styling tips | for retail

Marian Parsonsbuying & selling antiques, Decorating, Running a Business, Secret Weapons25 Comments

I’ve written several posts about styling over the years, but I’ve grown a lot and learned a lot along the way and it’s probably time for an update.  (I have also received a few comments and e-mails about it lately.)

Styling is a broad topic, so I’ll break this up into a series.  In my work, I do three kinds of styling – for photography, for the home, and for retail.  They all have similarities, but I approach each of them differently.  Let’s start with styling for retail…

This is a “retail vignette” I put together using furniture and accessories that I brought to sell at Lucketts…


As I’m pulling and arranging things, I’m aiming towards a three main goals..

1 | Tell a story

Whether it’s a story of color, texture, a specific space, theme, season, geographic location, etc., I want to curate a group of items that relate to one another in some way.  For this vignette, I collected things that made sense in my mind and sort of ended up with a monochromatic eclectic solarium sort of feel.  Ha!  It’s random, but it’s okay if it is.  It’s about taking your customers to a place or evoking a feeling.  It’s creative, so it doesn’t have to make sense to everyone!



2 | Show customers how they can use pieces in their home

It’s sort of like having a mannequin to showcase clothing.  If stuff is just on a shelf, out of any kind of context, it’s harder for shoppers to imagine how they might use it.  Just because you can see potential doesn’t mean that everyone else can!  If they can actually see it in a context, they are more likely to imagine it in their on home.  Ikea is brilliant at this with their interactive showroom that you walk through and experience before getting to the marketplace.  So, have some items on a shelf or in a stack nearby, but also show them in a display.



3 | Set up a display that’s interesting, but not too intricate

If it’s a window display, go for it.  Make it as intricate as you want.  If it’s a display that customers will actually be shopping, a display that’s too overdone might actually deter shoppers.  They don’t want to mess up the display or they are nervous about removing an item because it might topple the stuff around it.  So, leave space for access and to let customers know, through non-verbal cues, that it’s okay to remove what catches their eye.



A few other things I would suggest…

  • Make sure the tags are easily visible.  It’s just a pet peeve of mine when retailers are trying to sell things and they hide the tags!
  • Add lots of levels.  Did you notice all different levels on top of the table and under it?  That makes the eye travel around the display, encouraging customers to linger, so they don’t miss anything.
  • Change displays frequently.  Moving things around can draw notice to them.  I constantly move things around at antique markets when I have the time, so someone who walked by earlier in the day and come back to visit, might see something they didn’t notice before.  If your displays are dynamic, regular shoppers will come back again and again.




I know a lot of my readers are in this creative business as well.  Anything else to add?

For those who aren’t in the biz, I think there are some take-aways that apply to the home as well, when it comes to combining like things and creating levels in a vignette.  The next post in this series will be entirely for you, though – tips on styling your home….

styling tips | for retail

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25 Comments on “styling tips | for retail”

  1. Marian, great advice (as usual). As a shopper, I agree about the idea of displays that can be too intricate. I have almost had things topple on me when I couldn’t find an employee/ shopkeeper to move things around so that I could get to an item. So, I now usually just leave things alone and move on when I see displays like that.
    Also, as a (new) retail worker, I have seen the principal of moving things around and changing location of goods. The intention is move the regular customer out of the “rut” of knowing the layout, so that there will be new wares that catch the eye, instead of the customer just making a beeline to whatever area she is used to and bypassing all the other potential purchases in the store.
    Looking forward to the post on styling my home!

  2. At our consignment shop (which benefits the Northbrook, Ilinois, Historical Society), we find that moving things around periodically triggers many a sale. But we also have customers who are returning to a specific spot for a specific item only to find something else in its place. Either it is sold or moved, and hopefully they will look around for it. We love to display in vignettes and often arrange by color to make random things sense together, at least visually.

  3. I used to merchandise plants and flowers for a living, and even just the act of me rearranging things caused people to buy them. If someone is working a display, then people are drawn to it for some reason, and they end up buying what you are placing and “messing up” your layout. Switching things up always keeps it fresh and moving!

  4. Thanks for this post – I am weighing the risk/benefit right now of once again having an antique booth at a mall and this is good advice; I am drawn to the booths that “tell a story” and that can show me how to use things. My biggest pet peeve in the antique business is the “NFS” tag – “not for sale.” That makes me vacate the space immediately as I don’t want to fall in love with something I can’t have. Your Lucketts process has given me doses of fear and encouragement in equal measure – thanks so much for sharing the journey with us!

    1. Ha! I am totally with you there!! I understand having a few display pieces that you need, but when random pieces sitting in the booth are not for sale, I find it to be so disappointing! Is this your storage unit? Why is it here if it’s not for sale and not being used for display? Kriste has heard many rants from me about this! 🙂

    2. Sue, as a customer, this is a big pet peeve for me as well. For some reason, I always go straight to the “NFS” items! And, if there is no tag, when I ask the sales person about the item I love, they tell me it’s NFS!

  5. Having had my own retail space years ago – I don’t think there’s much I can add to this. My experience reflects those described here in terms of changing up displays frequently. It doesn’t do to fall in love with your own vignettes and leave them static for too long. Save that for at home.

