HELP WANTED: 5 Reasons Why You Should Hire A Freelance Visual Merchandiser Right Now

It’s been all over the news for well over a year now: too many job openings and not enough applicants to fill them. Whether they’re low paying, low skill service jobs in service industries or all the way up to airline pilots, it’s also spilled over into a broader spectrum of the work force. Workers have reprioritized their lives as the Covid Pandemic ebbs and flows and the economy now faces a possible recession. Even that the experts can’t seem to agree on. How can there be a recession if so many jobs are open and begging for workers to fill them. If the so called experts can’t figure it out, how are the rest of us make any sense of it?

An all too familiar sight – if the economy is heading for a recession, why are there so many job openings?

But what if you, the employer, are looking for someone a little more specialized, like a Visual Merchandiser for your retail store or wholesale showroom or trade show booth? And you aren’t having any luck finding just the right person? Why not consider a freelancer? Here are 5 top reasons why you should consider this:

It’s not just the salary or hourly, it’s also the benefit cost of hiring new employees

  • 1.) No need to pay for benefits- with a freelancer there will be no need to add benefits like health insurance, paid time off or vacations.

2) A skilled freelance Visual Merchandiser wears many hats and is comfortable interacting with customers until a sales person becomes available.

A freelancer already knows the ropes about the gig and will need very little to no guidance to jump right in and get to work.

3) A freelancer already knows the ropes about the gig and will need very little to no guidance to jump right in and get to work.

10 Creative Examples Of Retail Visual Merchandising - Deputy

4) Visual freelancers are used to the come and go of gigs and the changing landscape of any clients’ every day needs and concerns for the best staffing solution.

If that new hire doesn’t work out or finds a new job, most likely your freelancer will return to take over until you find that new talent!

5) If that new hire doesn’t work out or finds a new job, most likely your freelancer will return to take over until you find that new talent!

*All images are sourced from the internet and no copyright infringement is intended.

*More Visual Merchandising blog posts and Visual Merchandising inspiration can be found at: https://jdvincentdesign.com/

A Freelance Visual Merchandiser’s Conundrum: “Sale vs. Valentines” Post Holiday Displays

It’s the New Year. Christmas windows and interior displays can only stay in so long before they start to look, not only stale but, well, lazy. Sooner or later a retailer has to do something to spur along new sales. Perhaps your client is looking to you for some ideas.

Visual Merchandising & Display Design – Visual Merchandising Strategies  From Today & Yesterday
By the time you’ve changed out your mannequins to sleepwear to get more longevity from your Christmas window, your customers have lost interest and have moved on. (Image sourced from the internet and no copyright infringement is intended.)

The easy and most used route is simply to put sale signs everywhere. But, everyone and their mother does this. Why not go from one holiday to the next and do a Valentines’ theme? It’s a tried and true theme that works with almost every product. Your client doesn’t need to necessarily be a candy, jewelry, lingerie or florist shop.

RochesterSubway.com : Window Shopping at McCurdy & Co.
Will you be my Valentine, please? (Image sourced from the internet and no copyright infringement is intended.)

In our pop-culture-celebrity-obsessed society, a sure fire attention grabber, whether online or IRL, is an image of a recognizable icon, whether still alive or not. (There’s a reason why products featuring Elvis and Marilyn still mega sell decades after their deaths). Several seasons ago I had an jewelry store client that I purchased mass produced super sized black and white celebrity posters to use as background props. The posters were spray glued to foam board for an instant backdrop. By layering in flat red vinyl covered boards, it became a Pop Art style display window that stopped busy passersby in their tracks. This could be easily translated into a Valentines window using heart shaped boards or other props.

Inserting an oversized image of a celebrity icon, past or present, can be an effective way to engage foot traffic passing your client’s storefront. Photo was previously used in an earlier blog post, https://visualmerchandisingdisplays.wordpress.com/2017/06/14/visual-merchandising-jewelry-shadow-boxes/ and is courtesy of: https://jdvincentdesign.com/

Of course a Valentine’s Day display window is going to look instantly stale on February 15th, so your client may balk at such a date specific themed window display. But the celebrity poster with red accents is a nice, basic propping idea with longevity. Small Valentine props such as greeting cards or non-melting candy could be added on the floor of your display window that could easily be taken out by a staff member on the 15th.

Along this same vein of thought, if you were planning way in advance for a client with a date specific calendar of window changes, you could design your Christmas display window to easily segue from Christmas to Valentine’s Day with red props and smaller Christmas accents that could be removed and add in small Valentine’s props.

With Christmas props removed, this jewelry display window could easily be transformed into a Valentine’s Day display window with some small props scattered about. (Photo: G. Thomas Ward Photography.)

