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Retail Rallying Cry: OH-IO

Creative minds will descend on Columbus, Ohio, for two days this month during the 22nd annual International Retail Design Conference




THERE’S A LOT OF retail design magic happening in Columbus, Ohio, home to a host of design and architecture agencies and industry leading brands. And this October 26-27, the International Retail Design Conference (IRDC), presented annually by VMSD magazine, will tap into that magic, offering extensive education, dialogue, networking and exploration opportunities to help the store design and visual merchandising communities navigate retail in the new decade.

Nourish + Bloom Market | Gregory Cohen, Lofty Pursuits | Reddy SoHo, New York

Nourish + Bloom Market | Gregory Cohen, Lofty Pursuits | Reddy SoHo, New York

For maximum inspiration, this year’s setting is the Hilton Columbus Downtown Hotel, located near the main drag of the very walkable Short North Arts District, known for its illuminated archways, impressive art gallery scene and vibrant local retail and restaurant offerings.

Attendees will have the chance to discover this neighborhood to the fullest during the offsite retail walking tours the afternoon of Oct. 26. Unlike previous years, 2022’s tours will be guided by representatives from the Retail Design Institute’s Ohio Chapter, and a few stops include the experiential Tenspace (an interactive panel discussion featuring Olipop – a recent brand highlighted in the space – and Tenspace’s Founder Rachel Friedman takes place Oct. 27), the 145-year-old North Market and local denim shop Artisan de Luxe, among several others.

IRDC 2022 Preview: Creative Minds to Gather for Two Days of Education and ExplorationIron Merchant Challenge: Winning Tips

We sat down with reigning Iron Merchant champ, Jay Highland, Executive VP of Creative at WD Partners, to learn what gave his winning team that competitive edge last year in Denver. (Highland will compete again this year to defend his current Iron Merchant Champion title.)

“Teamwork and everybody having a voice. We didn’t let anybody take over. Everyone had an idea and a role and we jumped in. Rules are made to be broken, so break them!”


The annual Iron Merchant Challenge, now in its 16th year, will take place Oct. 26 at 6:00 p.m., emceed by ZenGenius Inc.’s Joe Baer. This unique party for all attendees features six teams of 10 participants (comprising students, retailers, designers and sponsors) who will compete against one another to create a window display using a to-be-announced secret ingredient in 60 minutes – all with cocktails and glue guns in hand. Only one team can take home the coveted sashes, to be awarded during VMSD’s Awards Luncheon, Oct. 27. Sign up for this unique hands-on challenge when registering for IRDC 2022.

And remember what our emcee Joe Baer always says: “There’s no crying in visual merchandising!”

This year’s agenda includes an outstanding lineup of speakers, focusing on topics from sustainability to tech-driven and purpose-driven brands to the importance of marketing and more. Ruth Zukerman, the Co-Founder of studio cycling companies SoulCycle and Flywheel, will officially kick off the conference Wednesday, Oct. 26, with a keynote presentation focusing on finding success in the unlikeliest of places.

📷:  Shutterstock

📷: Shutterstock

Later that afternoon, Jeni Britton, Founder and Chief Creative Officer for Columbus, Ohio-based Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, sits down with VMSD Managing Editor and IRDC Co-Chair Carly Hagedon for a fireside chat exploring how this regional, coveted brand got recognized nationally – as well as revealing the key to creating a truly unforgettable experience for customers.

To cap off the event, Oct. 27, Gregory Cohen, candy maven, podcaster, YouTuber and Founder and Owner of Lofty Pursuits (Tallahassee, Fla.), will speak on the importance of sensory marketing and merchandising – all while making Victorian-style candy live on stage.


IRDC 2022 Preview: Creative Minds to Gather for Two Days of Education and ExplorationParty for the Ages

What better way to complete IRDC 2022 than with a closing party to be held at the Revery space at North 4th Corridor in Columbus, Ohio, this Oct. 27? Following the closing keynote speaker, attendees will be invited to attend IRDC’s closing party within walking distance of the host hotel. Drinks and decadent bites abound in this glass-enclosed, urban industrial and art deco-inspired space housed in the former, and historic, Smith Brothers’ Hardware building. Breathtaking views of downtown Columbus and its skyline will be the backdrop to a night of networking, dancing and, most importantly, fun!

The coveted Iron Merchant Challenge includes a sprint to the materials table before teams use the next hour to create their window displays using a secret ingredient announced on site. 📷:  Ralf Kircher

The coveted Iron Merchant Challenge includes a sprint to the materials table before teams use the next hour to create their window displays using a secret ingredient announced on site. 📷: Ralf Kircher

New this year, and after the opening keynote, the fun starts with two hands-on workshops to choose from: “Next Top Retail Concept,” a 30-minute “creative sprint” challenge that involves a vague design brief, an impossible timeline and an unreasonable set of objectives (helmed by Jay Highland and Jody Wasbro of WD Partners, along with a panel of retail judges). Or “Fake It Till You Make It,” (facilitated by ConsumerX’s Chuck Palmer and Jennifer Schlueter of CCAD) which places participants in a role within the retail design process that stretches them beyond their comfort zones.

For the first time ever, a full-audience interactive workshop, “Retail Gets Weird,” led by Karen Kritzer and Diane Spiridoulias of Sheridan and the RetailDuo, will take place Oct. 27 – lucky winners will receive a full registration to IRDC 2023! (Check out the full agenda featuring our 25-plus speakers at

📷: North 4th Corridor

📷: North 4th Corridor

The networking never stops, whether it’s at roundtable lunches, “Stay Connected” drawings, case study breakfasts or cocktail receptions, including the closing party at the urban industrial rooftop spot Revery at North 4th Corridor, where the skyline views will be the chef’s kiss on top of two full days of inspiration.


For more information about IRDC, visit See you there!

📷: Caleb Hunt

📷: Caleb Hunt

Walk About

This year’s offsite retail tours will be guided by the Retail Design Institute’s Ohio Chapter and sponsored by WD Partners. Taking place Oct. 26 from 2:30 to 5:30 p.m., guests will be led in groups of 10-15 attendees, first to Tenspace, and from there, to other destinations throughout the Short North Arts District. Thank you to the Retail Design Institute’s Ohio Chapter, WD Partners, and all of the participating retailers this year!

  • Tenspace
    930 N High Street, Columbus, 43201
  • Sole Classics
    846 N High Street, Columbus, 43215
  • On Paper
    743 N High Street, Columbus, 43215
  • Artisan De Luxe
    761 N High Street, Columbus, 43215
  • Fera
    889 N High Street, Columbus, 43215
  • North Market
    59 Spruce Street, Columbus, 43215
📷: Shutterstock | Ralf Kircher | Caleb Hunt | North 4th Corridor

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