The appearance of apparel racks is a big part of the overall aesthetic of a store. Neatly organized and thoughtfully styled racks are more visually appealing, giving customers a strong first impression and then delivering a better shopping experience. “You want your customers to linger and shop, not just run in and run out,” says Cara Milo, owner of Beam and Barre in Cos Cob, CT. “Creating a comfortable environment starts with it being visually appealing, then holding their interest with great displays that make them want to shop.”
Beyond the style and location of the racks, the way you merchandise apparel on them is key to making items stand out. Consider groupings of color and style and even the types of hangers when merchandising products. That’s what these four retailers did in their shops, and their results were nothing short of impressive. Read on for easy merchandising tips you can mimic in your store.
Tell a Color Story
When Victoria Lyman, owner of Allegro Dance Boutique, opened her first store in Evanston, IL, she got a small bit of advice from a friend who worked as a merchandiser in a shoe store. “She said to me, ‘When in doubt, think of the rainbow,’” Lyman says. “I stayed in my shop the night before it opened and rearranged everything in rainbow order. The next day people said the store looked great, and that was the only thing I had changed.” Color-blocking merchandise is still important in both of Lyman’s store locations. “One rack is more ocean colors, blues and greens. Another rack can be all hot pink,” she says.
Milo also makes color coordination a priority. “I have the store organized by style first, then color, then size, so all adult camisole leotards, say, are together. Then they are organized into harmonious colors, such as purples and blues together, but I would never put red next to yellow (it reminds me of McDonald’s!),” she says. “I find that this looks the most organized and beautiful and makes the customer want to go toward the racks and not feel so overwhelmed.” Milo adds that while she’s often tempted to reorganize the racks by size, she feels the store wouldn’t look as organized. “Dancewear is seen as a discount industry, and I want to change that perception,” she says. “I want to elevate what I’m selling by making it look more sophisticated, and I think that changes the customer’s impression about the quality and therefore value of dancewear.”
Consider Style Groupings
Stephanie Carney and Paulette Coleman, co-owners of Grit and Grace Studio to Streetwear in Newnan, GA, realized that young customers, ages 10 to 14, were coming into their store and wanted their own section with more mature fashion that would fit them. “Their bodies are changing, and they don’t know if they should go to the kids’ section or the adult section,” Carney says. So the owners created a display that grouped specific styles for tweens. The apparel within the display is a mixture of children’s leotards and adult styles, but the thought was to cross-merchandise the apparel in a way that made young teens feel special. Within this tween section, apparel is grouped by style and color—making it easy for the young teens to find what they are looking for.
Cross-merchandising is not only an effective sales tactic, but it also helps define the appearance of apparel racks. When Lyman has a large grouping of one style of leotard, she likes to hang a few skirts to break up the rack. “When I started, I would have a waterfall rack of leotards and one of skirts, but now I’ve started to mix them more,” she says. “It’s better for the retailer because we sell more, and it’s better for the customer because they don’t have to think about the outfit.” To keep it focused, Lyman sticks to just one outfit type per rack: “I would never add in shorts to a leotard and skirt display.”
This past holiday season Milo’s manager cross-merchandised one rack of leotards, skirts and knitwear that would make great holiday gifts. On it she put a sign that said, “Why not give her something really beautiful this holiday season?” “It drew a lot of attention from customers,” she says. “They read the sign and thought, ‘Hey, I should look here.’ I think it was a great way to direct customers to what they were looking for, as well as being sort of an ‘editor’s picks’ rack with all the things we would normally pull from the regular racks in one space.” She says this display worked so well because it was more personal than just leotards on a rack. “It conveyed that we cared about the customer and what they’re looking for,” she adds.
Don’t Create a Blackout
Your most popular apparel color is also the least exciting to work with, when it comes to visual merchandising. But there are ways to make black apparel less basic looking. Rather than lump all black leotards together, mix in colored versions of the same style. Not only does this break up the display, but it helps boost sales, as well. “If a customer falls in love with a black leotard, she will get the purple one if it’s right next to it,” Lyman has found. Even when she has a rack of all black leotards, she will put the fashion styles on waterfall racks or face-outs so customers can see the details, arranging basics on a long rack. “I put those side-by-side because the front of the leotard is less visually appealing,” she adds.
Kelly Shouse, co-owner of Tutus and Dance Shoes in Augusta, GA, also tries to keep black leotards merchandised with the colored styles, but she has a designated rack for basic dress-code styles required by nearby studios, folding basic styles in canvas bins that she and her staff can help customers find.
Mix in Thoughtful Extras
A well-thought-out prop, like signage or hangers, will take your displays from department store to boutique. “Using signage really grounds each section,” Lyman says. “It’s visually more pleasing to me to create different sections of the store.” She said she started creating signs when she noticed how often women were shopping on the men’s rack. “It’s just black pants, and we’d have to go up and say, ‘Those are men’s.’ They’d feel foolish, and you don’t want to make customers feel that way,” she adds. So Lyman started adding a few simple chalkboard signs with a hammered metal frame to her men’s section for any gymnastics apparel. “Gymnastics may be so obvious to us, but it’s not to everyone,” she adds.
Carney has a very interesting sign concept in her store. “A respected photographer who is also a dance mom in our community has taken pictures of dancers wearing our apparel. We use big canvases of the photos to showcase each designated section,” she says. For example, a young teenager is wearing a crop top and tutu to call out the tween section, and older dancers in yoga apparel call out the street/activewear area.
Hangers also play a huge role in making your displays look uniform, but not all hangers were created equal. “In the old store, we used plastic hangers which are, of course, cheap, but they also make whatever is on them look cheap,” says Milo. Now she has opted instead for light wooden hangers for tops and bottoms and black velvet hangers for sale items. Shouse uses black velvet hangers, and for kids she uses pink and blue. “They are color-coded so people can tell what they are looking at.” Lyman also has put extra effort into updating her hangers at both locations. “I acquired both of my stores from previous owners, along with all their hangers,” she says. “One store had black hangers, and one had clear hangers.” With sidewalk sales and other events happening between both locations, Lyman says her hangers get mixed up, but she and her staff put in extra effort making sure they all look good. “Even the way the hangers are facing can make a display look messy,” she says. “We’re in the midst of a big hanger organization project, and I think it does make a difference.”
Paying attention to all the details can indeed make the difference between a store that looks messy and confusing and a visually striking destination where it’s a pleasure to shop.
Photos courtesy of Beam and Barre; courtesy of Grit and Grace