Then there is the unabashed approach, if your client is willing, to go whole heartedly (pun intended) all in with Valentine hearts galore.

This vintage Valentine’s display window from the archives for this tongue-in-cheek named cafe went all in for hearts. This image originally appeared in the blog post, https://visualmerchandisingdisplays.wordpress.com/2017/04/05/repetition-as-design-discipline/ and is courtesy of: https://jdvincentdesign.com/

All photos, unless credited to the internet courtesy of: https://jdvincentdesign.com/

Visual Merchandising Christmas Tree Ornaments – “Shop-In-Shop” Concept

A few seasons ago in early September – mid October, we embarked on a six week long project merchandising Christmas tree ornaments for a large nation wide department store chain. We had a specific region in the greater Chicago area that included Milwaukee and Madison, WI, as well as a store in northwest Indiana – 18 stores total. We were not contracted by the department store chain itself, but were sub-contracting through another company based in the San Francisco Bay area.

Technically, this would not be a traditional “Shop-In-Shop” concept where a designer or manufacturer leases square footage in a department store, stocks it and maintains the branding message. In this case we would be using all of the stores own merchandise for the installation but were working and getting paid by the company in San Francisco.

The ornaments would be merchandised in several ways in a special “Shop” area located in or near the home area, kitchenware, bedding department etc. There were special fixtures for a lot of the ornaments but the focal point(s) of the shop would be the Christmas trees themselves fully decorated via various themes.

The trees would anchor a specific area in the stores with related themed ornaments on other fixtures.

Themes like “Winter Wonderland” predominated – (think pine cones, log cabins, etc.) There were bird ornament trees, a Martha Stewart “enchanted garden” tree, angels & cherubs, holly & ivy – too many to list -some were very specific:

This was a specific theme of boys and girls skiing, sledding and skating – complete with knitted cap ornaments.

The specific direction from corporate was that every tree was to be decorated with ornaments to the max, they  wanted to see as little as possible of any green tree branches (or blue, white, silver etc.) The visual merchandising marketing concept was that the customer would see this elaborately decorated tree and would want to recreate it in their own homes. The other concept was that the customer was also encouraged to pluck the ornaments right off the tree itself for immediate purchase. And indeed they did. I visited several stores well into the season and they had been decimated. An interesting visual strategy that I didn’t wholly agree with, but that nonetheless appeared to be successful.

A densely ornamented holly & ivy tree.

A company of this size and sales volume I knew would present installation challenges; I had worked for several in my previous full time visual merchandising career. Contractually the company had to have the trees in position, already lighted  and to provide opened boxes of ornaments already unwrapped to our staff consistently while we were installing; we would never be waiting for ornaments to be unwrapped.

The themed tree “Pine Lake”.
An “Oceanic” themed tree.

We got a little behind initially and there were some tense moments. We persevered however and each staff member got better and faster with each tree and by the end of the installment period those trees were being whipped out in breathtaking speed.

Interestingly, the staff took some heat from customers who were outraged we were putting up Christmas decorations so early. We tried explaining that these were not decorations but merchandise for sale. The customers mainly didn’t get the subtlety of distinction between “decoration” and “merchandise”, so after a while we just gave up as they stormed away indignantly.

A nautical themed tree.

The next post will continue this story. There will be a lot more images as well. There are more tree themes – a “Tween Girl’s Tree”, more traditional themes, a Martha Stewart “Enchanted Garden theme, an “Eskimo” theme and a “Plush Toy” theme.

*All photographs by Ellen Hampton and courtesy of https://www.jdvincentdesign.com/

*This post was originally posted in December 2019 and updated in November 2021

Visual Merchandising For Retail Store Exterior Christmas Installations

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As Christmas approaches, retailers will start to wind up fourth quarter sales – where a majority of their profits stem from. They already have been ramping up activities in anticipation of fall and winter sales efforts.

One way for a retailer to stand out in an urban environment – forget shopping malls – is to have exterior Christmas decorations – you don’t see it all that much. Any type of job that is done in the outdoors is challenging – if for no other reason than the weather conditions. Living in a big city with seemingly endless construction going on, I am always amazed at how construction will go on in all types of weather.

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In the case of installing exterior retail Christmas decorations – the weather is of primary importance. This particular installation, for example, had to be postponed a day due to rain.

There are many other challenges to an exterior Christmas installation: 1.) In the instance of this gig was the immediate need to get up to a high point in the building front to begin the install. 2.) For installation – just ladders? 3.) How would the garland be attached to the building front itself? 4.) How would it be electrified?

This was at the tail end of the install when the scaffolding had been removed by then. We did actually use ladders as well.

