By Karen Appold
When creating home décor and gift displays, Ginger Newman Askew, events/museum store manager at the Historic Sotterley Museum Store in Hollywood, Md., aims to tell a story for the audience she wants to reach. “I try to produce vignettes that are not only attractive for visitors to look at, but also entice them to want to explore,” she said. “I hope our displays encourage guests to learn more, see more, smell more, or touch more, and hopefully, buy more.”
Additionally, Newman Askew said displays and the store itself must be neat, clean, and accessible to customers in order to ensure a positive shopping experience.
Kristen Kreider, director of retail and customer experience at the National Museum of American Jewish History Museum Store in Philadelphia, tries to create eye-catching, layered displays that are approachable and engaging. “We might group by a specific holiday, color, or subject matter, and incorporate merchandise that may not be within the exact theme of a display but appeal to the person viewing it,” she said. For example, a Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg themed display may include books on other famous attorneys, opera (one of her passions), or Vote themed products. For home décor, displays imitate vignettes that might be found in a home such as wine glasses next to a cheeseboard and ice bucket, or a picture frame sitting next to a small stack of books.
Laney Carey, museum store manager at The Museum Store in Oklahoma City, Okla., considers the season, the museum’s current exhibits, and what museum events are happening when creating displays. “Our goal is to sell merchandise that reminds guests of what they have seen,” she said.
Creating Eye-Catching Displays
When creating displays featuring home décor and gifts, designers have come to rely on processes that work well for them. Newman Askew starts by asking herself a series of questions. What do I want to highlight? Who is my audience? Do I have other items that will work with this particular item? What props or other items do we have that will be complementary? Where is the best spot for this display?
After Newman Askew has gathered all the stock items and display supports such as table cloths, bottles, leaves, risers, and so forth she lays out a focal point. Then she starts building the display, and adds on to it until it feels finished. She keeps in mind that odd numbers of things and triangle shapes are most appealing to view.
April Shaw, gift shop manager at Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale, Miss., chooses one item to focus attention on as a starting point. She’ll make sure it stands out from the rest, and then adds more items to the display.
Carey, who has a degree in interior design, loves to make displays look eye-catching to draw visitors into the store, which has 3,500 square feet of selling space. There’s a large arbor in the front entrance and visitors are always drawn to see what is in the arbor.
The National Museum of American Jewish History Museum Store sells a lot of expensive and fragile ceremonial Jewish items and tabletop accessories, many of which are displayed behind glass—which can deter customers. “To draw their attention long enough for us to be able to recognize their interest and offer to open a showcase, we avoid showing all like-product together,” Kreider said. “Instead we group more by aesthetic, combining pieces used year-round with seasonal ceremonial items, secular pieces, and even books that help create dynamic displays.”
The Pandemic’s Impact
COVID-19 has changed the way that some shops display home décor and gift merchandise. Shaw wraps up everything in plastic bags so neither staff nor shoppers can actually touch a physical item. The shop’s website now has more online landing pages to display what the museum is currently promoting, so shoppers can order online.
To best protect guests and staff, Julie Blake, store buyer and merchandiser at The Intuit Store at the Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art in Chicago, Ill., said only museum personnel are allowed into the store. “We installed Plexiglas at the cash register and viewing areas and rearranged display cases so merchandise can be seen from the storefront,” she said. A QR code is displayed that guests can use to access an illustrated checklist of what’s in store. Intuit staff assist guests at the front counter, where they bring over items of interest. Smaller items are displayed by the cash register that serve as great add-on purchases and gifts. In a typical year, annual revenue is $35,000 at the 120-square-foot shop.
Heather Blankenship, retail operations manager at the Toledo Museum of Art Museum Store in Toledo, Ohio, said the pandemic changed the store’s traffic pattern. Patrons now enter through a door in the back of the store that was never previously opened and exit through the front door. Signage explains how to navigate the 1,520-square-foot store or ask for help.
Newman Askew no longer encourages customers to handle items they’re not planning to purchase, and she limits the number of people allowed in the store at one time.