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Visual Merchandising

7 Steps to Visual Merchandising Success

Visual merchandising using products, props, colours and lighting to create a "tableau” that represents your company or products, is great fun and well worth the effort.

There is a reason why consumers are drawn to certain stands, shop windows or displays. All are designed to capture attention for as long as possible, in order to immerse the audience in the scene on display, so as to encourage certain actions such as ‘walk into the shop’ or  ‘buy this product.’

With this in mind, I thought I would share my 7 steps to visual merchandising success:

  1. Storytelling is one of the fundamentals of visual merchandising. The aim of the display is to the set the scene and make the products relevant to the consumer's lives.  Whether that be a ‘going back to school’ scene or ‘picnics on the beach’ scene - the display must depict a situation that the buyer wants or needs. The Ocky Olly brand is about outdoor living and immersing oneself in the wonders of wildlife and nature, so our displays have great outdoor graphics and we incorporate items such as shells, conkers and kites to sandcastles, pine cones and flying seagulls, which help us set the scene for outdoor adventures and exploring.

  1. Colour has a huge role to play in any display. We use blue as it is a peaceful and tranquil, causing the body to produce calming chemicals. Blue also symbolizes loyalty - we want our customers to feel welcomed like an old friend. In contrast to the blue we incorporate warm colours such as orange, which creates feelings of excitement and enthusiasm - all positive emotions to encourage sales.

  1. Movement gives a display energy. It is possible to create movement, whilst having a static display - we have fake leaves hanging from the ceiling attached using fishing line, which gives the impression of wind in the trees. We’ve also used a fluttering butterfly with great success, children (and dogs!) were fascinated by it, thus drawing them in, who were accompanied by an adult that we were then able to engage in a conversation about the Ocky Olly brand and products.

  1. Texture can help you to set the scene too. M&S uses texture throughout their store to influence movement. Shiny floors are used in all of the walkways, which enables a fast flow of travel through the store. But as soon as you step off to look at that yummy pink cardigan, underfoot changes to carpet, subtly slowing your shopping energy and encouraging you to linger over your buying decision. We use a quality fake grass on our stand, not only does it soften the look, but it’s comfy underfoot and represents that summer ‘feel good’ sensation, which is the perfect tone for our garments.

  1. Sound can play an important role in creating the right buying atmosphere therefore it’s important to choose your vibe carefully.  Jazz music can make you smile and generate excitement but it can also be erratic which made lead to confusion within potential buyers. Whereas an environment with no background sound can be too silent, which can cause the buyer to feel uncomfortable thus decreasing the amount of time they choose to browse.  

  1. Space is another fundamental consideration when visual merchandising. People don’t like to feel cramped or awkward, especially around a stand. Everyone likes their personal space and will often make a sub-conscious decision to safeguard it by moving on. Spend time at your own display, moving around it as a consumer would, ensure ease of flow and that the products are shown off from any angle.

  1. Point of Sale materials such as signs can sometimes be necessary to boost certain messages about your products or brand. Ensure these are at the right height and are engaging as well as informative. Consider whether the sign really adds value to the display, or is it just unnecessary clutter which detracts from the product?

Consumers often make purchasing decisions based on emotion. What your customers think and feel and how you market to them, makes an incredible difference to how well your products sell. It’s important to remember that your display is not about you, it’s about your customer and what motivates them.

We all love shopping and we all have our favourite shops where we return again and again - ask yourself why you return to spend money there? How does the shop makes you feel and what contributes to this feeling?

By understanding the effects of visual merchandising on yourself, you’ll be better placed to consider how to utilise the 7 steps to visual merchandising success for your own products or brand.

Top Tips for Exhibiting

Preparing for Retail exhibition or Trade Fair - Top Tips.

The beginning of each year used to be my annual downtime, now it’s an invaluable period in which to make an impact on the retail and consumer market through exhibiting at trade fair.

Although it can be costly, it is the ideal way to meet retailers and customers face to face in order to show them your product and get their feedback.

The time spent researching the trade fair and planning it, is as important, as the hours you stand and interact with your customers - the planning could make the difference between a successful show and an expensive waste of time.

With this in mind, I thought I would share my top tips for ‘how to prepare for a retail exhibition or trade fair.’

1         Goals:  Ask yourself what you want to achieve from each trade fair? You will need to create specific and measurable goals so that you are able to know if the show was a success. It’s great to have sold 30 items, but not if your goal was to find 30 strong leads into your ideal stores.

2         Selection: Research the exhibitions available looking at the demographics of previous visitors - do they fit your key target audience groups both in terms of retailer and customer?

3         Retail buying schedules: Consider when retailers purchase the majority of their stock, generally speaking most retailers attend trade fairs early on in the year and have made their annual purchasing decisions by late Spring. Check out your ideal retailers in advance so that you’re not left behind.