To begin the process for a job like this, I usually contact a contractor to get his/her ideas on the project and, of course, a price quote from him/her so that I could incorporate that into my price quote for the client. A site check is then scheduled.

The only ideas that we had on the initial site check is that we would somehow utilize the canopies to hold up the garland also using some 3M hooks with strong tape on the reverse. Plus – the contractor suggested a mobile scaffold plus multiple ladders.

It wasn’t until the morning of the installation – at 7:00 AM – when I jumped up on the scaffolding – which caught my contractor off guard ( he thought I was going to remain on the ground and point? LOL) – I eyed an old metal fascia plate that probably had held up a sign for a store years ago. There were holes on each end of the plate over each canopy. I had brought my own tools and supplies – as I always do just in case – and I had brought some rolls of green florist’s wire. We cut some of this and wrapped it around the garland and attached it through the holes in the metal fascia plate to secure it tightly.

We had begun each canopy by stretching each garland out flat on the sidewalk, finding center – marking center – then place that in the middle of each canopy. The rest was placed on the recessed window surround.

The garland was designed and and produced at corporate. It was then shipped to a shipping company and stored there. A site check also had to be arranged to inspect each garland for any possible damage having occurred during shipment and to see if the lights worked. It was still to be determined how we would plug the garland in to light them up.

The building engineer was contacted and it was determined that electrical outlets would be installed at the second story level where there were balcony style windows. An extension cord would then be attached to the building front from each garland.

The finished installation at sidewalk view.

A full, straight on view of the finished installation. This image shows the effect a professional photographer can bring to the project.

All of this effort was achieved through many weeks of careful planning – phone conferences, emails, site checks etc. – Project Management. A project like this doesn’t just happen over night. But with the proper efforts and coordination – an outstanding installation such as this can be achieved to make any storefront stand out in the holiday season – so start planning!

The balcony windows are visible here where the outlets were place to electrify the Christmas garland.

*All photos except the last three courtesy of: https://www.jdvincentdesign.com/

*Last three photos courtesy of: http://thepeoplephotographer.com/

“Freelance Isn’t Free”- What You Need To Do To Get Paid As A Freelancer

New York City freelancers via https://www.freelancersunion.org/, a New York City based advocacy group, were successful in their lobbying efforts to get a city ordinance passed that protects freelancers and how they get paid. They coined the phrase in this blog post title – “Freelance Isn’t Free” – in 2017.

While you may not have that kind of a law in your city, state or country, you can apply some of it’s ideas and practices into your freelance business to insure that you’re are paid for your services and or product.

In freelance Visual Merchandising  there a variety of ways to get jobs, types of jobs, whether it’s hourly or project fee based. With an hourly rate, that’s set up in the beginning, whether it’s your own client or a staffing service (more about staffing services in another blog post – pros and cons). And there are project based gigs where there is a set amount for a contract job, or a fee schedule for different phases of a project.

The hourly fee for a client (or staffing service) is the easiest, and usually the easiest to invoice and get paid. You simply have to show up, do your job and invoice the client. When they are slow in paying and/or don’t want to pay will be addressed later in this post.

Project gigs can be a bit more involved. Whether or not a client goes forward with a project that you have designed for them, does not mean you shouldn’t get paid for the work. You have to look at the entire project as a whole and outline the process in your price quote. State clearly that your design fee is separate from any project management fees associated with the installation of the project, as well as any material costs.

A presentation board for a client, a real estate management company, who had a tenant in a strip mall in an upscale suburb, that he wanted to “upgrade” their look. The project was never completed due to cost concerns of the store owner. I was, however, paid for my design.

For this above pictured project, the owner of the store was not the original point of contact, the mall ownership was. The client., a referral, and I had agreed on the Design Fee in the beginning. I based my Design Fee on a half hour visit to the store and the client, outlining in general what he was looking for. I then crafted a Project Price Quote that outlined what I would be proposing based on my visit to the store and my conversation with the prospective new client, while never specifying any of my design ideas.

This type of freelance design job can be difficult to navigate, it’s main ingredient is trust,  which can be hard to establish with a stranger. In this case – as in others over the years, it was the referral that was key. The person who had given me the referral had been a collaborator of mine on other projects, and had previously completed design projects for this Property Manager. He was able to convey to this person the caliber of my work.

This type of freelance Visual Merchandising project overlaps a bit with Commercial Interior Design.  I had been involved with these types of projects many times over the years. It’s a lot different than just “showing up” to work on Visual Merchandising for a retail store or wholesale trade show booth where you’re charging by the hour or by the day. And as I have mentioned many times here, a successful Visual Merchandising freelancer is well advised to expand his/her scope of work to projects like this to have a greater chance of success.

