Your Silent Sales Partner: Skillful Display

A visitor to Brinsmaids in New Canaan, Conn., finds jewelry and fine gifts in creative gallery presentations as well as traditional island-type showcases. That blend of display styles complements the merchandise mix, which includes high-end non-branded goods and collections from top designers. The store, situated on the main thoroughfare of an affluent suburban community, employs eight people and does more than $3 million a year in business.

The look of the store reflects the merchandising strategies and aesthetic sensibilities of Scott Cusson, co-owner and president. It’s a constantly unfolding project. “We fine-tune it every year because the product keeps evolving,” says the 49-year-old jeweler, whose parents bought the 150-year-old business in 1963. “We’ve given different priority to different product depending on the cycle that we’re in and the nature of the clientele—what priority they give to the fashion aspect. And we try to coordinate jewelry and non-jewelry items together to give each point of view its own space.”

The store also is an excellent showcase for the basic principles of merchandise display outlined by retailing consultants Janice Mack Talcott and Kate Peterson in their accompanying article (see p. 200).

Enticements. A passerby on Elm Street sees evidence of Cusson’s coordinated display strategy in the windows of Brinsmaids. Last fall, for example, a Lalique leaf-motif jardiniere shared space with a handmade gold necklace and matching earrings from Orlandini. In another window, jewelry items from John Hardy were arranged amid the designer’s giftware. Displays don’t last for long. “We review the windows weekly,” says Cusson. “Sometimes we leave them two to three weeks if they’re extremely strong. We’ll change them rather quickly if they’re weak.”

One thing he can’t change is the store’s red-brick exterior. It’s part of the town’s décor, and the landlord says it must stay. (Even Cusson’s request to paint over it was turned down.) A common awning beneath a slate roof and consistent design themes from one window to the next create a unified look across what had been two separate storefronts.

The layout of the 2,000-sq.-ft. interior consists of two center islands divided into 4-ft. showcases, with freestanding cases at the front and sides. Two major display spaces occupy the east and west walls at the center aspect of the store. Other sections of wall space are devoted to smaller merchandise displays (mostly giftware) as well as lightboxes showing product- and lifestyle-related images. The rear of the store houses the bridal area, watch display, and repair department.

Traffic flow has been a nagging concern. “It’s been very difficult because that damn door is to the far left of the entry into the store,” says Cusson. “Everybody went from the front door straight through to the repair department on the left.” To encourage a more roundabout tour of the premises, Cusson broke a large central island into two islands and cut diagonal corners to facilitate lateral movement. To the right of the entrance, freestanding cases holding collections from Henry Dunay and David Yurman draw customers in that direction. Visitors must pass a double museum cube to access the back-left aspect of the store. “The combination of all those things has helped a lot,” Cusson says.

Brinsmaids serves a sophisticated clientele with a taste for designer merchandise, and Cusson accordingly attempts to create beguiling display spaces that complement rather than compete with the product. Ample and diverse selections of Robert Lee Morris jewelry, for example, occupy inset wall spaces and a nearby freestanding showcase. “Because Robert has many different points of view and a lot of product, I felt it necessary to build in a coordinated separation, something that would define each collection but also define the entire collection as whole,” says Cusson. Old railroad ties stained black lend a rustic look to the wall displays. Smatterings of river stone complement the more refined product.

A sit-down area for Dunay merchandise encourages customers to relax and enjoy. Before, when the collections were cramped into a 4-ft. case viewed from a standing position, sales were difficult. “We found that as soon as we allowed people to sit down for that particular product, they stayed, they got comfortable, they listened, we talked, and sales were easier,” says Cusson.

Lighting and décor. Years ago, fluorescent lamps dominated the lighting mix. Today, incandescent spots proliferate, even as fluorescents provide balance. It takes trial-and-error and fine-tuning until Cusson achieves the ambience he wants for a particular product. Clear crystal is lit primarily by fluorescents, with spots for highlights to lend extra sparkle. Colored crystal takes all incandescents. Because of the opaque nature of the colored crystal, “it seems to work better that way,” Cusson says. Jewelry is illuminated by halogens in the newer cases, fluorescents in the older ones. Overhead spots offer support lighting.

Color, too, has changed over time. “Years ago we were into the Lily Pulitzer greens and all that stuff,” says Cusson. “We were very gift-oriented. That was before my time. I had something to say about that when I came on board.” The color scheme now consists primarily of various tones of gray tempered by a burgundy carpet and offset by whites and creams. “It’s not stark, but it’s not overly traditional in tone, either,” says Cusson. “The décor is very neutral. The focus is on the jewelry, both in lighting and display. And in color. As the product evolves, we try to plug in something appropriate. Something exciting, yet not overdone. We try to let the product do the talking.”

Cusson may have a clearly defined design sense, but he’s quick to acknowledge that most of his concepts are derivative. “I’m a thief,” he says. “Whether it’s magazines, or Fifth Avenue, or anything, I just look for things that I feel are appropriate and adaptable, and I figure out a way to make it happen.” Whatever the provenance of his ideas, their execution entices the eye and captures the imagination.

Rob Murphy is a former JCK senior copy editor.