Solari & Huntington has sat at the corner of Main and Fairview in Park Ridge, Ill., a suburban community on Chicago’s northwestern tip, since 1986. But one morning last summer, a bevy of bathing beauties from the Roaring ’20s filled its windows.
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 feature 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. The shop’s custom jewelry is woven into each scene, including one in which pearls bubble forth from a treasure chest.
“We’re an artistic business, so the more dynamic and eye-catching our windows, the better,” says Susan Ferguson, the staff member charged with designing the shop’s windows.
Adds owner Robert Solari: “Anyone can stick a ring box in the window and call it a display, but we want to do more than that.”
Solari & Huntington, like so many others in the retail game, understands store windows represent key marketing real estate capable of attracting eyeballs and enticing visits.
In fact, Kristen Ainscoe, an assistant teaching professor in the Design and Merchandising program at Drexel University’s Westphal College of Media Arts & Design, calls store windows one of the biggest missed opportunities in jewelry retail. “Just thinking of your store windows as something pretty isn’t enough anymore,” says Ainscoe, a former regional visual manager for the Movado Group. “Windows need to drive traffic, and that requires a store being very intentional with that real estate.”
Jewelry designer Stuart Coffee knows the potential of a well-crafted display. For the last 15 years, he has operated a 325-square-foot storefront in New York City’s SoHo neighborhood, where thousands of local residents, workers, and tourists pass through on a daily basis. Though his single store window is just over five feet wide, Coffee creates simple and elegant window displays, leveraging recessed lighting and showcases to frame his custom-designed pieces. “Our windows aren’t overpowering, but they help us show the jewelry we have inside that you can’t get anywhere else,” Coffee says. “I know one thing for sure: You can’t take anything for granted anymore.”
When done well, store windows serve as a welcoming public face for the brand, luring customers and inviting sales, says Wendy Yothers, chair of the Jewelry Design department at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in New York City. “Even if customers don’t come in immediately, engaging windows can create a buzz and the store can become a destination for people when they do shop for jewelry,” Yothers says. “I would never downplay how beneficial windows can be to the bottom line.”
To maximize the effect of store windows, follow these four guiding principles:
1. 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 retailers bring consumers’ eyes closer to jewelry by 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. Additionally, large graphics, such as blown-up product images, can be incorporated to capture attention, Kong says, adding that some shops invest in their own vinyl cutters to produce graphics in-house.
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. While bridal occasions are many jewelry stores’ bread and butter, your window imagery can subtly remind customers that other celebrations, such as anniversaries and birthdays, lend themselves to gifts of jewelry.
“Graphics need to be compelling,” Grant says. “Authenticity works better than standard stock shots, so get help or choose wisely with any selections and add commentary to heighten the effect on the customer.”
STUart Jewelry Designs designer Stuart Coffee with his wife, Vivian, who handles sales and marketing
2. Set the scene.
With store windows, 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. To drive impact, retailers might shrink the window down with vinyl or use boxes, as both Ferguson and Coffee do.
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, adding that anti-glare window films, popular in the museum world, can reduce reflection and also block ultraviolet rays.
3. Make a habit of change.
When it comes to windows, Kong says stagnation is the enemy. “Anything that looks the same time and again risks looking tired. Change is one of your greatest weapons as a retailer.”
Change, however, need not be expensive or time consuming, she adds. “Maybe it’s just altering one window or popping new jewelry into an existing window design.”
Grant recommends retailers change window displays monthly and product more often, further suggesting retailers marry their windows to seasons or events. At Solari & Huntington, Ferguson does this religiously, tying the store’s windows to the seasons as well as holidays ranging from Valentine’s Day to the Fourth of July.
“You definitely want to keep it fresh,” Ferguson says.
To be more coordinated and strategic, Ainscoe recommends shops create an annual window calendar, defining an overall budget and themes the windows will carry throughout the year. “This way, you’re never rushing to get something done and there’s a purpose behind what you’re doing.”
Last summer, Solari & Huntington’s windows not only drew inspiration from the nearby Art Institute of Chicago but also spotlighted the store’s custom design work.
4. 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.”
While some stores stock their windows full of great pieces, believing that showing a diverse array of jewelry is bound to entice someone, Ainscoe contends that viewers need a focal point to rest the eye. “It’s important you guide customers to what you want them to see,” she says. “You don’t need to show everything. In fact, less is more.”
And, Yothers adds, retailers shouldn’t be afraid to display something spectacular. “It might not get a sale, but it can get people into the store because it’s such a statement piece.”
Top: Window-watching at STUart Jewelry Designs in SoHo; inset: peering into (and out from) STUart’s intimate shop on Sullivan Street
(STUart Jewelry Designs photographs by Peter Chin)
Avoid these common store window mistakes:
1. Ignoring the rule of odds: Using an odd number of objects creates more visual interest and better divides the space so viewers can see it as one whole.
Three pendants are better than two!
(Thomas Northcut/Getty Images)
2. Using handmade signs: Handwritten signs diminish a shop’s professionalism.
3. Showing price tags: Unless your store is in the discounting game, hide the price tags so customers can experience the beauty of the jewelry before getting rational.
4. Failing to clean: Bugs, dust, and smudges dilute the value of the jewelry and the brand, so clean windows regularly.
5. Lacking a cohesive message: Store windows are a marketing vehicle—one that can complement other media. Create a hashtag and invite photos in front of the store’s windows, or tie windows to an existing promotion running on local TV. —DPS