In the end, the store owner did not move forward due to cost concerns, but I was paid for my design fee, as had been agreed upon up front.

A similar project was with a manufacturer of large scale fixture walls for big box store clients. In this case the client had a big box store client that they were designing a new Point-Of-Purchase fixture. But it was more than mere freestanding fixtures it was an entire bay/wall of the store. The store itself was not big on design, just a basic home improvement store. Again, I prepared a price quote detailing what the client would get – two designs – and what that would cost. It was a little more involved in that I had to sub-contract a person to do the computer aided design from my conceptual pencil sketches. I had two people to be concerned about getting paid then.

Design for a recessed can lighting bay for a manufacture of POP fixtures for big box stores.

Although well received, the design did not end up getting used, but I was paid my design fee, and consulted on other aspects of the job.

And then there are simply what I call the “Show Up & Work” jobs. These projects can sometimes be a bit more difficult to construct a payment structure for, but you need to make an effort. If the business, or your contact there has already agreed to your fee, whether it’s hourly, daily etc., then get that in writing. If they haven’t provided you with a contract, write your own. Especially if they are a new client, there’s even more incentive to get it down in writing. Send them a project price quote of what you see as the scope of the project, the duration, your agreed upon fee – and, this is important – a specific time frame expectation of when you will be paid.

If you can, get a deposit, I have done this on many occasions. Some companies simply won’t do this, but do it if you can. There’s never a great incentive to pay someone after a job is completed. Your greatest leverage is in the beginning of the project. If you can afford it, refuse to do the project unless they can make a deposit. Tell them – “This is how my business is structured. My accountant has advised me to do business this way”, blah, blah, blah, make something up.  Whether or not you are your own accountant, or you really do have one, is not relevant.

As you’re developing your deposit invoice, if you know the duration of the project and you’re billing for half of the labor, indicate what the total invoice will be and then what the deposit amount is now, then under “Payment Terms” –  put-  “All Invoices Are Due Upon Receipt”. I’ve had many discussions over the years as to how feasible this is as most larger companies pay “Net 30”. It doesn’t matter – you’ve set your terms – now it’s up to the client to get you paid. Do not sit around and wait to be paid. I can’t tell you how many freelancers I know who’ve not been paid because they have not been aggressive enough in collecting on unpaid invoices. Even if they stiff you in the end – you’ll at least have the deposit.

Then, if you’re still waiting around to get paid after the 30 days has long been up, call the company’s Accounts Payable department.  Many times over the course of my career I’ve had to do this. Either my contact person didn’t care if I got paid or not – or – they just weren’t aware of the billing process of how invoices are “passed” or some other unrelated problem. Again – the burden is upon you – the freelancer – to get yourself paid.

I am proud to say over the course of my 30 year freelance career – I’ve never been stiffed on a job – I’ve always made sure I got myself paid. That’s a career accomplishment aspiration for any freelancer.

If the reader has picked up any useful tips on getting paid from this blog post – I will feel  as if I have “Paid It Forward” to my fellow freelancers!

I will post other useful tips to this blog post as I remember all of the roadblocks I’ve been through over the years in getting myself paid.

*All photos courtesy of – https://jdvincentdesign.com/

*Lead pic sourced on the internet, no copywrite infringement is intended.

*This is an updated version of an earlier blog post.

5 Top Ways To Up Your Game From Freelance To Consultant In Visual Merchandising Design

Whether you’re just starting out in your freelance Visual Merchandising career or you’re a long hauler, here are some tips on how to up your game to give yourself more bargaining power in negotiating compensation.

If you’ve read any of my other blog posts in regard to freelancing Visual Merchandising, you know I stress the importance of communicating your professionalism to a potential new client – and existing clients as well. First impressions count!

#1) – Impress with your emails! That’s right – old school emails. Chances are you won’t be texting a potential new client that you don’t know that well, if at all yet. And, if you’re attracting potential new clients through your social media platforms like Instagram and TikTok, congrats – you don’t need to read this blog post! Others – read on…..

If your primary communication with a potential new client is email, impress them with your email communications skills. Let’s say you’ve already had your first meeting with a potential new client. You’ve gone back to your laptop to send an email general info – so mice to meet you, looking forward to possibly working with them, blah, blah. Let’s say they’re looking for different applications of store or trade show graphics – a way to stop traffic and bring them in. Imbed a pic in the email body of an example of your work that relates to what they are looking for. It’s a simple thing that can be very impressive.

#2) – Do Not Underestimate The Power Of A Professionally Crafted Project Price Quote. This is from one of my most viewed blog posts and it applies here too. You’ve gone to meet with the prospective new client. They have either given you a pretty good idea of their budget – or not. Rather than just giving them a dollar amount for the whole project, give it more effort than that.

