This page is part of our Display Workshop learning module.
Designing a Retail Space
Decide on theme that will unify your merchandise. Your displays don’t need to look exactly alike, but they should be compatible or blend in with each other. The overall look and feel of your shop should reflect the type of merchandise you sell and the environment you are selling in.
Where can you find ideas? Look around when visiting other retail shops. When you are travelling take some time and look at craft shops in the communities you are travelling through. See how they display items similar to yours; see how they have done the overall decoration of the shop. What works or doesn’t work in these shops. What ideas could you adapt to your own retail space?
You can also find good ideas for your retail shop by going to craft shows. You will see a wide variety of creative displays in one visit.
And of course you can find ideas on the internet. Pinterest, for example, has many boards about crafts, displaying crafts and visual merchandising.
Creating a Layout for Your Retail Space
What kind of display units do you need for your retail space? Do you need some permanent shelving, and some moveable displays? Craft businesses often inherit a retail space with existing display shelves. Are you able to move the shelving, or is it permanently in place?
If you are able to move things around, or if you are in a new space and designing your own shelving, you can try planning things out before you set up your space.
You can start by creating a floorplan. First draw out the floorplan of your shop on graph paper. One square on the graph paper could equal one foot, for example, or 6 inches. Then, measure out your counter space, the size of your shelves and displays, the areas that your doors and windows take up, and draw them out on a separate sheet, keeping the proportions correct.
Cut out your drawings of display furnishings and door and window shapes, and try moving them around to get the best layout. Remember you need a clear space of about 4 feet in front of your counter and aisles of at least 3 feet. It’s easier to move furniture around on paper than in real life, and you can try out a variety of layouts before you settle on anything.
When you have a layout you like on paper, you can take the next step of taping out your floorplan using masking tape on the floor of your retail space. Can you easily walk around things? Are you likely to bump into a delicate display while moving around? Can you move easily from the sales counter to the front of the shop?
Having some moveable displays gives you an opportunity to change things up on a regular basis. You should change your displays at least seasonally. It keeps things looking fresh and allows you to highlight different items. Returning customers will notice things they didn’t notice before. Older merchandise in a new location will look like a newly arrived product.
If you are in a location that gets large groups of visitors, like bus tours or cruise ships, you should think about how a group of people can move around your shop. You may want to change your displays when you are expecting a group tour, putting popular items up front and making sure there is extra room near the cash.
Small, valuable items should be located near the cash where you can keep an eye on them, possibly in a glass fronted cabinet. Customers are more likely to buy items they can pick up and feel, but shoplifters are more likely to take them as well. You might want to have some items out, but a larger number of them behind glass.
Your overall theme and the props you use for display should reflect the type of customer you want to appeal to. If you are in an area where many of your customers are ecotourists, you might want to bring the natural world into your shop, using driftwood and beach rocks to use as props for your display. If your shop has a retro theme, you might want to use antique or vintage household items as props for your displays. Even old windows and doors can make decorative backdrops.
If your shop is in a museum there are probably clear guidelines for the theme and there may be restrictions on bringing natural objects into a controlled environment. Make sure you check and even if you’re not in a museum, your outdoor and vintage items should be well cleaned to make sure they won’t leave a mark on your products.
The signs you use should match the overall look and theme of your retail space or match the overall theme and look of your logo. Try to use fonts that are clear and easy to read and make sure there is enough contrast between the background and the lettering to make it easy to see the words. Handwritten signs should be avoided unless there is a reason for using handwriting, for example, if you do calligraphy and make beautiful hand made labels, or if you use a decorative blackboard for messages and use decorative writing on it.
Make the best use of the visible areas of the store and place the items you want to show off in prominent positions. Remember that the most effective part of a display is between waist height and eye level. The items you want to sell most should be in that area. Vertical displays have the most impact, so use shelves or risers to create height in your displays. Using levels means customers can see more of the products on display. Place your products only to the height that customers can reach. The area above that can be used for display or signage. The lower shelves can be used to store extra stock.
Traffic Flow can impact how your products sell
Watch how customers move throughout the store, and place the most important items you want to promote on their route. Make sure that items that go together are easy to find or displayed together.
Lighting is important to the look and feel of your shop. Look for ways to use light to highlight displays or to highlight specific items. Customers aren’t attracted to dark corners.
Window displays and the exterior of your shop should be an extension of your overall theme. Window displays should attract the customer’s interest and make them want to come in and explore the shop. These displays should also be changed regularly to showcase your merchandise.
Remember that some craft items could be damaged by constant exposure to the light. You could use a plastic film with UV filters over your windows, or be careful to put only colour safe items in the window.
Grouping Similar Items Creates Harmony in a Display
Grouping items that could be used together: You could create a grouping of clothing items and jewellery that go together, or a table display using linens and ceramics. This helps your customer to see how to use the products and may encourage sales of coordinating items. It can also save time for the customer by identifying things that go together.
Grouping by category or type: This is the most common way of displaying items in retail stores. Clothing, slippers, jewellery – each of these could be a separate category. Within each category there may be other groupings – a group of silver jewellery, a display of earrings, or items made by one producer – are possible groupings within the jewellery category.
Grouping by theme: Your theme might be seasonal, for example, where different holiday items are grouped together. The seasonal holiday is the theme that brings harmony to the display.
Grouping by colour: Colour schemes, seasonal displays and coordinated outfits are all ways to group by colour. Colour can also be used to set the theme of your seasonal displays – fall colours, pastels in spring, festive colours at Christmas. Grouping by colour works for clothing displays as well. For additional information, see our How to Work with Colour page.
Grouping by price: In gift shops you will often see containers of small items near the cash. These are items that have been grouped by price, to serve a specific need. They might be point of sale items that appeal as add-ons to the purchase. In shops with a lot of visitor traffic they are often items that sell well to large tour groups – postcards, keychains, magnets, etc.