2018: linda cahan . cahan & company . retail design. visual merchandising . retail seminars, standards manuals  visual merchandising training

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lindacahan@gmail.com, or 503-638-6727 Pacific Coast Time between 9am -7pm


Linda Cahan • Cahan & Company • lindacahan.com • linda@cahan.net


Our visual impressions are instant and lasting. Eighty percent of our memories of a shopping experience is based on what we saw. Of course, what we experienced – good, bad or meh, matters as well. But, the visuals stick with us unless the experience was awful thanks to a negative sales person.


The purpose of this article is to inspire or re-inspire you to make some simple changes to your retail environment, so your sales improve, and you develop loyal and satisfied customers.


Clear the Clutter: Interior clutter is an insidious killer of sales. Those piles of boxes from UPS belong in the stockroom along with the RTV’s, holds and the “we’ll fix this one of these days” box of goods. As the Nike commercial says – “JUST DO IT.” Allot one day per week to deal with clutter. Make it a priority on that day. It will amaze (and maybe even delight) you how different the store feels once the clutter is reduced. Ideally, the clutter should be eliminated completely. It drains energy from your store and eventually from your sales.

Clutter also includes merchandise that you can’t seem to find a place for, so you stick it wherever it seems to fit. When merchandise doesn’t make sense on a shelf or in a display it becomes inappropriate visual clutter and confuses the overall display. One of the basic rules of merchandising a wall or fixture is that the hot merchandise goes at eye level, the displays go above eye level and you fall apart way below eye level. Falling apart means it’s a great place to shelve broken assortments, “one only” items and larger pieces that feel top heavy on a higher shelf.

One tip for those “one only” items: If it’s a really interesting or great piece -use it as the centerpiece for a display. Rather than hiding “one onlies” – promote them by giving them their own little show.


People notice window displays: Very simply, they are a form of street art and entertainment. When a person walks or drives by a store and the windows are bright and graphic, heads will swivel, and they will pay attention. Whether they stop and shop at that moment depends on many variables. If they notice your windows they will remember your store when they have the time, money, inclination or need to shop for swimsuits and related products. If your windows change (at the very minimum – monthly), they will continue to look your way to see what’s new. They will come to see your store as a part of their daily lives. The more often you change your windows, the more often people will look in your direction and note your existence. Once your store is part of their routine, they will shop you when the need or desire arrives.

You can’t make people buy your products through window displays or any form of advertising. You encourage them to think about what your products represent; fun, sun, health, vacations, exercise, and fashion.

Window display is a very immediate form of advertising and ads exist to inspire people to come in and buy.

Also, if you light your windows, your store will show up during the day and glow at dusk and in the evening. Unlit windows are like dead eyes.By the way, lights go on the glass window wall – not centered above the display area. You want to light the of your display – not the top.

Hints for creating effective window displays:

• More stuff equals less Money.

The more you jam into a window, the less expensive the merchandise looks. The perception is that lots of merchandise equals low prices. While getting a lot into a window may make sense, if your price points are higher, you’ll potentially turn off the people who can afford your lines. Of course, if you’re discounting, a busy window may work well for you.

• Color sells!

The three things people notice most in a window (or interior) display are color, angles and movement. Colors that people notice from the street tend to be warm: reds, pinks, yellows, oranges and lime green. Colors that make people feel relaxed are those that recede: browns, tan, beige, gray, blues, soft or dark greens and darker shades of purple.

If you have a dark see-through into your store (when you look at your store from the street the interior looks almost black) – you need large graphic pieces in light and bright colors to attract attention. If your see-through is bright and light, you can get away with darker or more recessive colors in the windows.

• Use angles to create movement.

Angles lead the eye from place to place. Visual energy moves quickly down an angle and makes a window display look and feel more exciting. Whenever you use angles, make sure the primary angle leads the customer to your front door!

Too many angles can cause visual confusion. A triangular form made up of props, forms and merchandise in a window generally looks great and creates angles and a focal area without looking disorganized.

• Repetitive images are memorable.

Our minds are a little like computers, we can take in just so much information before we have to stop and process what we’ve seen. The simple geometry of lining up forms is (almost) always effective. It may not be very exciting but the color combining, color spotting of accessories and the use of props can make this simple concept look fabulous.

• Make it easy to do great displays.

Hang a grid in your window perpendicular to the floor. Have it installed professionally so you can hang from it almost anything. Once your grid is installed you can start getting creative and have some fun with props. Grid is available from many display companies.

• Pick a theme and stick with it.

