Designs & Displays: What’s Trending at Big-Brand Stores?

This rack with shelves at Club Monaco is very efficient and attractive. It’s also probably a pricey fixture. But some features, like the mirror behind, can certainly be replicated on more modest budgets. The mirror lightens the appearance of a station with so much merchandise. And, by capturing and reflecting light, it draws the customer, while making the overall selling space appear larger.

As a dance retailer you know what works to sell product. You’re in business, aren’t you? But all successful retailers know they must always be changing, improving, strategizing. The most obvious demonstration of this principle is the big national clothing brands. Like you, they constantly examine the competition and the trends as they work to motivate their customers and beat their rivals. Hey, you have a lot in common! But unlike you, they have large staffs and larger budgets to support extensive marketing and display efforts.

So why not benefit from their investments and see what you can adopt and adapt for your store? DRN has scouted the latest trends at some of the big specialty clothing brands. Don’t worry about size; bigger, especially when it comes to dance, isn’t automatically better (at a dance performance, do you remember the corps or the soloist?). Just pick and choose the ideas you know will work in your store.

Tell a Story

WHY: It promotes the upsell.

A well-merchandised display—window, mannequin, wall—tells a story, to draw a customer’s attention and help her remember what she saw. It should always be from the point of view of your brand story, which is the foundation of all the other stories you have to tell. There are two areas to address: merchandise and decor. If your merchandise focus is on ballet, pick a few motifs—pointe shoes, tutus—and lead regularly with them in your displays, with new merchandise as well as basics. If you serve diverse dance disciplines, don’t just mix them all together in a window or on a table. It’s far more effective and memorable to focus on one genre in a given display. Think about it: When you walk by a window for a big store like Nordstrom, do the windows each show a mix of different clothing? Likely not. Several windows in a row may be devoted solely to outerwear, or party dresses, or resort wear.

As for decor, stay true to the spirit of your business. If it’s a boutique, the props and displays should be unique and even bespoke. If your business is several thousand square feet, you can handle a more outsize approach and create stores within your store, for jazz, baby ballerinas or athleisure wear. The customer should always know she is in your store, and no other. Product displayed with love and imagination will get love back from customers, in the form of a purchase.

Grit & Grace in Newnan, GA, merchandises like pieces together to tell its “studio to streetwear” brand story—leotards, skirts, tops and leggings co-ordinated for one chic look in and out of the studio.

Lead With the “Wants”

WHY: Your edit separates you from the pack.

Take a page from high fashion: People may shop regularly for staples, but their tastes are driven by what’s new and exciting. A customer might come in for classwear but then decide to treat herself to the just-arrived leo with the sexy plunging back or the tights in an on-trend color. Place the newest and most expensive product by the door and other high-traffic areas, like the cash wrap, where they get repeated exposure.

Invest in Good Mannequins

WHY: They support your merchandise and say “quality” for your brand.

As a performer, whether professional or enthusiast, the dance customer sees herself in the mannequins—a human figure as a focal point, on the stage or the store floor. She needs to visualize herself at her best, and that should be reflected in the mannequin and how it is merchandised. No chips or dents goes without saying. However, all your mannequins or forms should be an ensemble. They don’t have to match, but, like members of the corps de ballet, they should all be of the same highest quality and complement each other. Big brands—from H&M to Ann Taylor to Nordstrom—appeal to a wide range of customers, so their mannequins, while on trend with color and material, are also classic representations of bodies. Athletic brands like Nike go for mannequins with more detail, such as musculature, and show more movement. Whatever you choose, keep it consistent.

Circular displays like this round case with drawers at Victoria’s Secret encourage the customer to move all the way around and look at everything on the table, while still allowing a place for an eye-catching mannequin or centerpiece. Smaller spaces can achieve the same with a round table.

Create an Immersive Experience

WHY: It makes your brand memorable.

The most obvious example is outfitting your store for Christmas or back-to-school. You start with the windows and bring the theme into your store, from cash wrap to racks and counters. But what about the rest of the year? Do like the big-brand stores: Start with a theme in the window to capture passersby—ushering in spring, winter white, strong bodies—then repeat that theme on mannequins grouped just inside the door. This reinforces the concept in customers’ minds while directing their attention to what’s new and important.

Don’t stop there. Use color, propping and signage to carry the theme throughout the selling floor. Anthropologie, known for its devotion to makers and craft, employs highly creative window installations often using “found” materials like crepe paper or plastic cups to simulate clothing. The theme then gets applied throughout the store, on walls, tables and stores within the store, making a lasting impression.

Engage the Senses

WHY: Interaction draws and holds the customer.

Employ plenty of visual cues and touch points. Start with signage that communicates benefits. Loft uses table signs printed on both sides and held upright with small plastic poster holders (find them at Staples) to point to a new product such as a stretch bootie. Check out sports apparel stores like Nike, which also have good examples of bold, brief signage.

