Attracting prospect clients at trade fairs through essential visual merchandising
Thomas Empson | 29 April 2016

On graduating for Central Saint Martins in 2007, I started my fashion career in visual merchandising by supporting denim brands FullCircle and FireTrap within their Central London flagship stores. Alongside this I freelanced for Studio XaG; supporting their installations of conceptual window displays for Diesel's flagship stores across London.

Studio XaG’s in store design for DKNY
Studio XaG’s in store design for DKNY in 2015

Over the years I have also lectured in visual merchandising with The University for the Creative Arts (UCA) in England and later moving to Hong Kong to lecture at Raffles International College Hong Kong. Now in 2016 I find myself back at UCA supporting their experiential retailing unit once more.

With visual merchandising being the interface between a brand and its prospect clients, it plays an essential role in telling the brand story or articulating the service you provide to all passersby’s. This article explores the essential nature of visual merchandising, something all too often overlooked at international trade shows in Asia which is a fatal mistake. 

Hong Kong and visual merchandising

As a western counterpart, I, like my peers, have been exposed to a well-refined use of visual merchandising over the years. From tradeshows such as Pure London to Bread & Butter in Berlin or the likes of the world famous window displays of Selfridges and Liberty. We have been truly spoilt. 

With my background in the field, on arriving in Hong Kong I saw quite shocked at the level of visual merchandising for a global shopping destination. The disparity between the global fashion houses with international visual standards was a far cry from the standard from local fashion brands, all which sit side by side. 

Regional stores that really stood out for me were I.T., Initial, Lane Crawford and Joyce and a key factor to their success was embracing their Asian heritage while setting standards at an international level. 

When it comes to tradeshows, other than efforts made by the organisers such as Hong Kong Fashion Week and Fashion Access, the standard of displays and visual merchandising by traders was all too often disappointing and in need of improvement. 

Where the problem lays

A common mistake made by traders is to assume that buyers do not need a strong visual presentation; this is a bad assumption. Buyers shop with their eyes and in a competitive environment they are lured into stands that portray care and quality. So while cost can be a leading factor to secure the deal, the presentation of your store is that all important first impression, so why isn’t more effort make to attract valuable customers from the outset. 
By putting off potential leads from the start and you have lost the opportunity to talk business. Furthermore this is about brand values and you do not want to give off the wrong impression by causing a sense of bought in the quality of your service to customers with an underwhelming exterior. 

Any manufacturer or brand that has invested time and money to be at a tradeshow cannot afford to risk a poor reaction. Here is a simple step-by-step guide to consider when planning your visual merchandising strategy: 

  1. Develop a mood
    A well-displayed stand can increase interest, traffic and sales and make you stand out from your competitors, so it’s worth investing time on what you what to showcase. Sites such as Pinterest can be a great source of inspiration. I suggest setting up a board and pinning inspirational ideas of how you want your stand to look like. You can share this with your creative team to communicate your ideas. See Studio XaG on Pinterest
  2. Set aside a budget
    Intention is a great thing but if you do not allow budget for display costs this is all too often the area that gets overlooked. When first deciding to attend a tradeshow, set aside a reasonable budget to allow you to create the impression you want to give.
  3. Focus points 
    You will be advised in advance where your stand will be located on the floor plan. By looking at the floor plan you can understand the flow of traffic and how customers will navigate around the hall. From the customers eye line to when they first seeing your stand, this is called a focal point and where you need to concentrate your efforts. This area needs branding, key products and to should set the tome of what you want to say to the customer.
  4. Pre plan your merchandise categories
    With the mood set, a budget and an understanding of where your customers are coming from you now need to start segmenting your stand. A good way to start is by grouping products, either by trends, colour pallets or within lifestyle categories. You will no doubt be doing this while developing samples so treat this as an extension of that process. Grouping products in the factory or at head office can allow a smooth set up process on site. It also allows you to have greater control over the final aesthetics of your stand even if you have a different sales team setting up the displays.
  5. Display props
    To be blunt; it is 2016 and buyers are savvy. Using display props from the 80’s is no longer acceptable. This does not mean you have to be wasteful and purchase expensive props. IKEA sell great basic furniture to use as the perfect backdrop to your displays. You can even get creative by Up Cycling objects you find in the warehouse, at salvage yards or even at home.
  6. Lighting
    Your stand is set up. You have your focal points dressed with key products in categorised groups. Now it’s time to adjusting the lighting as that final touch of magic. This will highlight all the effort you have put in and draw customers attention exactly where you want it. 

Please be brave and make an impression 

I often feel the barrier to strong visual merchandising is a fear of being daring and experimental, but what’s the alternative? You can always play it safe, be uniform or uninspiring. This is the fashion industry, so make it compelling and fight for your customers’ attention. 

I hope to see more displays in the future that embrace the eastern culture, rather than conforming to western ideals, this cultural difference is alluring to international buyers and is a core part of your brands ethos and heritage which I believe buyers will buy into. 

Ártidi Escuela Superior on Pinterest on Pinterest

studioxag on Pinterest on Pinterest