Once you decide on your window theme, don’t stick new arrivals in the window. If you have new arrivals that you are excited about, either create a new arrivals area in the front of the store in a prime focal area or, do a new window display. Don’t pollute your existing display.

• Mannequins or forms?

An entire article can be written on this topic alone. Be aware that the perception is that a cheap “body” equals your store’s quality and the quality of the merchandise.

Don’t mix forms and mannequins, flat and three-dimensional, realistic or minimalistic. Choose one style of mannequin or form for your windows and stick with it. Consistency looks more professional and attractive. You don’t want people thinking you basically just stuck whatever you had hanging around in the window to fill it up.

Focus on Focal Walls: Walk into your store and look around. The first five areas you see are your focal points. Those focal walls tell your customers whether to walk further into your store or not. They are there to pull people through the aisles towards the walls. How do you make this happen? Color: Separate out a section of wall that’s most visible and paint it a different color. A warm color will make it pop. Warm colors are all shades of: yellow, orange, red, pink and brown. If you just want it to blend in with the rest of the store but look slightly different, paint it a few shades darker or lighter than your existing wall color. A focal wall is a great place to create a good display. Choose a product you want to highlight and then build a display concept around that product.

Add Fixture/Merchandise Angles: The minute you angle products and fixtures, your shop becomes more dynamic and interesting. This doesn’t mean you have to angle everything. If you choose a specific product line to angle, that will set it apart from the others. If you angle a few fixtures (strategically) they will change how people walk through your store.

Move it, move it, move it: Have you ever noticed that when you move things around on the selling floor, people start looking at whatever you’re moving? It can be aggravating at times. Here you are, dragging product from one end of the store to the other, and the pretty displays are being ignored while customers follow the messy fixture across the floor.

When you move something or change it, it gets energized. That may sound weird but it’s true. Experiment after you finish this article. Move the merchandise on one shelf (cleaning as you go.) See if the sales improve in that area over the next two days.


Light it up! This can get a little expensive. Let’s start with what’s free first. If you have spotlights, make sure they are lighting up merchandise or a sign. I often see spotlights that have shifted position over time shining on the floor, ceiling or some random blank spot. Refocus all your lights. It’s free, fairly easy and can instantly make the store look brighter. If you have all fluorescents and the store seems dim, it may be time to change them out. Fluorescents start fading from the first week they’re installed. So, if you’ve had them up without changing them for a long time, it’s possible you’re getting half the light you started with. When you can afford it, switch to LED’s. I could write an entire article about the benefits of LED lights but switch now and you’ll save a ton of money over time - along with the planet. A win-win! If you want to make the store look more exciting, shine some lights on each focal area as well as each focal wall. Just by highlighting specific areas, the rest of the store will appear more interesting and exciting.

Inspire Employees to Consistently Create Great Displays:

There is a combination pharmacy/gift shop in a small town in central Oregon in the USA called Sisters Drug & Gift Shop. It’s a very large store for a small town and it carries a wide variety of gifts, decorative accessories, and housewares plus the pharmacy. Each person who works on the selling floor is responsible for his or her specific area. They have competitions each month to see whose display sells more. The competition is fierce – and friendly. Once the monthly figures are posted, the employee who has sold the most through her/his display is honored. Not only do they learn from each other’s creativity, they are constantly inspired to come up with new, interesting ways to merchandise and display the goods. It’s a thought….

Challenges are just opportunities to discover creative solutions. If you hire intelligently, train your staff well, maintain the store on a daily basis and inspire everyone with positive reinforcement, challenges translate into success.

Bring Feng Shui principles into your store layout. I wrote a book “Feng Shui for Retailers” in 2005. It simplifies the complicated concepts that genuinely help people create successful, healthy and prosperous environments. A few ideas: Get rid of anything that blocks your entrance including overhanging branches, garbage cans, boxes, umbrella stands, bunched up entry mats, overwhelmingly tall/large/or wide fixtures in the front or low hanging flags. Remove sharp corners in tight spaces. Light up dark areas. Add warmly toned lights to your checkout counter and consultation desks to make the transactions friendlier and more positive. Anyone of these ideas will make a quick difference in your store.

What you Focus on, grows: Tempting as it is, don’t list the problems or things that go wrong during the day. Focus on what is going right and deal with what isn’t working quickly. Take responsibility for your choice and actions and correct mistakes and misstatements as quickly as possible. Don’t allow these to grow into mountains. The sooner you deal with something that makes you feel guilty or anxious, the better. Guilt turns into anger over time and anxiety/stress can cause illness.

