March 5, 2018
By Michael Guajardo
Visual merchandising is the silent sales team that is always working to impact the bottom line.
Ever needed more staff? You have it— your captivating windows, enticing displays, and good signage all work to pull the customer in without saying a word. Visual merchandising is always on the clock, never takes breaks, and inspires interest when customers wave off personal attention.
After receiving the 2017 MSA Recognition Award for Visual Merchandising, specifically our Rodin exhibition shop, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts Shop team was approached to write a blog about the topic. We will jump into that below. In addition, we wanted to give everyone a glimpse into how we approach our exhibition shop set-ups. Before we purchase any merchandise for an exhibition shop, we first decide on a thematic look and feel. We study what our exhibition department will be doing in the actual exhibition and strive to make a seamless flow from exhibition to exhibition shop. For the Rodin shop, we wanted to take our customers into Rodin’s studio. We collaborated with our woodworking shop to create an amazing large-scale window. We then worked with our graphics department to come up with a graphic that would allow our visitors to imagine that they were looking out onto the city of Paris. We adapted a color for the walls from colors used inside the exhibition for a natural flow from the end of the exhibition to the beginning of our shop. We brought in tools, aprons, and purchased fixtures that had a very urban, industrial feel. We will normally sell off our fixtures, at a markup, to reimburse ourselves for this type of expense. From the Edison type lighting we hung from the tracks to the quote on the wall, we tried to pull the entire look together so that the whole team understands the look and feel we are trying to achieve. Everything goes onto a story board for reference and to cement it into place.
Merchandising any project, like our Rodin shop, or a new table display can sometimes feel daunting. Realizing that every store and every customer base is different, we set out to create some universal tips. Since VMFA Head Buyer Raven Lynch is the bigger-than-life leader of the silent sales team, we went to him for advice. Whether creating windows or in-store displays, these tips will help you keep it simple but impactful.
Here are Raven’s tips:
- LET GO. You can’t do everything yourself. Delegate and edit later. Use the editing process as a coaching opportunity with your team.
- KEEP YOUR MESSAGE SIMPLE AND DIRECT. Don’t make it complicated for customers or staff. If your display is too intricate it might be difficult for staff to maintain the vision. Complicated displays might confuse your customer.
- FOCUS ON CORE PIECES. Never frost a cake before you’ve baked it! The details and pretty items come last. Focus on the core pieces first and then layer in other items. Use a focal point and the pyramid technique for maximum interest.
- TELL A STORY. What are you trying to sell? It should be clear to the customer.
- KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE. What will excite your customers? If you have price sensitive customers (and who doesn’t?) you might not want to create a front table (or window) with high-priced goods. The opposite is also true.
- MAKE ITEMS ACCESSIBLE. Make customers feel comfortable touching displays and handling items. Your display might look beautiful, but a customer might not want to get near it, for fear that it might topple over. Your displays should also be ADA compliant. Make sure to leave the necessary space around displays for all customers to move with ease.
- BE CONFIDENT, BUT OPEN TO FEEDBACK. Be open to curatorial or other stakeholders’ views, but do not diminish the retail perspective and the need to generate revenue to support mission-critical operations.
- BE CONSISTENT. If placing signage or tags on the right on every display, be consistent. Don’t change it up as you go along.
- USE ADD-ONS. Coordinate complementary merchandise with your statement pieces. If you are featuring mugs, integrate coasters and napkins to promote add-on sales.
- CREATE COHESIVENESS. Make sure your statement works with displays around it. Within a single display, items should all correlate.
- STEP AWAY, THEN EDIT. Walk away from your project for a few minutes, return with fresh eyes, and then see where you can edit. Keeping it simple, focused, and impactful is the key!
- HIGHLIGHT FOR IMPACT. Lighting and signage are your other silent salespersons. Put them to work to sell your visual statements.
- KEEP IT CLEAN. It is a great time to deep clean as you merchandise.
We would love to hear your ideas, success stories or other tips on visual merchandising. Email me @ Michael.firstname.lastname@example.org.
Michael Guajardo is the Director of Retail Operations for the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, Virginia. The VMFA Shop searches the world to provide a diverse selection of products focusing on merchandise related to the museum’s collections, special exhibitions, and features work from Virginia artists. Proceeds from the VMFA Shop support VMFA’s programs and exhibitions.
Michael and his team at the VMFA won the 2017 MSA Recognition Award for Visual Merchandising. Nominations are now being accepted for the 2018 MSA Recognition Awards!
Be recognized for all of your hard work! Submit yourself or your store to compete for one of seven MSA Recognition Awards: Vendor of the Year, Best Product Development, Best Web Store Presence, Best Visual Merchandising, Best Pop-up Store or Special Event, and two new awards – one for vendors, one for institutions- for Best Museum Store Sunday Event. Hurry! Your nominations must be submitted by Friday, March 23. Click here for more information: