Unique props—little extras added to your displays—make a store stand apart and help show off your merchandise in a new and exciting way. At the most basic level, eye-catching props make the products you sell visible. But they also can tell a story—whether it’s “ballet dreams” or “summer fun”—that creates an emotional connection between your customer and the product. “You don’t have to spend a lot of money on them,” says Georganne Bender, retail consultant and store design expert. With a little ingenuity (and even less cash), retailers can repurpose everyday items to create unique and eye-catching displays on a budget.
OUR TOP PROP PICKS
Ladders: Ladders come in a range of shapes and sizes, which makes them a perfect display solution for any store. Add baskets to turn them into shelves, or lean them against the wall and hang T-shirts and tops on the rungs. Sarah Gallegos of Enchanted Dancewear in Monrovia, CA, uses library ladders for their original purpose—to retrieve inventory on top shelves in the back of the store. “We also let customers and models take pictures on our library ladders,” she adds.
Inflatables: These cheery and inexpensive pool accessories look great in displays and can
work for just about any holiday. Popular pool-float manufacturer BigMouth Inc. makes floats in a variety of styles. The large pool noodles that look like permanent markers bigmouthinc.com/products/giant-inflatable-marker-pool-float) would make the perfect addition to a back-to-school display. Flamingo inner tubes are a fun summer statement, and heart-shaped floats are great for Valentine’s Day. You can purchase these floats online or at Walmart.
Frames: Center new arrivals in a frame to instantly draw attention to them. Caitlin Hoffman, owner of The Ballerina Boutique in Colorado Springs, CO, uses large frames to showcase apparel and highlight new leotards in her window. She hangs small chalkboard signs on the bottom of each frame with a note about the product. For example, a sign for a new sweater reads “Warm & Cozy,” and one next to a new arrival reads “Item of the Month!”
Paper Products: Home office supplies, like Post-it notes or tissue paper, can be creatively repurposed to construct a beautiful backdrop. One of our favorite ideas comes from Grand Jeté in St. Paul, MN. The store recently won Gaynor Minden’s 25th-anniversary display contest, which required using Gaynor Minden products. “I wanted a tutu in the display,” says Paula Christensen, administrative assistant at the store. “But at the time, the brand didn’t carry tutus, so I had to fabricate one.” Her ingenious solution: She accordion-folded several Gaynor Minden promotional posters and cut out edges and shapes to make a lace design, then secured the tutu to a mannequin with fishing wire.
Ribbons: Yards of colorful ribbon and trimmings can add a lot of appeal to any display. Christensen used ribbons to hang pointe shoes from the ceiling in her Gaynor Minden display. She also laced it through the picture frame behind the tutu to give the backdrop more impact.
Carolyn Jackson, owner of Dance Gear Etc. in Lutz, FL, uses heavy crafting mesh in bright colors to contrast with the racks of black leotards. “It does a great job of adding a pop of color,” she says. “My store lacks beautiful molding between the walls and ceiling, so adding the mesh border is a nice but inexpensive way to fill that transition.”
PROPS WITH A PURPOSE
Some props are household items that also function as display fixtures. Janet Stoney, owner of Amore Dancewear in Saginaw, MI, didn’t want to hang slatwall in her store, so she began looking for an alternative. She found what she was looking for at a local dollar store—paper towel holders. “At the time they were $5,” she says. “Right now I have close to 50. What’s nice is that I can use one long dry-wall screw to attach the rack, so I can take them out and move them as needed.”
Stoney hangs no more than six leotards or bra tops per hanger—they can’t support much more, and she says this keeps the racks from getting cluttered. This all adds to the boutique atmosphere. “We didn’t want the chrome-and-industrial look,” she says. “These hangers change it to a more cottage-style boutique.”
Marcia Kirk, owner of dancewares, inc., in Lincoln, NE, uses two old coatracks to hang merchandise. One was a modern style from West Elm that now holds fashion leotards in the front of the store. “I also use a child’s coatrack that I found at an antique store to display bows, clip-on flowers and, currently, feather hairpieces,” she adds. The vintage coatrack gives Kirk plenty of room to stock the hair accessories, which are then easy for her young customers to admire.
Clothespins are another fun and inexpensive way to display smaller items. Hoffman clips colorful skirts to a line strung across a corner of her store, so they are easy for customers to grab.
WHERE TO FIND THE BEST PROPS
Props can be found just about everywhere you look. “You can buy them at store fixture companies, or you can put your personal spin on a display using found art,” says Bender. “Found art includes the furniture, decor and accessories most indie retailers have stashed in their stockroom, basement or garage. We know retailers who cruise tony neighborhoods on trash day looking for props. They are rarely disappointed.”
Amore Dancewear is decorated with many props that were purchased at Hobby Lobby. Craft and home decorating stores like Michaels, TJ Maxx and HomeGoods also carry a large range of merchandise that is always changing, which makes them great places for seasonal props at a bargain. Don’t forget to check the dollar aisle at Target next time you stop by the store, too.
For larger items, like old frames or mirrors, visit your local thrift shops or Habitat for Humanity ReStores. Retailers have also had good luck at stores that are closing, so keep an eye out for those.
If you are still stuck for inspiration, look to your own favorites. Christensen recently tacked her personal sunglasses to the wall for a summer display. “I had to tell a few people they weren’t for sale,” she says, joking. It just goes to show that the best props can be right under your nose.
Photos (from top):courtesy of Grand Jeté, courtesy of Enchanted Dancewear; courtesy of The Ballerina Boutique