Displaying Connection, Not Merchandise

Be Personal, Specific and Authentic

Despite today’s advanced technology and the abundant information available at our quick google-y fingertips, this is not an easy time to be marketing. We are in a day and age where social media has more power over human connection than the One Ring did over Frodo Baggins; where attention spans no longer span, they simply flicker; and where newer generations of humans are intuitively redacting advertising efforts: Internet banners and online ads are ignored; sponsored and boosted social media posts are met with eye-rolls. How on earth do you reach these people?

Merchandising displays are a fantastic opportunity to project an experience to a potential customer. However, they can seem to be an overwhelming task, especially for independent stores that do not have a dedicated and trained specialist to manage the appearance and seasonal progressions of the window or in-store dressings. Budgets can also seem inhibitive; it is daunting when larger stores and chains have mass access to temporary lighting, special effects, and décor. However, there is power in being small, it just takes some creativity. Regardless of your store size, the following tips for developing themed merchandising displays can help you cut through the hubbub and engage your potential and existing customers.

Be Organized

There are too many holidays and occasions to count in a single calendar year, and you want to make sure you are choosing the right ones to showcase with your store. Create an annual calendar that displays all of the possible holidays and special occasions and make a game plan as to which ones you want to lean into (you do not have to do them all!) This means you need to have clarity in your brand, your style, and your demographic. The classic holidays such as Valentine’s Day, Christmas, or Halloween might not be what you want to work around, or perhaps they are exactly your shtick. If your neighbourhood is quite conservative, National Weed Day might not be your most effective holiday to commemorate; alternately, if your neighbourhood is particularly liberal, a showcase of favourite cocktails of Canada’s most inspiring women for National Women’s Day might be worth penning into your calendar.

Remember this working document is just that: a work in progress. Adapt and evolve as you go. Organization allows for flexibility, and saves you from flying by the seat of your pants.
If you like to work pen to paper, Crispin Finn makes an amazing yearly wall calendar that works wonders for drafting annual snapshots.

Project a Personal Experience

Instead of competing with the hubbub, appeal to your consumers with an opportunity to escape distraction and find a way to reconnect with something real. Do not sell them a bottle of wine for Valentine’s Day; offer them an opportunity to connect with someone they love over a beautiful bottle of vino that pairs fabulously with Alberta beef—or tofurky (again, know your demographic). Curate the entire experience for them. If you are working a nature angle for Earth Day, stage a picnic in the park, with food suggestions, recipes, and drink pairings (perhaps this is an opportune time to showcase those cans of wine). And don’t stop there. Who makes local blankets perfect for cuddling on the grass? Are there any local stores with artisanal picnic baskets? Get specific, get personal, and be authentic, because that is what is lacking in the world of social media. Bring your customers back to a chance for real human connection.

Get Creative

There was a very successful art project rolled out this summer in Edmonton, headed by Michael Maxxis (co-owner of hotspot restaurant El Cortez) and project partner, Fish Griwkowsky. With the support of the public as well as local businesses, they raised more than $120,000 to fund artist Okuda San Miguel to paint a mural on the side of a building in the Whyte Avenue area. The support for the project was profoundly inspiring, and exposed how eager our society is to reconnect with art.

Your storefront is a public canvas for a potential budding artist.

Who can you collaborate with? Your storefront is a public canvas for a potential budding artist, and their art is an interactive representation of human connection. Reach out to local art schools or artists for a chance to collaborate: Who is studying set-design and wants to try something out on your window stage? Who is a local graffitist who could brighten your building wall with a live art installation? What about a local florist to do a flower pairing with wine for Mother’s Day? Do you have any employees with ideas, connections, or secret artistic skills themselves? Collaboration is a beautiful way to integrate your business needs with the needs and talents of someone different, and benefit mutually from each other.

Use Your Reps

Liquor and wine representatives can be great resources for helping feature products and experiences with flair, and through showcasing their product you might have access to budget support. Once again, by keeping your brand identity in mind and choosing the appropriate products to use for display (this is not about taking the highest bid), you can tap into support for thematic, professional, and engaging merchandising opportunities.
Are you a back-country booze shop? Reach out to a tequila supplier and discuss a Jimmy Buffett Margaritaville theme. Are you a sophisticated private wine store? The wedding season can provide some great opportunities. Reach out to a rep and ask for their favourite party-friendly reds and whites and showcase a swanky dinner display with wines that impress. If you showcase their wines, they will want to help make your display shine (and don’t forget to adorn the table with local candles).

Seek Inspiration

Don’t be afraid to hunt for inspiration! Pinterest is abounding with ideas for merchandising displays. (But remember there is a fine line between copying and drawing inspiration.) Art books, the Internet, and other storefronts can trigger ideas and get you thinking outside the box.

Last but not least, remember to focus on the customer experience, not the sale. When you properly engage your customers and build their trust (which never happens when someone feels like they’ve been sold to) the sales will naturally follow, and customer loyalty builds, which is the key to a successful and sustainable business.