Find at least 10 things to be grateful for every day. During the day, be aware of what even small nice things that happen and give thanks for then before you go to sleep. This isn’t a religious “thanks” unless you want it to be – it’s basic appreciation. If you can’t think of anything to be grateful for and you happen to be in your warm bed with a roof over your head and you’re not starving - you have some major things to be grateful for!




Design or Renovate? Tips from Start to Finish

Linda Cahan


Whether you are designing a new store or refreshing an old one, it pays to know what the trends are in retail design. Seven major trends were discussed by members of the Retail Design Institute at Global Shop, the show for store designers and visual merchandisers. These trends are:

  1. Bright, saturated color either throughout the store, in focal areas or on fixtures.

  2. An immersive environment: think Anthropologie or Bass Pro Shops. Each store creates its own distinct ambience and environment.

  3. Go local: honor what makes your city or town special.

  4. Bio-Mimicry: Bringing natural elements into the store or adding them into the overall design.

  5. Add texture throughout the store through wood, fabrics, metals and stone.

  6. Have an impact wall that defines your image and brand.

  7. Repurposing materials: If you’ve seen All Saints, you’ve seen their use of sewing machines as a repetitive image in their windows. The reuse of materials is a huge trend in retail and it will be around for a long time.

  8. I’m adding this one: Fantasy and romance décor elements are making a comeback.

In order to create a successful store design or renovation you need to figure out your image and brand without trying to replicate a successful competitor. Remember that space equals cost so if you have higher end merchandise, plan on more space between items while less expensive pieces can be housed closer together.


Find a few elements you love that you feel will help set your store apart and don’t cut them out of your budget!  Create a Wish List of everything you want for the “new” store as well as a Dream Board with photos of favorite designs, fixtures, colors and materials. Ideally, this should be 3-D and not online.


Working on a tight budget? Use paint and color as an instant facelift. The two most expensive things you can do are changing your flooring and your lighting. But, if you switch to LED lights, you will end up saving from $900 to over $4700 a year in replacement bulb costs and electric bills, depending on the size of your store. You won’t save any money installing a new flooring material but if your existing flooring is awful, the perceptual change can increase sales up to 36%.


Make sure you plan in aisles that are at least 3’ wide. If you really want slatwall, buy it un-laminated so you can paint and repaint it as desired. Don’t go up to the ceiling with the slatwall – it isn’t a decorative element. Try to create wall breaks every 4’ – 6’ to keep the store looking interesting. Wall breaks also allow you to do category merchandising instead of having everything run together so that nothing stands out.


Don’t forget the very important OPEN sign and make sure it’s large enough for people to see from across the street. Good window lighting is also a very worthwhile expense. You’ll glow at night while your neighbors disappear.


Get all your permits in early and order any lighting and fixtures much earlier than you think you need to. You may be surprised how long it takes to receive them. But, if you order from CB2 or Ikea, your biggest challenge will be putting them together.


A basic facelift can increase your sales from 20% up to 48% while a new store has unlimited potential. Good luck!



By Linda Cahan


Oh, they can be so ugly.

A good realistic mannequin is a wonderful thing. It tells your customer exactly who the merchandise is geared for: missy, junior, teen, women’s, petite, funky, virginal, slutty, gay, straight, - you name it.


When the mannequin fits the store image, the price point of the merchandise and has the correct form and face for the merchandise, you have a winning combination that equals most forms of advertising.

When these three rules are ignored, confusion results in a lack of sales.


Several years ago I was asked by a mall manager to look at a store that was complaining of poor sales and blaming it on the mall.

Standing outside in the mall, I saw that the store looked beautiful with expensive architecture and decent fixtures. But, they also had cheap looking missy mannequins.

Although the window display could have been more interesting, it was not the reason for lost sales.

Then I went into the store. All the merchandise was sized for juniors but was in the $250 to $700 price point. The mannequins said missy, the sizes: junior, and the prices were upscale. This created annoying confusion for the customers. The mannequins were drawing in the wrong people. The solution was to either re-size the merchandise, or replace the mannequins to attract a younger but more upscale customer.


When you buy mannequins ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What is the image of my store?

  2. Who is my customer and what does she/he look like?

  3. What do he/she want to look like?

  4. What is the general price point of my merchandise?

  5. What type of merchandise will the mannequins be wearing?

  6. What can I afford to spend on mannequins?

  7. Where are they going to go and how many do I need?


Saks Fifth Avenue uses expensive mannequins that reflect their customer base. The look of your mannequins tells your customers what you (your clothing selection) are all about.


It is so easy to make mistakes when shopping for mannequins. Most mistakes come in the form of “great deals.”

If the mannequins that you’ve found do not fit in to the answers of questions 1-7, then you’re throwing your money down the tube.