It’s your job then to do some pricing research both for materials and your time. Your time should also include your prep time – designing the display, gathering supplies etc., as well as installation. Give the price quote the time it needs to be not only thoughtful and realistic in it’s pricing, but is impressive on it’s own.

Begin it like an invoice – date, your contact person,  a summary of what the project will include, as well as other items such as logistics, change in project scope, payment terms. It should look as close to a contract as it possibly can be. All of this will signal to your new contact that they are dealing with a professional freelance individual/company.

#3) – Start a website to showcase your work. In this day and age you’re not really a business without a website. This goes for consultants too. While all of the social media platforms are important to be involved with, nothing beats a website that can be googled. Or in the case of a potential new client, being able to instantly direct that person to your site so they see everything all at once. Whether you design it yourself using one of the many website hosting resources available, or you pay someone to design and host it, it’s really a must have in today’s business world.

My website is hosted by godaddy.com

An image from my website showcasing photo styling.

#4.) – Get some business cards printed. Yes, that’s right, old school business cards. A box of 500 is less than $20. at Vista Prints. Give one or two to your potential new client the moment you first meet them. She/he has to do something with it. Most likely they have others and they will put yours on top of the stack or leave it on their desk for quick reference. Make sure your website URL is on there. You can’t leave any stone unturned in this competitive business!

Most business cards are very affordable these days.

#5) – Get an email address exclusively for your website. For some website hosting services this may be included, on mine it was not so I purchased it as well. It gives me an extremely professional Microsoft 365 Office interface that includes my email address, which is the website name.com. Not only is it professional looking but it reinforces your website name. This way you’re not mingling your personal email with your business. It’s worth the money, and it’s deductible as a business expense.

How to Cancel an Email in outlook - using Office 365 email - YouTube
Add a separate email account to your website. It costs a little extra but the professionalism it will add to your business will be well worth it.

Whichever and whatever way you choose to add some extra elements to up your game in a competitive freelance climate, it can only add to your attractiveness as a professional freelance/consultant in the Visual Merchandising Design industry and allow you to negotiate a higher rate of pay.

*All images except for Googled pics are courtesy of https://jdvincentdesign.com/

*None of the featured business products or services in this post are product endorsements and the author is not getting compensation in their mention.

Visual Merchandising With Props – The Next Time You’re Stuck On A Display Window Prop Idea – Go To The Hardware Store – From The Archives!

Have you ever gotten stuck on an idea for a prop for a display window? Or, you’ve got a particular set of product to display and think – this really calls for something different – something unique.

A number of years ago I started looking around in a hardware store as I was getting some supplies – fish wire, nails etc. – and my eyes stopped at a portion of the electrical aisle. There was a nicely arranged display of colorful electrical wires. The wires were all coated in different brightly colored rubber-like substances on large wooden spools.

Nearby were what appeared to be metal electrical boxes of some sort with bright red handles – I wasn’t sure if the wires went with the boxes or not – but it didn’t matter – it gave me an idea for an upcoming women’s fashion window that as yet I didn’t have a prop idea for. Women’s fashion and electrical supplies? Yes.

The designer of the fashion collection for the upcoming display window was named Koos Van Den Akker – a Dutch native living and working in New York at that time in the late ’70’s. His design narrative employed a kind of intricate, patch work style with beautiful embroidery – all very colorful and – eccentric looking.

I thought – Hmmmm – eccentric, electric – colorful – there was my prop!

I arranged the electrical boxes equally spaced out on the very wide – 30′ – back wall of the display window. I rarely used the entire expanse of the back wall for displays – it was just simply too big – I would just generally center the design in the center. But at times I would combine the two approaches using the entire back wall and centering the mannequins.

I arranged the spiraling, colorful wires as if they were coming from the boxes into the ceiling. I suppose any electrician walking by would know that this made no sense – but I wasn’t trying to sell designer fashion to them. I thought all of the wires surrounding the mannequins gave the fashion focus and the outward reach of the boxes and wires gave a sense of infinite space at the same time.

As can be seen – it was a huge display window for a fashion store. One wonders why the architect would have designed such a huge window for fashion. It wasn’t like it was going to have a big Christmas mechanical display like Macy’s or other large department stores.

But in any event – the display window was well received at the time – by both store executives and the fashion public. If you can make out the lettering lying down on the front metal window mullion – the merchandise was from Bonwit Teller’s “Safari Shop” which carried exclusive designer sportswear.

In a later trip to the hardware store I came across these oscillating fans. Again – I hadn’t set out to look for props at the hardware store – but – there they were.