Interactive locations within a store, where customers can participate in an activity—and it doesn’t have to be merchandise-related—also immerse the customer. Department stores offer a range of experiences, from restaurants and cafés to small classes where customers can try out products or watch demos. You may not want to fuss with a cappuccino machine in your store, but remember: Dance retailers always have pointe shoe fitting, where interaction between staff and customers is both personal and ongoing.

For a community experience, create a wall area where customers can share a common event or activity, such as pictures of clients in their first pointe shoes. Stores like Fresh provide bulletin boards where visitors can post messages about a cause or event the business supports. For dance customers, it could be breast cancer awareness, animal rescue or a food pantry. Ask your customers for ideas. It’s also a great way to transfer a community-oriented activity from social media into your brick-and-mortar environment.

Change Displays Weekly

WHY: They’ll attract notice from regular customers and passersby.

Your customers, conditioned by shopping on the web, require continuous stimulation to remain engaged. You know you need to switch up displays regularly, when new merchandise arrives. Maybe you do it monthly. Think about doing it weekly. You don’t have to tackle the entire store; try relocating displays or rearrange items within a display, replacing a few props.

Customers at Allegro Dance Boutique in Evanston, IL, can make a 360-degree tour of this display, viewing the leo and tutu from all angles.

Make Displays Visible From All Sides

WHY: Get attention from every direction.

The big stores have it easy in this regard, as they typically enjoy the considerable square footage to allow many mannequin vignettes with 360-degree access. For the dance world, this is particularly important for another reason: A dancer needs to know she looks right from any sightline.

Merchandise-only displays should also offer full access if possible. Stores with a lot of traffic, like Victoria’s Secret, use large circular display cases. Smaller spaces can substitute a round table.

Let There Be (Good) Light

WHY: Effective illumination makes merchandise pop.

How’s the lighting in your store? Overhead? Check. Adjustable spotlights? Check. You might even have under-lighting for shelves or display cases. But do you use this lighting effectively? Are there any dark spots in your store? Is the customer flattered, so that she feels pretty when she holds an item up to her and looks at herself in a mirror? Your store is a stage. Treat it as such.

Provide Places to Sit and Hang Out

WHY: Comfort keeps shoppers around.

Your customers often don’t shop alone. A young dancer might be there with a sibling, a friend, a parent or grandparents. All of them need to feel comfortable while the rest are actively shopping.

At Club Monaco’s flagship store in New York City a long settee outside the dressing room accommodates up to a half dozen people waiting to weigh in on a companion’s clothing choices. On the selling floor, a few well-placed oversize poufs display stacks of sweaters, yet can also be pulled into seat duty. Whatever your store’s size, a few upholstered chairs or a padded bench will keep companions content and less likely to shorten shopping time with their impatience.

Make Checkout Fast and Easy

WHY: Don’t let this be another area where online has it over you.

How long do customers have to wait to have their purchases rung up? Most dance stores are not set up like a Uniqlo or Banana Republic with multiple registers to speed the way. However, you can take a few steps to ease the experience. Acknowledge waiting customers in line and let them know you’ll attend to them shortly. Outfit the cash wrap with small point-of-purchase items to distract customers. (Victoria’s Secret stages its cosmetics next to the cash wrap.) If possible, make sure you are staffed up during busy times to minimize the wait.

A spacious cash wrap helps move checkout along at The Ballet Boutique in Doral, FL.

Invest in Technology

WHY: Get more done.

Chances are you are not doing business on a hand-written ledger (are you?). But is all your software up-to-date? Could some manual tasks be automated? You can’t match large retailers’ tech budgets, but in some cases you may find that the time saved justifies the expense. Mobile payment systems, for instance, bring small merchants features previously only available to the big guys. Research what other businesses use, to see where it makes sense to upgrade or integrate. An explanatory visit from a salesperson costs nothing. There are also mobile apps, like Timely, for scheduling appointments with customers, or Deputy, to manage staff schedules.

Do Your Own Retail Trend Research

WHY: You’ll get inspired.

Pick a couple of favorite stores and visit them regularly. They don’t have to be dance stores. Look at retailers that you feel are particularly successful or that your friends rave about, and see if any of their tactics would translate to your store. Pinterest is also a great source of ideas. A search topic like “holiday retail display ideas” or “spring retail display windows” will yield more diverse results than simply “dance retail.” Subscribe to a trade magazine like VMSD (Visual Merchandising + Store Design), which covers retail design internationally, so you can see what’s going on in Europe and Asia, too.

It’s been said that time has become the ultimate luxury. Your customers, like you, have near countless demands on their time. Apply some of the ideas above, and you’ll find them returning time and again for the experience and merchandise they can find only at your store.

Charlotte Barnard is a writer living in New York City who frequently reports on retail trends, design and branding.

Photos by Charlotte Barnard (2); courtesy of the retailers


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