We Don’t Do Windows!

In our family music store back in the ’60s, I remember entering window display competitions sponsored by manufacturers and distributors. Everyone in the store got involved. We were often rewarded with free trips, merchandise, and of all things, patio furniture. I also remember that even those winning entries were far below the display quality of the large department stores that devoted huge budgets and a professional staff to this task. During the rest of the year, our store windows returned to compositions of crepe paper, balloons, and cardboard shamrocks. These displays would often go unchanged until the color of the crepe paper completely faded.

What was the point - other than to try to fill up a predetermined space? That’s not merchandising! Merchandising has a plan. It has a purpose.

Times Have Changed
People don’t stroll down Main Street to pass the time as they did decades ago. Today, if you want to locate your store in an area where people stroll as a pastime, you’ll need a lot of money. Popular "strolling" streets include the ultra-high rent districts of Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, Fifth Avenue in New York, Michigan Avenue in Chicago, Universal City Walk at Universal Studios in California, and anywhere there’s a Nike Town or Virgin Record store. Beyond locations like that, you’ll need to locate your store inside a mall to take advantage of pastime browsing.

But the fact is, none of these locations are ideal for a music store. For our industry, it makes more sense to locate in free-standing buildings and strip centers. These are "drive-to" destinations where you drive right to the door, park, and enter.

But what does this have to do with windows?

Simple: at a drive-to destination, customers not only do not take the time to look into the windows, but in most cases, can’t even see through them. During the day, the glare and the difference in light levels on both sides of the glass make it next to impossible to see into the store. Only after dark, when the light inside the store is greater than the light outside the store, can a customer see through the windows.

Even in high-traffic areas, where potential customers may drive by the store every day, it’s difficult to expect store windows to contribute much to capturing the customer’s attention. Drivers must pay attention to traffic (especially when it’s busy) and therefore have little time to look around. Add to that the fact that a parking area is often located between the street and the store, which increases the viewing distance. Even if there’s a stoplight by your store that might give drivers a moment to look in your direction, the distance is often so great that it would be difficult for them to focus on the details of anything in the windows. What these passers-by will see and remember most is the overall storefront.

Windows as a Liability
Today, retailers tend to view the windows in their stores as liabilities rather than assets. Why? Because it has become a common occurrence for windows to be smashed and expensive merchandise taken, long before a patrol car can respond to the alarm. No retailer is immune. This has become common even in sleepy country towns.

In response, retailers are eliminating windows from their store designs. Notice the large, super retailers with windowless fortresses that include big concrete posts in front of the only opening. They often have colorful, contemporary entry designs to attract the customer to the building. This is a task that store windows used to be responsible for. Now, it is accomplished more effectively with the overall building design.

So What Do We Do?
I have just recited enough negatives to fill several articles, but I hope I’ve made my point. I think it’s time that we take a fresh look at our outdated concepts about store windows. That said, let’s continue.

Ask the owners of any of the stores that have undergone one of my store remodellings, and you’ll be told that one of the first steps I take is to remove any formal window display area. We reclaim the space and transform it into selling space.

Existing windows now have another purpose. I view them as a great way to get natural light into the store. They also let people see that there is activity going on in the store, and that the store is open for business. Beyond that, I don’t expect much else from windows. Sure, I’ll put grand pianos close to the windows. I’ll even run a complete wall of colorful electric guitars right up to a window. I may even suggest that the drum department be located near a front window. But it is not my sole purpose to make these items visible from the outside. That would be a nice secondary benefit - but only if it happens. If it doesn’t, it’s certainly not anything to lose sleep over.

Prime Selling Space
Display areas next to windows are selling spaces. Picture a grand piano next to a window, where it is angled more towards the selling area rather than the outside. This makes it possible for the sales person and the customer to walk up to the grand piano and try it out, without having to climb inside a formal window display. The positioning of the drum sets and also the guitar wall that are up front by the windows are also considered selling space - not window display area - and should be designed accordingly for easy customer access.

If you have windows, I do realize there is an advantage of being able to see through them. That’s why I will always include plenty of track lighting in the window areas to pump more light onto the products that are displayed up front. Remember: in order to see in from the outside, there must be more light inside than outside.

Moving Window-Type Displays Inside
Rather than wasting time on window displays, I choose to focus my energy on display areas inside the store. One of the most important areas for special displays in the store is found just inside the front door. These are the displays customers will see when they first enter the store.

I call these "entry displays," and I place them on both sides of the front door. These entry displays are similar to a department store’s front windows. I recommend using props, and building your product into an attractive setting. For example, a piano display might include an oriental folding screen as a backdrop, a formal living room chair, a lamp, a rug, and some other nicknacks to give it the appearance of a home-type setting.

On the other side of the door, we may want to appeal more to the combo customer. A drum set might have a wire grid-type background that supports posters of artists using the drum set. Include some stage lights, and possibly even a mannequin, and you have an appealing, eye-catching display.

In a combo store, I will often include a stage-type setting, complete with overhead lighting and special effects. The raised platform makes it possible to build set-ups that resemble a real stage or nightclub setting. Enticing featured displays of this type should be set up in other locations in the store as well.

Wall areas above the eight-foot level are out of eye-level range. But you’ll notice that other retailers often use these areas to build mini-focus displays. Another focus-type of display area is for new products. This might be a space near the register in the front of the store, where you set up a special display to highlight or introduce your new products. Manufacturers will often include display materials with their new product. Remember, however, that these are introductory displays. They are temporary. Do not leave them up too long!

Merchandising - Not Decoration
The role of display in the store is not to make things pretty. A properly conceived display has a predefined purpose. Merchandising should only be undertaken when it’s part of a direct plan to help make the sale.

For example, the piano entry display helps customers visualize how that particular model might look in their homes. The stage display shows the products in an environment where they are most likely to be used. The small focal displays above the merchandise areas help the customer locate the department. And the new product displays help pull the customer’s attention to the special items. A special display in the electronics area might help explain the technology and educate customers.

These are all forms of true merchandising - planned presentations that help make sales.

Don’t Just Fill It - Use It!
It’s not so much that I’m anti-windows. It’s just that I’m more for planned, functional presentations. If we’re going to spend any time, any space, or any of our valuable resources, we should do so with a specific purpose in mind. When we’re dealing with store windows, let’s make sure that we’re using them to sell products - not just filling spaces for a concept that was conceived decades ago.

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