From an earlier blog post – https://visualmerchandisingdisplays.wordpress.com/2020/06/29/design-inspiration-dont-be-afraid-to-lift-an-idea-here-and-there-but-make-it-your-own-from-the-archives/

I knew I had a fashion window coming up featuring a bunch of chiffon evening gowns. Billowing chiffon gowns were still the rage in some fashion circles in the ’70’s. I hadn’t set the props yet and I noticed these shiny new oscillating fans on sale – a few even turned on – a great way t0 sell fans.

I remembered then a picture I had seen aa few years earlier of a display window in New York – similar – but using vintage fans and not oscillating. My window fans were not only going to be turned on but oscillating too – to catch and blow gowns paper thin fabric – made to catch the breeze. Look closely and you can see some of the mannequins have taken their shoes off – maybe to relax and air their feet out, huh.

Then, recently, I was in Home Depot and saw a similar display of brightly coated electrical wire – and it instantly transported me back in time to when I was in need of a prop idea.

Don’t over look hardware stores and big box home stores in your search for window display props!

So – that’s right – the next time you’re in a store whether you’re in need of a prop idea – take a look around. You may be surprised what you might find!

*All images courtesy of: https://jdvincentdesign.com/

“Visual Merchandising” vs. “Display Design” From The Archives!

In some ways the Visual Merchandising industry lost its’ heart and soul many years ago in the name switch from “Display” – or – “Display Department” to “Visual Merchandising”.

It had been known for many decades as Display – or the Display Department. And  in earlier years -the late 19th Century – the industry was known simply as “Window Dressing” -a person at that time had the awful job title of “Window Dresser” – or, even worse – “Window Trimmer”. To this day I will periodically still here the uneducated refer to “Trimmers” and “Dressers” – and cringe every time I hear those terms.

The term “Visual Merchandising” was actually coined in the 1940’s but would not become widely used until the 1970’s. The name change to Visual Merchandising was an attempt by ambitious mid-career people in the 1970’s to gain access to the ranks of the upper executive level. This was seen by them as validation of not only Display Design – but the individuals running these Display Departments who strove to become Vice Presidents – of something.  They would – thereby – having more of a say in the decision making process of large purchases of – for example – store fixtures. More Purchasing Power = More Power.

They also wanted to be more involved in the store design process from the beginning of a concept of a new store and through the architectural process. And they succeeded. They didn’t immediately give up the fun part – creating artful display windows – that was a process that took years – and a plague – to erode.

Also – for the most part – when you mention Visual Merchandising – most people have no idea what in the hell you are talking about. I’ve tried over the years to come up with a concise way to describe my chosen profession – it’s hard. I finally came up with – “I make product look good”. Whether or not that’s truly the most accurate description – I’m not quite sure. It for sure is the shortest.

At the end of the 19th century – when most historians agree was the beginning of the modern Display profession as we know it – window displays were a form of entertainment . As the rise of modern cosmopolitan cities began to fill up with more people of the middle classes – they found window displays entertaining and would make regular trips to the city center to see the latest creations. Remember – this was a time before even movies were widely available.

window displays. | Malwina Charko

Window shoppers in a by-gone era crowd around a display window to see what it’s all about.

By the 1930’s and early 40’s “modern” display  windows as we know them first began. Also during this time period artists were often enlisted as “Guest Designers’ were enlisted to more strongly engage passersby into the display windows design.

Surrealist window at Bonwit Teller, Salvador Dali | Visual merchandising,  Shop window design, Shop front design

In the late 1930’s and early 40’s Bonwit Teller commissioned Surrealist artist Salvador Dali to design a series of display windows, some – such as this one were modestly Surrealist in design while still showcasing merchandise. The casual passerby is left to ponder what the the artist is trying to say. This style of display window predates and the sets the stage for 1970’s “Situation” display windows.

 

So...Fascinating history — So Visualise.co.uk | Visual Impact Creators |  Bespoke Prop Making Company

Others of Dali’s window display designs were blatantly designed to shock and stop window shoppers in their tracks- with barely a nod to selling merchandise.

These Surrealism window displays weren’t for everyone – and while they were popular for awhile with high fashion stores like Bonwit Teller – they lost favor after the initial shock value faded.

Through the 50’s into the 60’s-  for the most part traditional display windows were the norm with traditional props in traditional settings – all very pretty. But things were brewing behind the scenes to gain access to the executive level.

As the 1070’s dawned these Visual Merchandising executives took hold of the industry. These executives – for the most part busied themselves with the larger aspects of the department store business – store design, fixturing standards, selling floor layouts, new stores floor Shop-In-Shop concepts etc.

