attractively staged window displays help retailers draw crowds and boost sales.

By Karen Shugart

When creating a window display, don’t just focus on selling a product, said Colby Branum, marketing director for TailsSpin, a retailer in Savannah, Ga.

"We like to think of a window display as a tableau that expresses the feeling of the season or the playfulness and fun of pet ownership, rather than focusing on selling a product,” Branum said.

Store Front
Courtesy of TailsSpin

Indeed, the best storefront displays not only improve sales, they also tell stories that stand on their own, according to retailers. Engage the community creatively, the thinking goes, and customers will follow.

"We find that playful, colorful and engaging displays are more effective in bringing in customers, rather than simply stacking product and having a sign,” Branum said.

It’s an area that some retailers haven’t fully explored, he added. "I think this is where some retailers fall short in their displays, when they don’t take a creative leap to engage their customers.”

But it doesn’t have to be so. And it doesn’t have to be expensive. Indeed, several retailers reported, creativity can accommodate a variety of budgets, and no successful one-size-fits-all window display strategy can address all retailers’ needs in order to boost sales.

The key to successful displays depends on a multitude of factors, said Chip Sammons, owner of Holistic Pet Center in Clackamas, Ore.

"Much of what you’re asking about depends on how big the windows are, what businesses are located next to the store, if there is a major street, and for the store’s functionality, what is best inside of the window,” Sammons added.

The key, Branum said, is to focus on what’s effective.

"Considering your space and composition for your display is very important to have the most impact on those passing by,” Branum said.

Don’t go overboard, cautioned Heidi Vanorse Neal, owner of Loyal Biscuit Co., which has several locations in Maine. Neal describes herself as a fan of "keeping it clean and simple.”

"I think some retailers try to display too much in their windows, and it becomes very cluttered and messy looking,” Neal said.

Sammons, whose shop is located in a short strip mall, tries to draw in customers with small educational messages, dog toys and sales.

"I usually reserve the front glass door for announcements or product sales and reinforcements for our customers,” he said.

For retailers who experience little foot traffic, drawing attention from passing cars can be key.
 
Dorothy Hunter, owner of Paw’s Natural Pet Emporium, said her stores in Kennewick and Richland, Wash., have many windows and little foot traffic. So they installed a permanent screen print that’s easily visible from a car.

"They are the same window screen prints at both stores, so people know they are at the right pet store,” Hunter said.

Many retailers like to build displays around themes. TailsSpin, for instance, rotates its products seasonally, using weather and holidays as guides.

"During the holidays, we usually have a big tree decorated with treats and toys, and we use leashes for garland,” Branum said.

Inspiration for themes can be found in a multitude of places, from the boutique next door to the art gallery across town, several retailers said.

Don’t just look to other pet shops, said Hunter.

"If you can’t think of an idea, go look at floral shop windows or big corporate companies,” Hunter said. "They always have great displays. You might not have the money they do for displays, but the ideas are there for the taking.”

Toy stores can be a useful resource, according to Neal. She recalled one toy store that filled its windows with balloons that contained discounts. Customers could choose a balloon to tap for savings.

"I think that was a fun, creative way to get people in the door,” said Neal.

Symon Lee, owner of Furever Pets in Portland, Ore., advises retailers to look everywhere.

"I get inspiration from flipping through magazines—magazines that don’t really show you window displays but show you a picture of something that you want to convey, a story you’re trying to tell,” said Lee, who has a background in design.

"You can get inspiration everywhere,” he continued. "I can get inspiration from someone’s T-shirt, from a postcard, from a magazine, from an art gallery. Even from a movie. I see a scene and I think, ‘I can create that.’”

If you don’t have a knack for design, Lee suggests employing someone who does.

The Loyal Biscuit Co. employs a staff artist who paints seasonal displays. "It really only costs the amount of the paint and a few hours of her time,” Neal said.

Budget-conscious retailers might develop relationships with freelance artists, Branum said. If money is especially tight, local high school art classes might be an excellent resource.

"Perhaps you could create a contest for a local high school art class or art club, and the winning design is displayed in your business for a month,” Branum said. "This could help burgeoning artists with their portfolios and help you promote your business.”

That promotion can even mean displays outside store walls. Projects out in the community are a valuable way to create buzz in the community, according to Branum.

TailsSpin, for instance, created a display at Savannah’s Chatham County Public Library.

"Our local library partners with local organizations and businesses to rotate displays monthly to coincide with books they are promoting,” Branum said. "I made and set up the display to go along with a display of pet care books that they were promoting. It was a really cool opportunity to work with our local library and promote better pet care and reading. What could be better?”

Displays don’t have to break the bank either, he said.

"We typically use polystyrene to construct fun objects for our displays, which costs very little,” Branum said.

"I do a lot of props myself,” said Lee. "I use a glue gun. I use wallpaper. I use whatever I can. I try to do things myself, and I save a lot of money that way.”

Reaping financial rewards at the cash register can be hard to track, but window displays are definitely worth it, Lee said.

"It’s hard,” he admitted. "It’s not something you can measure, but you see customers talking about them. They’ll say, ‘I can’t wait until the next one.’ Even people in the neighborhood with no pets will come to the windows to see what’s next.”

Undoubtedly, the displays draw attention, Hunter said. Sales can spike if a display is successful, she agreed, but even the best-designed one can’t save a bad or ill-placed product.

"Don’t think building a display will help sell an unpopular product,” Hunter said.
 
Don’t overdo your efforts, Lee said.

"The simpler the better,” he said. "The simpler the story you try to tell, the simpler the window display, the bigger the impact of that display.”

Sammons pointed out that no matter how carefully planned and executed a storefront display may be, one essential measure cannot be overlooked: "Of course, the most important thing about windows and glass doors is that they are clean and free of fingerprints and dog slobber!”

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