Most retailers understand how important it is to get their retail merchandising right – especially when it comes to creating an eye-catching window display.
But knowing you need a great display window and actually creating one are two very different things – especially if you’ve looked around for inspiration and all you’re seeing are expensive, dramatic designs that were clearly built by a large team.
That’s great for department stores on 5th Avenue, but not so great for you!
This is why we’re chatting with Pointy retailer beehive designer collective, a boutique gift shop and indie retailer based in New York’s Mount Kisco, which is known for its big-impact window displays built on an independent retailer’s budget.
Start with a feeling – what do you want your window display to evoke?
“It might sound esoteric,” beehive manager Dawn advises, “but I tend to lead with a feeling. Is it going to draw you or a shopper in? Does it feel like it has a purpose? Does it make you happy, think of something better, or dream?”
Beehive’s orange-twinged window was its calling card in March, 2019.
Using pallets, ribbons, and paint, Dawn created a display that was, “an abstract nod to the rays of the spring sun rousing us from winter.”
The key takeaway for independent retailers is how accessible the design is.
Wooden pallets are a cheap and effective building block, and the orange ribbon extenuates the color palate. While the visual is strong, the actual execution is something most retailers could pull off with some creative insight and a willingness to try.
Crucially, it’s inexpensive – and effective, everything an independent retailer needs from their retail merchandising.
Passers-by will stop in the street – which is a window display’s exact purpose.
“I think of the window display as a greeting card or advert for customers we already have and the curious ones who haven’t ventured in yet. We are at a weird intersection in traffic flow and this sometimes allows people to sit and look over if they are stuck at a light.
“Sometimes the windows barely have any product in them, but we go with the feeling we want to evoke. Once, in early March we did giant flowers and people were happy about seeing that because winter was so miserable.”
Many of Dawn’s windows come from a throwaway thought or idea; they’re also always seasonally specific and often built around an anchor point.
In one particularly impressive fall window, Dawn built the display around a nature-inspired dress.
Threads of orange ran through the centerpiece, which was then woven through onto the floor of the display. Hanging pumpkins and forest elements were incorporated to pull it all together.
“It all started with me saying, ‘I’d like to do a dress with a paper lawn bag and have leaves spilling out under it’,” Dawn says.
Dawn let the idea percolate and it wasn’t until she was brainstorming with local artist Donna Soszynska that it started to pull together. Donna created the dress with paper and elements from beehive: post-it notes, wrapping paper, craft paper and staples.
While many indie retailers may think that an impressive window display requires a big budget for production, this fall window was largely foraged from existing items in the shop or elements from nature.
Again: creativity goes far.
Layer from outside in – from window display to product displays
Another go-to retail merchandising tip from Dawn is to incorporate elements from the window into the store’s interior design.
“I feel like our visual merchandising is a work in progress,” Dawn says. “We try to create moments around the shop, again with feeling attached to it. I think retail in a brick and mortar has to be experiential and sincere. Is it pretty, cozy, silly, playful, kitschy, calming?
“Merchandising has to invite you in when you walk through the door, so it’s important that you have something that’s seasonal/relevant/themed that sets the tone as customers come in.”
Because Dawn’s windows so strongly evoke a feeling, they’ve become something for her customers to look forward to. The holiday window displays are particularly well-known in the area – and Dawn’s updates on social media often gather comments and likes from customers who are waiting to see what’s next.
The crux is in understanding her target audience: as a boutique store of unique gifts, homeware, clothing, accessories and more, beehive attracts a customer base who are looking to find a curated catalog of beautiful things – a thinking that’s mirrored in the store’s window displays and interior displays and shelving.
Before you design your window, it’s crucial to know who you want to attract. Essentially, your window needs to entice these shoppers into stopping and looking inside.
Of course, once they look inside, potential customers should see a product line that matches the window display – a skill beehive particularly nails.
Polished window displays beckon shoppers into a wide, open store that’s stocked with attractive products and seasonally-appropriate, vivid colors.
Experience is everything for modern shoppers
“I believe that you have to accommodate the feeling of discovery and the ability to find something easily enough,” Dawn says. “It’s a balancing act of sorts.”
The devil, too, is in the details – small finishing touches that add a certain flourish or feeling of polish.
These small touches create an atmosphere or evoke a particular feeling – the velvet pumpkins call to mind Halloween and the coming turn of the weather.
While the core purpose of Dawn’s displays is to get shoppers to spend their money, ultimately she uses them to tell a story. Shoppers are fickle and their limited attention span has so many outlets that anything that gets them to stop and look at what’s in front of them is a big win.
“Our holiday windows will, if done right, enlist the community and have a give-back component,” Dawn confirms.
And it’s not just creativity for creativity’s sake: brick and mortar retailers have been struggling since the e-commerce boom, but Mount Kisco, beehive’s home village, has come out the other side in the battle against empty storefronts.
New restaurants and retailers are opening all the time, alongside long-established businesses – and creativity has been at the heart of that.
Mount Kisco’s downtown is booming because successful retailers are playing on the aspect of experience: it’s not enough anymore to expect shoppers to turn up – particularly in a digital age when anything they could want is available for purchase from the comfort of their home.
Dawn’s windows give shoppers pause – and plants the seed to come inside. That’s the first step. The second is in using displays and carefully chosen products to win them over to make the sale.
From there, it’s business as usual for Dawn, who’s already deep into plotting her next successful window display alongside collaborator Frank New (@manyourstyle).
The holiday window is intended to have 1,000 paper cranes attached that shoppers can offer money for. The money will be donated to two nonprofits.
No doubt, it’ll be a huge draw.