But there was still a staff who took care of the day to day operations of installing display windows. But – for the most part these display windows were of a traditional design and a continuation of “making pretty”. But a few trailblazers beginning in the 1970’s – mainly in New York City – began to switch things up with some alternatives to traditional props, settings and mannequin presentations.

As the  1970’s continued then – personalities became associated with their display window designs. Some of these designers started to design windows in the “Situation” style that was reminiscent in part of the artists designing display windows like Salvador Dali in the 1030’s & 1940’s and Andy Warhol in the 50’s. Display designers such as Robert Currie at Henri Bendel, Candy Pratts at Charles Jourdan and later Bloomingdales became just as famous as their “Street Theater” style window displays.

The Great VM's from the 70's | retail fix

In this Henri Bendel display window designed by Robert Currie in the mid 70’s – titled “Summer Habits” the designer employed the use of “Situation” style – or “Street Theater” window design to engage passersby into what was happening in the display window. In this case – what was a mannequin dressed as a nun doing in a high fashion window such as Bendel’s? It was left to the viewer to come to his or her own conclusion. Some designers such as Currie declared window display as disposable art – a sort of “Pop Art” – and as such didn’t require any props as the “Situation” was the prop. These style of display windows then were more intended for their shock value – as in the Surrealist’s 1940’s display windows – but in the end quickly went out of fashion as they really didn’t showcase the merchandise.

The Great VM's from the 70's | retail fix

Not as shocking as Mr. Currie’s use of a nun in a fashion display window – Candy Pratts at Bloomingdales was designing windows in a similar “Situation” style. Here a classic black and white theme is showing a mundane kitchen with mannequins dressed in all white lingerie. Is it a slumber party? Are they all drunk after a night on the town? It’s left up to the passerby – again – to figure out this “Situation”.

As fun as the situation window displays were – after the initial shock and excitement faded away there was a new style of window display that became fashionable later in the 70’s – “Minimalism” – my name for it now – though at the time there wasn’t any clear title for the design direction – other than a more graphic style utilizing repetition of simple props in a spare light filled setting.

One of the earliest proponents of this style was Colin Birch at Bonwit Teller in New York. He striped bare the display windows on 5th Avenue of any separations between windows as well as any interior architectural elements such as moldings and awnings. All that was left were these big empty display windows that he made to look even larger with wall panels covered in matte white vinyl.

Into this spare setting Mr. Birch placed mannequins off center and what little props that were used were done in a repetition style of placement – all meant to bring attention to the merchandise.

I took great inspiration from Mr. Birch’s display windows as I began my display design career. I was still in the “Pretty” mode of display windows early in my career – but I quickly moved to this new style of an “Empty White Box when I started to see the thrilling results of such a style.

I was thrilled to begin working at the Bonwit Teller store in Chicago in late 1977. I had already begun working in a Minimalist style earlier in the year at my previous store – but it was extra special that I was working for the same company where my inspiration had begun.

Not only was I excited about this design direction for display windows – I started to experiment in alternative props. At the beginning of my tenure at Bonwit’s there was a definite shortage of props to fill the 30′ wide main fashion window! But I started to snoop around in all of the storage areas in the store and came across two bolts of this exquisite raw, nubby silk shantung in a natural color . It had a wonderful draping quality to it. At the same time I had inherited mannequins made exclusively for Bonwit Teller – most of them “Pose Specific” with arm positions that needed a prop.

The finished result – with the natural fabrications of the sportswear outfits from Bonwit’s signature “Safari Room” – was an instant hit. I was thrilled to have my Minimal design – intended to better show off the garments and not so much the props – be at once accepted with eagerness by the store personnel.

In my opinion Minimalism was the last great design movement in Display Window Design. As the 1980’s appeared – this design trend disappeared and more and more props started to enter into the mix again – or even worse – no discernable design at all.

More and more local stores went out of business in the 90’s and the national chain stores took over and just sent out signs and headless or “Egghead” mannequins with directives where to put everything. A passionless and soulless approach that continues to this day. At the other end of that spectrum are the super expensive designer stores with retail outlets all over the world that go over the top in their design and expense of props. There’s not much left in the middle.

Today there are just a few stores left – mainly in big cities – that really design window displays to engage the customer. And to those – I applaud you!

*All images – except the last two – originate from the internet. No copyright infringement is intended. Last two images courtesy of https://jdvincentdesign.com/

It’s OK To Work Outside Of Your Usual Style – From The Archives!

It’s easy to get locked in to a visual merchandising style that you’re good at and know very well. In my case many years ago it was “Minimalism”. This was a super clean style that focused on the product with very little in the way of props. And what props there were would more than likely be styled in a “Repetition” manner. This style also relied on excellent lighting – a good selection of floods, narrow floods, spots and pin spots. At the time that Minimalism started to gain popularity – it received a mixed reception. Some did not like it and was thought to be bland and lazy. Others liked it because of it’s focus on product – especially fashion.

