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Visual Has Not Left the Building

Elvis lives, and so does visual merchandising



For the past several years, visual merchandising has been at the core of a life-and-death debate. Some maintain that vm is as moribund as Kathy Lee Gifford. Others insist that vm is still fogging the mirror.

The “vm is dead” corner points for evidence to the increased influence of fixturing as a design element, the decrease of visual budgets and in-store visual staffs, the de-emphasis on seasons, the disappearance of mannequins.

The “vm lives” side argues that the entire profession can't be tossed aside. Now, more than ever, in-store flair is needed to compete with on-line retailing.

I've wondered for a while if the “vm lives” faction was whistling in the dark. But I'm on their side now. I had an epiphany recently, right in the middle of Chicago's new Harley-Davidson store. If you thought visual merchandising's dim future was tied only to high fashion, see what it accomplishes in a store designed to emulate a biker garage.

The Harley store, on Ohio and Rush streets, is an impressive monument for both the hog butcher and the hog maker. You feel a part of the cycle culture the minute you enter. Is it the fixturing? Hardly. Those are commodity metal waterfalls, t-stands, slatwall and the like — though the tarnished, distressed finishes tie in nicely with the garage feel. No, the Harley world is imaginatively and persuasively created by the large archival photos of cycling; by the collection of bikes that sit on an overhead platform; by the repeated use of the H-D logo and black and orange colors; and by the metal and concrete references to Chicago's El trains. And that, folks, is visual merchandising, pure and simple.


Talk about a tough neighborhood! The Harley store is on the same block as the new Disney Store and ESPNZone, both palaces of branding and imaging. As theming and branding flourish, the emphasis on visual merchandising flourishes, too.

If you were at GlobalShop, you felt the energy of the Visual Merchandising Show — colorful, exciting, busy. Funny how it's always the Visual Show that reflects current trends and styles. This year, it was a proliferation of bright colors, more hot pinks and vivid yellows than I'd seen since my last time in Miami Beach. Those pinks and yellows are what you're probably seeing this spring in the temples of Prada and Gucci, Ralph and Calvin.

Want to see powerful visual merchandising? Watch for VM+SD's upcoming Visual Competition awards, an annual celebration of windows, tableaux, presentations, designs and in-store theater. Unfortunately, visual is more ephemeral than other store design components. It lasts only until the next season, the next holiday or the next promotion. If it isn't captured — on film, in print or in a competition — it's gone forever. But thanks to our competition, you visual professionals will live and thrive forever. It would be a Blue Christmas without you.



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Strategy needs creative, and creative needs strategy—yep, having both is really the only way of unifying all disciplines with a common vernacular with an eye toward building a strong creative vision that is foundational to the processes. Hear from Bevan Bloemendaal, former VP, Global Environments & Creative Services at Timberland, how to connect the dots between disciplines, claiming and creating a clear differentiation for the brand and ensuring that any asset (experience, product, ad, store, office, home, video, game) is created with intention.

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