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Discover Your Retail DNA - Part 5

Furniture World Magazine
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Article Summary: Seven ways are presented to keep your store looking fresh and make your offerings more relevant... on a budget!

View all articles by Larry Mullins


Part 5: What a difference a seasonal display makes.

There’s an old saying that it’s the little things that make a difference, and nowhere is this truer than in today’s competitive retail furniture world. But because it’s the big things, like bedroom suites or sectionals or entertainment units that we’re selling, it’s easy to forget some of those important smaller details that help customers connect with the furniture and differentiate you from your competition.

The lifestyle stores like Pottery Barn, Restoration Hardware and Crate & Barrel know what a difference display makes, and they do a great job of connecting with consumers through effective displays. A good display can maximize return on existing traffic, create a reason for return visits, create urgency and relevance, increase sales to each customer, and give you more satisfied customers. A good display not only makes the sale, it makes it bigger!

The question is, how do you keep your store looking fresh without spending a fortune on it? To start with, you’ve got to be willing to focus your energy on the small stuff, and to stick with it — these are not one-time-only changes, but things you must stay on top of to get the edge over your competition. There are some quick and easy things you can do to update and freshen your store in such a way that engages the consumer, stimulates sales and gets them talking about your store. You can get started with these seven easy steps.

Celebrate the season: As we’re approaching the holidays, this is easy to remember. The colors, sights and sounds of the season are everywhere, but are they in your store? Celebrating the seasons, whether it’s based around a holiday, like Thanksgiving, or a time of year, like spring, will give your customers the sense that the items in your store are new and exciting, and also that like each season, they won’t last long.

Activities of the Season: For example, during the Fall-season, use colors, foliage and seasonal activities to make your displays relevant. A table set with a dramatic set of amber-colored candles, festive gourds, glimmering gold accents and shining tableware create a picture of an idealized dining experience and a story that will draw customers in and relay powerful symbols of home and family. See Larry Mullins’ article “The Code That Unlocks Customers’ Hearts & Wallets” from the May/June 2007 issue, posted to the furninfo.com marketing article archives for more information on this phenomenon. Once your customer can see herself in that idealized dining experience, she’ll want to take a piece of it home, whether it’s the dining furniture or a smaller accessory that you can sell at high margins. It’s the difference between buying a table, and buying an experience. Piece-by-piece or the whole idea — either way, you win!

Colors of Nature: Celebrating the season creates a sense of urgency in the consumer, a sense that she needs something now, that the moment is fleeting. Minneapolis retailer Room & Board recently created a sense of excitement in the summer months by utilizing local green apples in their displays — the drama of a stark white bowl filled with fresh green apples against dark wood tabletops not only engaged consumers visually, it also created a wonderful scent throughout the store, and said something about the company’s value system. It communicated a sense that the summer is fleeting and transfers that ephemeral sense to the product to give the consumer the message “this won’t last long.”
Say it with flowers: Flowers are another great way to celebrate the season; what says spring better than a fresh bunch of daffodils in a clean glass vase? Mums in amber pots are perfect for fall, or gladioli in a tall glass vase for summer. You can say the season very quickly with flowers, and they, too work on multiple levels — creating something visually beautiful, conveying a sense of urgency, and infusing your store with the scent of the season.

Flip Your Fabrics: Changing your fabrics regularly is an absolute must to keep your store fresh and up-to-date. We are in a fashion industry, and fashions change each and every season, so your fabrics must as well.

You can do it simply by bringing in new accent pillows to reflect the colors of spring, summer, fall or winter. Bright colors in the spring will create a sense of excitement at welcoming the light, while earth tones in the fall will inspire the nesting instinct in your customers. Shades of red are right for winter, and coastal colors and fresh variations of white create a sense of cool in the hot summer months.

Pillows, sheets and bed covers must be changed seasonally; the wrong color or fabric on a bed can make it less than appealing depending on the time of year. Cozy flannels and warm, dark reds are inviting in the winter but suffocating in the summer, when consumers will flock to light, breezy fabrics and colors that create an oasis from the heat. You may be tempted to purchase season-neutral bedding to save a bit of time and a few dollars, but this in effect communicates nothing to the consumer and fails to engage her and create a sense of desirability in your product. All it takes is a small investment in bedding and accent pillows to make your store look like a million dollars instead of like last year’s model.

Create a lifestyle: To make a piece of furniture really desirable, you must give it life. A polished buffet may look nice and clean, but it doesn’t speak to the consumer about how she might use it. Think about “a day in the life” of each piece of furniture, and decorate it with accessories that tell a story, explain the piece’s usage.