4         Trade fair marketing: When making enquires be sure to ask how the event will be promoted. What does their marketing campaign involve? People won’t know about the exhibition unless both the event organisers and yourself shout about it to the right people.

5         Competitor analysis: Always look at what other companies are going to be there, if all your established competitors are going, then it’s an indication that previous shows have been successful enough for them to return. It’s also a good opportunity to do some digging on their typical display styles so that yours can differentiate.

6         Stand layout and visibility: Where your stand is positioned can make or break a show. Look at the floor plan carefully - even better visit the show one year if you are thinking of exhibiting at the next one. This will provide valuable insight into the layout and visitor traffic flow. Study visitor movements carefully and make strategic decisions based on the goals and needs you have identified.

7         Stand facilities: Consider the requirements of your stand - do you need electricity to power your till, laptop or visual display? How much lighting do they provide, is it worth paying for another spotlight (can make a big difference), are you able to staple into the stand walls or will you have to buy some low tack velcro for your display boards? Work with the operations team closely, it can make a huge difference to you.

8         Display design: Think carefully how to display your stand and goods, it needs to be inviting and stand out, but not so overcrowded that your visitors aren’t sure of what you do or sell. Again visiting a previous show will give you an idea of which stands you are drawn to as a consumer, ask yourself why you like them. Is it the graphics, the moving images, the lighting, the way the people are fun and interactive with their customers?

9         Free giveaways: You can offer freebies if you have the budget, branded bags or small gifts for example. We’ve offered lots of things in the past, from free holidays and luxury food hampers to little potpourri bags - all in the name of getting our visitors details and making a good impression.

10     Support:  If you need help on the stand, pick your companion carefully. If they don’t understand your business or your goals it won’t work. The energy you create reflects your brand - who you are and who you want to be. Stands with bored people sitting staring at their laptop, will not do as well as lively stands where the people are being invited in, given a free giveaway or just having a laugh.

11     Presentation: It’s a long day, but try to keep your energy up and smile. First impressions counts and people are much happier to chat with someone who is happy and engaging. Be confident, shake their hand and look them in the eye and remember to talk less and listen more.

12     Recording enquiries: If you wish to record your leads (vital!) you can often hire a scanner which you use to blip the barcodes on your visitor’s badges and the organisers then give you a spreadsheet of your gathered contacts. Another way is to have a contact sheet prepared which will enable you to make a note of any conversation you’ve had with your customer, their needs and expectations. This will make any future correspondence more personal and memorable.

13     Follow up: The exhibition is just the beginning - after this you need to follow up on your leads. whether just to say "It was great to meet you at the show..” or to pass on the information you promised to or send them some product. Don’t forget to stick to any timescales you’ve promised, your customer service must be top notch to get an edge on your competitors.

14     Evaluation: Don’t forget to sit down and do a review of the show. Look at how your strategies and objectives worked, how could they be improved for the next show? Be honest with yourself. If the exhibition met all your needs, book early for next time. If you book within 8 weeks you will get your stand at same rate for that year, not 5% more.

Summary and final thoughts

If you follow the steps above you will be well prepared for the trade fair but make sure you are prepared for the long days. Water is vital, especially if they overheat the hall, also snacks to keep you going.

 If you are on your own, make sure that you’ve either bought your lunch with you or have a friendly neighbour who will man your stand. If you don’t have electricity make sure your phone and laptop are charged up. You can always have some treats on your stand to offer your visitors, who will be tired from wandering the show.

Don’t be afraid to ask the organisers lots of questions - that’s what they’re there for! Some will send you photos of previous trade fairs and display stands, which will not only give you a sense of the vibe but also your ideal neighbour might be.

Finally it really does pay to advertise in the exhibitor’s magazines as Buyers do use it to plan their show and make purchasing decisions post-event.

I hope that you now understand how to prepare for a trade fair? If you have any advice or top tips for preparing for trade fairs, please share them with us below.

Starting to build a Brand

What’s in a name?

A surprising amount actually. As a consumer I always noticed and enjoyed how companies portrayed themselves. What does that logo or strapline tell me and how does it make me feel?

I was aware that you had to try and convey your brand and product through your logo, adding a tag line if possible, so that your customer can understand very quickly about what you are offering them.

 With this in mind, I tried to play about with the idea at the beginning and the look/feel:


Call for the Experts!

But I quickly realised that I didn’t have a clue. I did decide to stick with Smocka for the time being, but decided I would need expert advice on getting the brand identity (a phrase I soon learnt) right.

Recommendation from a fellow Devonian who had started a successful clothing company, led me to Tim who has held my hand from the word go and showed me how to breathe life into a name.

Having decided on our product/company name, Tim offered my lots of different looks to choose from or take aspects from.

Here are some of the options:

 We discussed what we were trying to say and what each image told us and then after more deliberation, he came up with this brilliant concept:


From this identity you gather your kit of parts, using different aspects, for either headed paper, press release, adverts or your website. It sets the tone for the brand journey.