A typical display window of the era utilizing minimalism and repetition as a design strategy.

But sometimes it was fun to break out of that mold and try something different. In my case after several years of mainly using this design discipline at two consecutive retail women’s fashion stores – I wanted to mix things up and see if people were paying attention.

I decided to do a two part display window in the main fashion window utilizing – not only the store’s vast supply of antiques that were used as store decor – but the, new at that time, styrofoam props. The theme of the display window was “A Party”.

This store’s main fashion window was unusually large. It was 30 feet wide and about 6 feet in depth. It was difficult to design for because of it’s size. To fill it up with props would have cost a fortune. Many window displays that I designed for it – as in the first image – I basically just concentrated on the middle 10 feet and just left the rest blank. In this case I utilized the entire 30 feet. There are real antique props – the furniture and art. The window shutters and balustrade are made out of styro-foam and the “clouds” beyond them is a 4′ x 8′ silkscreened image of clouds on foam board. I wouldn’t ordinarily have mixed mannequin vendors but since it was a party scene – I thought that kind of worked with the theme. Also at this time I was covering the entire floor with white vinyl on foam board to give a “blank canvas” to work with my minimal designs but for this window display I removed them to expose the parquet wood floors to give more of a residential appearance.

The display window was an immediate success. Everyone in the store from the executives to the sales people commented first on the different style of the window especially but also – they just liked it. Many of the store’s regular customers also made pleasant comments. The building that the store was in – called “The Hancock” at the time – was a 100 story building in the downtown area and half of the building’s floors were apartments. There were a lot of regular customers in that building.

But – wait – I wasn’t done with this design – remember a “Two Part” display window? After the window’s two week run we installed the second half of the display window.

For the second installment of “The Party” display window we simply left all of the props intact and took all of the mannequins out. We then put in two reclining mannequins decked out in expensive lingerie for the window called “After The Party”. Maybe the girls had a bit too much to drink and knocked over the flower vase? The Fendi shopping bag full of wine bottles and the empty wine glasses tell the rest of the story.

The second part of “The Party” display window was popular too – everyone thought it was a clever idea – except for the sales ladies in the hosiery department. The door to this display window was on the back side of the hosiery department – through a narrow opening in their counter near their cash register. The ladies were so used to us bringing in next to nothing in the way of props – my minimal style – then all of a sudden we were hauling in on these props – including a huge antique sofa. They complained to beat the band – but by the time they had finished complaining – we were done.

By the next display window change I had gone back to my minimalist style – which I loved and the store personnel did as well. It just goes to show that mixing up your style can have some benefits and hones your display design acumen – you can always go back to your comfort zone.

The first display window after “The Party” I went back to a minimalist style that also employed repetition as a design device. As well as antiques the store had a good supply of contemporary furniture – at that time of 1978. These iconic “Wassily” chairs designed by Marcel Breuer in the 1920’s in a rich brown leather were perfect for this “Junior” display window.

*All photographs courtesy of https://jdvincentdesign.com/

“The Rule Of Three” In Visual Merchandising Design

“The Rule Of Three” – or really any odd number of items in a display design – always makes for a more interesting artistic design. Basically – The rule guideline of threes say that items arranged in odd numbers are more attractive , memorable, and more engaging to the eye than even-numbered groupings. Also, when a person sees an odd number of items, his/her eye is forced to move around more –  a much more interesting visual experience.

In this menswear wholesale showroom The Rule Of Three is very simply applied.

This archive image illustrates the broadening of “Three” to all odd numbered groupings. Even though there are four columns – there are five mannequins – making a total of nine items. Notice also the second column from the left has two mannequins grouped tightly with it – making a three. The eye is moving but it lingers longer here taking in the variance of the design. This image is from an earlier blog post – https://visualmerchandisingdisplays.wordpress.com/2020/05/28/strike-a-mannequin-theres-nothing-to-it/

Three is the starting point but, really, any odd number of items will work just as effectively. This not only works with Visual Merchandising but also as a universal story telling element – remember your childhood stories – “The Three Blind Mice”, “Three Little Pigs”, “The Three Musketeers”?

In another classic menswear display in a tradeshow booth – even though there are other elements in the background – the three tightly grouped mannequin forms are the focal point of the booth from this angle.

In another classic, women’s wear archive photo – one mannequin is looking at a work of art on the back wall of the display window. The other mannequin is looking at presumably another work of art nearby – but there are only “The Element Of Three” in this photo.

*All photos courtesy of : https://jdvincentdesign.com/