Now that you've placed your wholesale orders it's essential to get your shop ready! We spoke to retail visual merchandising expert, author, and consultant Georganne Bender -- one-half of the popular duo KIZER & BENDER -- about the importance of cleverly curated displays, the thrill of the hunt, and her favorite Instagram feeds.
Since 1990, Rich Kizer and Georganne Bender have entertained and educated retailers with their highly individual style, thoughtful analysis, and plainspoken, no-nonsense advice. In addition to numerous keynotes and speaking engagements, they’ve been featured on such programs as ABC News Special Report and MSNBC; their bylined column, Georganne & Rich on the Road, was twice honored with the American Society of Business Publication Editors Award of Excellence (ASBPE); and their Retail Adventures blog was recently named the number one retail blog in the United States by PR Newswire Media. Meanwhile, their books have helped thousands of retailers improve their bottom line. Anyone who’s had the pleasure of speaking to them will know immediately that their numerous accolades aren’t built on hype.
ASD Insider: Why is having a visual merchandising strategy so important?
Georganne Bender: When you walk into a store, there is an immediate energy and ambiance. It’s the way the merchandise is displayed, and how the store’s employees welcome you. Shoppers unconsciously evaluate stores in 10 seconds or less. I don’t think retailers pay attention to that as much as they should. Having a visual merchandising strategy ensures that your first 10-second impression will always be a good one.
AI: Tell us why good displays can make or break your customer’s experience.
GB: It doesn’t matter whether you’re an indie retailer, hotel gift shop, an airport kiosk, a major chain, or a booth at ASD Market Week – it’s all about the display. Be eclectic. Don’t just focus on one thing. For example, a handbag display that’s just handbags is boring. Think about other things a woman might carry with her during the day – a wallet, a makeup bag, a necklace, or a scarf. Display these things together to tell a story. Add in color – a blue bag with complimentary blue accessories. This way, your customer is interacting with the merchandise rather than looking at a table of handbags. She may end up buying three or four things instead of just one. Remember to have fun with your displays and don’t be so literal. People don’t want literal, they want the thrill of the find.
AI: Can you explain that “thrill” a bit more?
GB: There’s a reason that younger generations love thrifting – it’s all about “the hunt” – searching for a good find that’s also a great buy. They want to put it all together in to create their own style: the blouse is from Anthropologie, the shorts are from Macy’s and the necklace is from Goodwill. So it’s best to offer customers surprising options by grouping items they might not have thought to pair together. If you sell candles, add candlesticks to your display too, but why stop there? You can also include books, a music box, or a fabulous bowl, whatever you like. Have fun with your displays – use your imagination, you can’t make a mistake. Just remember that the job of a display is to encourage shoppers to spend money. The longer they look at the display, the greater the chance they’ll make a purchase.
AI: Books are a great idea. I see that everywhere now!
GB: Right? Books have been used in displays forever because they are a great filler. They’re easy to find, people like them, there’s something comforting about them. Do you watch Fixer Upper? Joanna Gaines uses books in almost every room. I do at home -- I bet you do, too!
AI: Let’s talk more about creating the ideal display. Would it be near the front of the store?
GB: Up front and throughout the sales floor. But the first display a customer sees when they come into the store sets the tone for the entire visit. This display needs to be changed at least once a week whether it needs it or not. That first display is called a speed bump because it works the same way that speed bumps in the parking lot works: it slows customers down so they can focus on shopping. You’ll see buyers lingering over speed bumps because they tell product stories, almost like little stores on their own.
AI: A lot of people are drawing inspiration from social media. Do you find it to be useful?
GB: Absolutely. People want to see your store and your product – so they like pictures that are taken in-store. That’s great because it really allows your store’s personality to come out. Facebook is still the number one place for people to connect with the brands they like, but recently I’ve reached more people on a daily basis – and organically – with Instagram than Facebook. Instagram is all about photos so even advertising blends better. You sometimes don’t even realize that the great photo you’re looking at is actually an ad.
AI: But I assume not all Instagrams are created equal?
GB: That’s so true! Your Instagram can’t look like a catalog or a website. Don’t just post a picture of a model wearing a dress. Instead, photograph that model on your sales floor. Add accessories or pose them with furniture or home décor items. Show off what you sell! Know what’s better than models? Your employees. Customers like to see the people who work for you. Let your employees create a short video or a boomerang. Have them talk about what’s happening that week in the store or about an event or what’s on sale. Their personalities will make the item or service pop.
AI: What would you say to someone who’s afraid their pictures won’t be good enough.
GB: You don’t have to be a great photographer, just take a lot of pictures! No one cares if you’re Spielberg, they just want to see a cool photo or video of product. Look at your displays: what stands out? Take a picture! Don’t just take a picture of a toaster all by itself, photograph it as part of your display. Shoot it from an angle, add a fun filter, and the viewer will think, “I like that; I need to go to the store to see it.” The best pictures on Instagram always give me a definite feeling about the store and the experience I’ll have when I visit.
AI: What are your favorite Instagrams?
GB: The Drama Book Shop in New York City. Their posts are always about the merchandise, the store, and the actors and writers who visit. And the shop dog! It’s not just item after boring item. It’s always interesting.
Savvy City Farmer – talk about hunting for treasures. The owner, Joy Frey Waltmire, is amazing.
Fiesta Dinnerware – I love it because, like every other shopper, I’m drawn to color.
The STORY concept store in New York City has the perfect tagline: “We take the Point of View of a Magazine, Change like a Gallery and Sell Things like a Store.”
Georganne Bender’s Visual Merchandising Cheat Sheet / Checklist
- Change your speed bumps and other key displays once per week.
- Merchandise different “lifestyle” items around each other -- tell a story.
- Instagram -- post and post some more. Feature your employees having fun.
- Learn how to use “speed bump” displays.
- Color draws buyers in.
- Consumers these days are into what's happening on a local scale, so if you're looking for the latest local trend, take a look at what's going on around you. What are your customers wearing, carrying, doing, eating, and drinking? At least once a month, spend time away from your store, hanging out where your customers hang out.
AI: What would you say to retailers who are worried about the decline of brick-and-mortar stores?
GB: I remember hearing a big retail expert say that by 2005 there would be no more retail stores. I also remember thinking she was going to eat those words. Sure, consumers have an unlimited number of shopping choices today. There are plenty of places you can go to buy the things you want, but people like to go to stores and browse. It’s entertainment and leisure time. Shopping online just isn’t the same as walking into a beautifully merchandised store and it never will be. The next time you’re at ASD Market Week, spend an hour or two at The Forum Shops at Caesar’s Palace. It’s so well done, people don’t even realize they’re in a mall. Lots of the stores there are in your mall, too. It’s the ambiance that’s a game changer. And it’s a perfect opportunity to see how the different stores set up their merchandise.