How important is the colour?

The colours used in a design can set a mood or drive home a point. I always admire the clever psychology that is used with the colours and pictures of successful companies. Yellow & Red for McDonalds, combines the focus of children and playfulness with hunger and speed for example.

Even the Government have colour analysts that advise them on the best colours for NHS curtains, to create a calm and healing atmosphere. Apparently the cells of solitary, violent prisoners are painted in baby pink to calm them down.

Having said all this, I didn’t look into the psychology of which colour I should use, I just chose my favourite one. Being by the sea obviously influenced the tone which I chose and I love the connotations, especially with the beautiful kingfisher.



I was keen to get going, so business cards were printed and trademark applied for and then we had to put the brakes on… What a complicated process it turned out to be. You have 45 categories that you can choose to trademark in: clothing, scientific equipment, rubber goods, cosmetics etc and we had to think about where the brand was going, even right at the beginning to make sure we made a cost effective choice of categories.

But before we could put "Smocka” forward for consideration by the Intellectual Property Office, we were advised that other registered companies, with similar names in our chosen categories, would object to our name and we had to start again. Expensive mistake number one.

But however frustrated I was at the time, it was a blessing in disguise. After thinking about what I wanted the name to represent, childhood, exploring, finding things, I was reminded of the hide and seek game I played with my four siblings for most of our childhood and Ocky Olly was born:     


 This has been one of my favourite parts of the journey and I’m thrilled and proud of the result. The warm glow I get from the name with the childhood memories will be long lived and I hope that by establishing our brand and our ethos with the name, it will infuse this feeling in my customers too.

Mumpreneur Start-Up Story

I’ve always had a passion for design and clothing.

My mum is a style guru and I used to love watching her sew when I was little - whether matching outfits for me and my sister (not so keen!) or beautiful evening dresses for herself.

My Dad worked in the Rag Trade all his life and we would be his models in the 70’s for all his coats (some great collars!) and so I was brought up with the understanding of what makes a great cut.

Last year I decided that I wanted to set up a company that would support my family and utilise my skill set acquired over the years and knew that the fashion & retail industry would be my entrepreneurial arena.

Design Innovation

As a parent, I have experienced the frustration of purchasing children’s clothes that didn’t allow room for growth, had too many zips & buttons or lacked fun, original designs and I wanted to create a range of kids clothing that offered simple solutions to these everyday problems.

But I wanted it to be more than just a pretty top - children are busy and interesting little people and I wanted it to serve them well. It had to be functional.

So I looked for inspiration from traditional children’s garments, such as the Cornish Smock and began modernising these designs, which (after a considerable period of innovation) evolved into a classic design with a retro twist.

Designer to Maker

Once I had the design idea, I cut a basic pattern using an existing top of my daughter’s for reference. However, the collar was my sticking point, I knew exactly what I wanted it to look like, but how do you make it? Patterns aren’t always as easy or obvious as they seem.

I started with newspaper and played around with shapes for a couple of days and finally I cracked it (one of the most satisfying parts of my journey). Then I just had to mock up the garment.

Choosing the Right Fabric

In order to mock up the garment, I had to decide on a fabric. The initial sample was made out of towelling (I love the 70’s vibe with this fabric) and the collar, cuff and pocket were cotton.

But I soon realised that this wasn’t going to be a) warm enough or b) durable. Therefore I looked for materials that would have these qualities and settled on using fleece for the body of the garment. I briefly considered combining this with baby cord (I just loved the soft feel) but when one of our samples came back from the printers in cotton canvas, it just clicked!

I thought - of course, let’s stay true to the "Mother” garment of the Cornish Fisherman’s Smock and use durable canvas, which will take our bright colours well, whilst staying strong enough to enable the children to explore.

Product Enhancement - finding our USPs

With the materials selected, it was on to designing the final (and most significant) product features

The Pocket

Using a focus group made up of our target audience (mothers aged 35-45) and a talented manufacturer we established the pocket design, which is a waterproof. This was so important as we had to work with the fact that children love collecting all sorts of things, whilst protecting the outfit underneath. Also when we turned the pocket round the garment (which had to be as quick and easy as possible) it would protect the Smocka whilst in bags, prams or cars.

As you can see from this drawing, we started out a little complicated at first, but soon decided that simplicity was best.

The Seals

Our patient manufacturer helped us work through the complexities of the sample process. Creating "seals,” which are a series of samples, each more progressive than the last - starting at white seals, then green and so on until you get to "Gold”.

The point of this was to make sure that through each process, every part of the design process had been verified so that when the final products arrived, there weren’t any nasty (and expensive!) surprises.


The Smocka was Born

I’m thrilled with the result of all the planning and, so it seems, are our customers. I realised how important it is to consider the needs of the pre-school child and how they play when designing for them.

I’m having lots of fun designing our next range at the moment, drawing on my experience as a mum of four and many years of outdoor play! I will share them with you soon, I promise.