Looking out across the retail landscape, are your visual merchandising programs a familiar wallflower or the hot new bloom that’s getting all the attention? That’s one of the questions judges pondered as they reviewed entries in the 18th annual VMSD International Visual Competition.
“We’ve all had to be wowed with less,” says Brent Hodge, owner, Creative Thought (Cincinnati), and one of this year’s judges. “Now that you have money again, you can’t go back to the old ways of doing things.”
Visual merchandising returned to the spotlight in recent years as retailers began making investments in these temporary programs to refresh their store environments. As those budgets continue to loosen up, retailers should be looking beyond the status quo to bring their brand stories to life.
It’s about giving shoppers a reason to come back, says Joe Baer, owner, ZenGenius Visual Merchants (Columbus, Ohio). “How can you focus dollars to do ‘wow’ every few weeks?” he says.
“You need to play harder and make it more impactful,” says Richard Ash, ceo and founder, Green Room (Birmingham, Eng.), whose in-store promotional campaign for Nobis earned Best in Show in this year’s competition. “If you don’t, it doesn’t create a great impression.”
Old Tricks, New Ideas
While retailers have become adept at reusing props from past campaigns, Jon Jones, visual director, Macy’s State Street (Chicago), says he’s focusing on taking old-school techniques and modernizing them. For example, for the launch of the Coach Poppy Flower fragrance, Jones took in-store signage and made a statement by creating a 100-foot-long banner on one continuous piece of fabric. “The technology makes it look updated,” he says.
For the Nobis in-store campaign inside London’s Harrods department store, designers couldn’t alter the walls, ceiling or lighting of the historic building. So one solution was to add cool-toned lighting filters to create the desired ice-cave atmosphere.
As retailers think of new ways to put their best foot forward, they should also think about the floor. The Nobis promotion included an 89-square-foot vinyl floor graphic of cracked ice to enhance the concept, while Macy’s Chicago State Street flagship employed a 40-by-60-foot pink vinyl graphic floor covering for the Coach fragrance campaign.
“When we lit that, it just popped,” Jones says.
Give it a Twist
While the handcrafted look remains popular, retailers and designers are branching out beyond the usual materials palette. Paul Olszewski, director, windows and interior flagship marketing, Macy’s Inc. (New York), found colored zip ties on a trip to a local hardware store. The right moment to use them came in creating fashion windows where he used the ties in a rainbow of colors, wrapping them around simple pieces of PVC and trimming them to different lengths for a sense of movement.
“It will certainly make people think differently about everyday materials,” Hodge says.
In addition to a twist on materials, visual merchandisers should also consider changing perspectives or traditional storylines. For Holt Renfrew’s window campaign “High Camp,” where mannequins appeared to be floating in underwater settings, passersby were given the sense of being on the ocean floor looking up at the mannequins floating in colorful inner tubes.
Setting the Stage
A sense of drama is also in high demand in creating an award-winning visual display, whether it’s delivered in black-and-white or color motifs, unusual mannequin finishes or dramatic lighting.
For “The Year of France,” an in-store home goods presentation at Mission Hill Family Estate Winery, in West Kelowna, B.C., product groupings were done in separate color stories to help highlight the product. “It’s really artistic, like they’re composing a painting,” says David Hogrefe, managing director, Fitch (Columbus, Ohio).
Judges also appreciated the effort to merchandise the product with a story. “It’s an innovative way to talk about wine,” added judge Lara Roller, senior interior designer, FRCH Design Worldwide (Cincinnati).
In Holt Renfrew’s “I Spy” window campaign, judges liked the monochromatic styling and the parody of film noir. “There are subtle little things you see on second glance,” Hogrefe says.
Whether it’s a new material, updated techniques or a fresh angle on a familiar seasonal campaign, judges agree on the need for clarity. “We see a lot of unfocused work,” Hogrefe says. “You need to offer an expert point of view.”
Check out the First Place winners in VMSD’s 2012 International Visual Competition.
Check out the Honorable Mention winners.