How to Create Great Store Windows

When done well, store windows serve as a welcoming public face for the brand. “Even if customers don’t come in immediately, engaging windows can create a buzz,” says Wendy Yothers, chair of the Jewelry Design department at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in New York City. “I would never downplay how beneficial windows can be to the bottom line.”

To maximize the effect of store windows, follow these guiding principles. 

Think big.

As jewelry is small, retailers need to think big, particularly if the storefront is set back from the street or passed by cars more often than pedestrians.

Anne Kong, associate professor in FIT’s Visual Presentation and Exhibition Design program, recommends playing with heights and levels. You can create visual flow and showcase product in a grand fashion by using risers, triangles, or pyramids as well as materials like paper, wood, or suede. Incorporating imagery or verbiage can also boost relevancy, reminds Jeff Grant, owner of Trio Display, a La Jolla, Calif.–based retail design and equipment firm.

“Graphics need to be compelling,” he says. And “authenticity works better than standard stock shots.”


STUart Jewelry Designs designer Stuart Coffee with his wife, Vivian, who handles sales and marketing

Set the scene.

Every retailer faces the same dilemma: making product the star. Grant suggests providing a defined backdrop so customers’ eyes do not wander beyond the jewelry. You might shrink the window down with vinyl or use boxes. And much like the Broadway stage, some well-focused lighting can create a dynamic impression. Though LEDs are a major, albeit worthy, expense, simple spotlights directed on product can produce a major payoff for a minor investment, Kong says.

“With great lighting, you can completely cut down the amount of reflection coming into the store, which is the enemy of window displays,” she says.


Make a habit of change.

When it comes to windows, stagnation is the enemy. “Change is one of your greatest weapons as a retailer,” says Kong. “Maybe it’s just altering one window or popping new jewelry into an existing design.” 

Grant recommends that retailers redo window displays monthly and switch up product more often. At Solari & Huntington in Park Ridge, Ill., Susan Ferguson, the staffer who designs the windows, does this religiously, tying displays to the holidays as well as the seasons—e.g., a summer display centered on a bevy of bathing beauties from the Roaring ’20s. Modeled after the Thorne Miniature Rooms at the Art Institute of Chicago, where 68 models provide an intimate snapshot of European and American interiors over the last five centuries, Solari & Huntington’s windows featured figurines in flapper-era swimwear, curtains pulled back for a theatrical view. In one vignette, a woman sunbathes; in another, children frolic near a makeshift coastline. Naturally, the store’s custom jewelry is woven into each scene.

“We’re an artistic business, so the more dynamic and eye-catching our windows, the better,” says Ferguson. 


Solari & Huntington’s windows not only drew inspiration from the nearby Art Institute of Chicago but also spotlighted the store’s custom design work.

Remember: Less is more.

Store windows communicate the value of the brand. Windows crammed with jewelry often provide a lower-end image, while small windows with a few select, well-displayed items evoke a higher-end feel. Grant says: “Both can be very effective, depending on the shop’s local demographic and the intended customer base.” 

And retailers shouldn’t be afraid to display something spectacular, adds Yothers. “It might not get a sale, but it can get people into the store because it’s such a statement piece.” 


Three pendants are better than two!

And by all means, avoid these common mistakes.

Ignoring the rule of odds: An odd number of objects better divides the space so viewers can see it as one whole.… Handwritten signs: They diminish a shop’s professionalism.… Visible price tags: Unless your store is in the discounting game, hide the price tags so customers can experience the beauty of the jewelry.… Dirty windows: Bugs, dust, and smudges dilute the value of the jewelry and your brand.

A version of this story originally appeared in the November 2015 issue of JCK magazine.

(STUart Jewelry Designs photographs by Peter Chin; neck form: Thomas Northcut/Getty Images)

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