If it’s a buffet, for instance, stage it with wine, cheese, breadsticks and other things that give a sense of welcoming guests into a home and entertaining. For a home office setup, use a laptop, calendar and pens and pencils. A little bit will do the trick — you don’t want things to look cluttered — but seeing a bit of real life with the product will tell her that she can really use the furniture and make it part of her life.

A room setting that’s too stiff will put a consumer off; she’ll distance herself from it, thinking that she doesn’t live like that. Artfully toss a nice throw over the arm of a sofa, and it becomes inviting in a new way. A few carefully staged accents help customers picture themselves living with the furniture.
Play with Pattern: Patterns can really jazz up a tired display, whether it’s the contrast of a plain-lined chair on a patterned rug, a patterned chair on a plain rug, a pattern of pictures created in a wall display, or patterned pillows used to accent a plain sofa. Combine pattern and texture and you’ve got a real winner; research has shown that the more consumers touch and feel a product, the more involved they become with the product and the more likely they are to purchase it.

Create Contrast: Creating contrast in your store will help items pop and create excitement. Contrasting the silhouette of an oval mirror with a simple-lined rectangular buffet creates movement and draws the consumer in. Contrasting white accessories against dark wood tones does the same. An easy way to add contrast to an existing display is to change the paint color of a wall to contrast with the color of a sofa or rug fabric.

Light it up: The right lighting can make or break you. The trend these days is to use as much natural light as possible, and to lighten and brighten your store. You can do this with simple methods like painting your ceilings white, investing in some low-wattage table lamps, or using mirrors to bounce light around.

Accessories can help lighten and brighten as well; invest in light-catching cutlery, glass candlesticks and other sparkly pieces, as well as bright white table settings. Light-colored rugs and flooring also create a sense of well-being and contrast nicely with solid furniture.

Let the store speak: Finally, let your store speak for itself. In-store signage can communicate a world of information to your customer, provided it’s done in a clear, concise manner. Customer amenities like play areas for children, big-screen televisions and recliners near the design center for bored husbands, and clean, attractive restrooms all speak wonders about your store, your brand and what it stands for.

Making these small changes not only stimulates your customers, it stimulates your staff. Freshening up your store reinvigorates your sales staff, and gives them a whole new attitude, which is then transferred to your customers, resulting in increased sales.

These small steps can do wonders for your store, especially in an environment like today’s, where many consumers are tightening their belts and not spending like they once did on home furnishings. With very little cost on your part, you can infuse your brand’s personality into each of these seven steps, making your store shine and instantly differentiating you from your competition. A good display will make your products more interesting, more relevant and more attractive, and will create a higher margin of sales and a reason for your customers to come back, season after season.


Martin Roberts is an internationally acclaimed design industry veteran, with over 40 years of credits for retail and product design. His most respected work is included in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Throughout his career, Roberts’ has placed special emphasis on the role of branding and marketing in his work. In 1991, Roberts’ launched GRID2 International, a specialized design firm that incorporates scientific methodology to inform the design process. Roberts’ previous works included such nationally and internationally renowned corporations and brands as Bank of Boston, Barnes & Noble, Cartier, Chase Manhattan Bank, Coach, Duty-Free Shops, General Foods, Johnson & Johnson, K-Mart, Marriott International, Nestle, Perrier, Samsonite, Thomasville Furniture, Timberland, and Wal-Mart. Questions on any aspect of retail branding or store design may be directed to him at mroberts@furninfo.com.


Larry Mullins is a contributing editor for Furniture World and has 30+ years of experience on the front lines of furniture marketing. Larry’s mainstream executive experience, his creative work with promotion specialists, and mastery of advertising principles have established him as one of the foremost experts in furniture marketing. His affordable High-Impact programs produce legendary results for everything from cash raising events to profitable exit strategies. His newest books, THE METAVALUES BREAKTHROUGH and IMMATURE PEOPLE WITH POWER… How to Handle Them have recently been released by Morgan James Publishing. Joe Girard, “The World’s Greatest Salesman” said of this book: “If I had read Larry Mullins’ book when I started out, I would have reached the top much sooner than I did.” Larry is founder and CEO of UltraSales, Inc. and can be reached directly at 904.794.9212 or at Larrym@furninfo.com. See more articles by Larry at www.furninfo.com or www.ultrasales.com.

View all articles by Larry Mullins

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