Byline: Danielle Cohen

An eye-grabbing window display can be just as enticing to some shoppers as a clearance sale with large discounts or a sales floor stocked with this season’s must-haves.
So not surprisingly, retailers — from a single-unit boutique to a multi-unit department store chain — take a lot of care to create an elaborate window display that conveys both the retailer’s branding philosophy, as well as its trend direction.
Benjamin Belton, owner of better specialty stores Benjamin’s, Libba’s and Intermezzo Collection, in Hickory, N.C., said, “People need to be wowed. We need to keep them noticing and talking. It’s a form of entertainment.”
Perpetually changing his windows, Belton adds and rearranges items, moving displays from one window to another. Window displays are not just for new arrivals, but also for “reinventing” inventory, to turn merchandise. Belton often puts items that have not sold in the window, hoping to muster up interest.
Sherry Bryan, owner of Wilmington, N.C., specialty retailer R. Bryan Collections, said window displays are the best form of advertising for her store, located in a shopping center.
“Windows sell the store when we’re closed,” she said. “Nothing thrills a woman more than trying on an outfit from the window display,” Bryan said.
Seeking to maximize limited space with only two windows, she said she entices people with the brightest seasonal colors and rarely shows black.
For Lorie McDonald, vice president of Carriage on the Park, a women’s specialty store in Charlotte, N.C., projecting an upscale image is foremost.
McDonald ensures that display racks are tidy and that all hangers face the same direction, so passersby peeking in the store’s windows see a well-organized store.
“Our windows give a complete description of what we’re about,” McDonald said.
Businesses use a variety of techniques to draw attention and make a statement. Whether dramatic, simple, provocative, flamboyant or refined, each window requires careful thought, with the consumer in mind.
“Window displays create the first impression of the store,” said Freda Greenbaum, co-owner of A Nose for Clothes, a Miami-based chain of nine specialty shops in Atlanta and south Florida.
Window displays are ideal real estate for highlighting key trends. At A Nose for Clothes, for example, bales of hay, cacti and saddles were featured in the store’s window to display the cowgirl chic trend.
Fredi Verdesca, owner of Naples, Fla.-based chains Jami’s and JCC, said “Color is an easy way to make an exciting window.”
She added, the message from store windows “tells who we are, and women interested in shopping with us are excited by the display. Many customers come in, based on what they see in the window. They may not necessarily buy that, but they see more options once they’re inside.”
Fifteen wraparound windows surround Wade McCormick, a moderate-to-better women’s apparel shop in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. Owner Wade McCormick said each one “should say what the store is about.”
With two front windows, dramatic displays are key to making more out of less, said Henry Fawcett, president of Statements Ltd., an upscale women’s apparel retailer in Virginia Beach, Va.
Light boxes, borders and natural elements accent the mannequin-laden windows, designed to convey a message of balance, sharpness and focus in a subtle statement, said Fawcett.
At Atlanta boutique, Bano, owner Sudi Rafizadeh said changing windows daily helps raise curiosity and interest in the store, which is located at one of Buckhead’s busiest intersections.
Verdesca also changes windows weekly for a fresh look, especially for customers who shop on a weekly basis. With six locations in Naples, store managers are encouraged to put their own personalities into displays. “It’s good to have that difference, because customers go to all the stores to see everything we have,” she said.
Bryan said keeping windows looking fresh is essential. She changes displays at least every two weeks. “Women have great memories,” she said. “After two Saturdays, we need to rotate the merchandise.”
Retailers agreed that each new window display should have freshness to maintain interest from regular customers and seduce new ones. Retailers said their creative inspiration comes from many places.
Travel allows McDonald and her mother and business partner, Rita Smart, to see how retail leaders, including Saks, Bergdorf Goodman and Henri Bendel, dress up window displays. Smart spends two weeks a month in New York, then meets with McDonald and special events coordinator Emily Crigler, to collaborate window design. McDonald often relies on Crigler’s eye for bringing the look together, when time prohibits her direct involvement.
On the flip side, Rafizadeh said she “never looks at other stores’ windows” to avoid being influenced or compromising her individuality.
A Nose for Clothes holds monthly meetings with visual merchandisers at its Miami headquarters, where attendees discuss trends and create designs. Ideas are shared companywide through photographs of sample windows. Each store’s manager is responsible for window displays at his or her particular shop.
Verdesca travels to Europe and elsewhere for inspiration, she said. Three merchandisers visit stores in the chain and work with store managers to set guidelines, offer new ideas and keep props fresh. Trained staff members continue to take seminars to update knowledge of window displays.
There are three takes on holiday windows: Do it, don’t do it or find a happy medium. Stores like A Nose for Clothes and Bano have patrons of all racial, ethnic and religious backgrounds. Greenbaum said holidays are a challenge because her customers are multiethnic. While avoiding too much Christmas decor, she goes for a festive, special occasion aura. Past seasons featured a white-and-gold color story with wrapped packages, flowers and bows.
McDonald plays up the holiday spirit with a red-and-black themed window display. An ornamented Christmas tree in every window sits between two mannequins. Red amaryllis flowers in gold pots, tied with red ribbons accent displays, along with wrapped packages in windows, as well.
Whether it’s the heart and soul of a company or a way to captivate an audience, a window display’s success depends on presentation.
Whatever a retailer’s ideology, a window display can be successful, if the execution captures the essence of the store’s inventory.