    One thing I did find though – smalls move well when there’s lots of them, like the dried artichokes in Marian’s photos. Multiples seem to encourage purchases – but when you get down to one or two they’ll hang around forever. So you need to either stock up again or find some way of displaying them that doesn’t make them look like orphans without a home. Sometimes that’s a tough one.

    1. Well, that’s fascinating! I never buy more than say, 6 of an item to encourage folks buying…thinking that they’re one of the few to “get” the item. I may have to rethink this!
      BTW, Marian, where did you get those artichokes? They’re awesome!

    2. Yeah, we always joke about the “last one.” No one wants to buy the last lonely lavender bunch or the last bar of soap or the pitcher without any friends… 🙂

  6. Thank you for this! Although I have great visions in my head, styling is one of those things that I can’t seem to grasp. That’s the main reason I have shied away from being a vendor. I do keep trying to experiment in my home though and look forward to your upcoming styling posts.

  7. Once we had two very interesting ( and functional) pieces in our shop. I just couldn’t understand why they didn’t sell. One Saturday morning I was rearranging and I asked my husband to take those pieces to the barn. I them at the back of the shop by the door to go out. I was SO sick of looking at them. I opened the shop that day and one of the first customers of the day came walking up with one of those pieces! And she said… There’s also a cupboard top in the back that I want! It was the other piece that was destined for the barn!!! What a surprise!
    Rearrange, rearrange.

  8. Hi, enjoy your blog so much. Thank you for sharing. The love and joy and seeing your home is like walking into a great big hug. I love homes that I can walk into and feel like I am getting a big hug. So wonderful.
    Can you tell me when you list some of your items for sale how do I find them?
    Happy and save holiday weekend.

  9. My mom and I have a small home decor shop with refinished/painted furniture. (And of course whenever I do a MMS milk paint piece, especially one with a lot of that coveted chipiness, it’s usually gone within a few days!) we hear customers say what they like most is that we set up our displays like its a home. Most often we hear, “can I move in?” Putting pillows with colors that tie into the furnishings and adding coordinating accessories gives the shopper a starting point. I think it gets overwhelming to people when things are lined up in rows or stacks, it all blends together. When it’s displayed like a home I think it triggers to the buyer, “hey I have a chair like that and that pillow would look great on it and that side table would fit with my chair perfectly”. It is surprising to hear how many people claim they don’t know how to put things together and at least we can provide some inspiration. And when items do go, the fun part for us is “shopping the store” and coming up with new displays. ?

  10. I have 2 booths at the Knitting MIll in Chattanooga,Tn. We (my hubby and I) have been doing this for only a short time (3 yrs) but we have noticed some trends. I, like you, create little vignettes that tell a story. But I only have a 8 x 16 space so my vignettes are small and more crowded than yours. I like for folks to “go on a treasure hunt” through all my displays. Also I put “like” items together-I love vintage barware and mid-century barware is really popular! I put my decanters, glasses, shakers on trays to help customers see how it will look in their homes. I also move items ALL THE TIME! I laughingly say, ” If you touch it, it will sell” so many times I have had something sitting and sitting, when I move it and it sells. Thank you for always being so open and giving of your wonderful knowledge. I have learned so much reading your blog and I know it takes time from your busy schedule. I am a teacher and this is my “hobby that pays” and I love it!!!

  11. As a shopper, my biggest pet peeve is small white tags. I do not want to have to look and look for the tag, particularly on soft goods(quilts). Sometimes I just give up and do not purchase the item because the tag is not worth hunting down. I wish vendors would use colored tags or colored strings. I do enjoy the vendors who make their own tags, large enough for me to find them easily.

    1. Hi Sharon…..I used to be a vendor in several stores and also had my own store for a while. I believe in every store I was in, we were told to use white tags and in most stores were even told the size tag to use. Early on in my selling days, I asked the reasoning behind this and the shop owner said she needed tags that were big enough so she could see the item number and price to pay the vendors and also the white tags made for a cohesive look for the store at large.

      I always tried to place tags where they were visible but not distracting, but I know what you mean. Some vendors hide them so it is near impossible to find the price.

  12. I just want to compliment you on your generosity of spirit to share as much as you do. May you always be rewarded in kind.

  13. Pottery Barn has moved their displays around for years now. You captured the secret of retail. People come back and get a whole new perspective.

  14. As an artist, I would add a “formula” for anyone to be creative: Think in triangles (high, low and medium) and odd numbers (3, 5, 7).

    I enjoy your blog. You have the eye of an artist.

  15. Really enjoyed the article and the comments. I agree with moving items around interesting how something that hasn’t sold will sell when moved. Look forward to more posts.

  16. Great advise Marian, I try my best at styling my booth, sometimes good and sometimes not so good. Have the same problem with NFS an things that are overpriced, I tell my husband “This must be their storage unit. ” One mall I am at insists that every shelf unit be marked NFS. Also, one tip I once read about is to have one unusual attention grabber in your booth to intise buyers to come in and check it out, and maybe look for more interesting items. I loved all the photos from Lucketts! Can’t wait to see what is next!

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