Even if they’re free. Perhaps, especially if they’re free.

The wrong mannequin is possibly worse than none at all.


I’ve seen fabulous mannequins in windows that are wearing elegant evening clothing – only they are meant to be wearing sweats and holding a piece of sports equipment. There is no way tailored slacks will fit on them and dresses look equally odd. Some mannequins are meant for action poses and can wear only sports clothing. They cannot be switched into business or eveningwear without looking foolish.


On the other hand, if you only carry sports-oriented clothing and you get a great deal on an elegant, ladylike mannequin – think twice before buying. Your clothes imply action and your mannequin will look like it’s at a cocktail party.


When you order a mannequin from a mannequin house, they will ask you what finish or skin tone you want on the body. Think this through carefully. Too tan looks dirty over time while too pale may be inappropriate for your customer base. If you have a good racial customer mix, don’t hesitate to consider and buy mannequins that have a mixed look with a slightly darker skin tone. They are usually the most interesting and powerful faces in the line and appeal to everyone.


Mannequins come in many price points. Checking out  www.vmsd.com, www.mannequinmadness.com as well as www.designretailonline.com will help you to shop around for the mannequins that fit your needs.


Mannequins made in the US or Europe are more costly than those imported from Asia but the quality can be far superior.


Mannequins break easily. It’s vital that whomever is dressing them understands how to take off the arms, hands and legs (if necessary).

Also, during the dressing process, these appendages should be kept out of harms’ way. Once they are stepped on, they are never quite the same.


Mannequin wigs could be an entire article on their own. A few quick basics:

  1. They need to be cleaned from time to time.

  2. Don’t let amateur hairstylists loose on them.

  3. Buy simple styles that survive fads – pageboys, short cuts, Chinese chops.

  4. Don’t ruin them with tons of hairspray or gels. These are made from acrylic, not real hair.

  5. Buy colors that appeal to you. Don’t worry about them matching the merchandise.

  6. Store them carefully in the bags they came in or in ziplock bags.


A big trend is headless mannequins. I’m not a fan. Especially when someone decides to put a hat on top of the neck. It looks like a mushroom head. The concept of headless mannequins is that customers won’t look at a mannequins’ face and decide the store isn’t for them. If that was always an issue, fashion ads in magazines wouldn’t be showing beautiful faces concerned that someone may be turned off or offended.


There are many mannequin alternatives called forms. They will be discussed in a future article.


 Linda Cahan


You may all know the language of flowers. Red roses represent committed love, pink is romantic love, yellow means goodbye and white is for purity. Just as there is a language for flowers, there is also a language for colors. Learning to speak and use this language will strengthen your store image, sales and artistic endeavors.


Colors influence our lives every moment of the day. We describe our feelings with color:  “I’m blue; I’m seeing red; She’s green with envy; You’re just yellow!” We dress each morning using color to express our moods. A little glum, black, blue, gray or brown work well. Happy and upbeat usually shows up in warm, bright colors. Mellow, soft and comfortable comes across with pastel shades. White looks pure, clear and clean. Black says “back off buster, I’m powerful, protected …. and I want to look thinner!”


Every color impacts us emotionally, psychologically, physically and spiritually.  It doesn’t matter what we feel or think about that color, the impact remains the same. Each color carries a different energy and touches different parts of our bodies. Ancient color theories correspond directly with modern color studies that correlate colors with emotional and physical responses.


Color is also the prime visual stimulant that gets people to stop and look. When you are designing a window display or creating areas in your store that you want people to be drawn to – intelligent, creative color choices will  make it happen.


Red is the single most exciting color, stimulating all the senses. Red the primary color for attracting customers and for influencing sales. Red is the color of life force energy, the color of passion, hunger, excitement and power. Red makes food seem more aromatic and makes people hungry. They are stimulated to eat more and eat more quickly – which is why you see it so often in Chinese restaurants. In fashion, red attracts attention, announces strong energy and can indicate  sexuality.

Red carries it’s own energy. It has a strong vibration that, in large doses, can be very irritating. People exposed to a lot of red for any length of time may be prone to headaches, irritability, anger outbursts and violence. It’s been said that 5 minutes in a red room feels like 25 minutes.

In flowers, red is passion and love. It is also so bright that small amounts of red will lead the customer’s eyes from place to place. Red is excellent for color spotting to create good visual flow in a space or a display.

Red is most often the color used for sale signs because it attracts attention, stimulates desire and provokes action. It is a great color – in small doses!


Yellow is the first color that the retina of the eye sees and it says “stop and think” loud and clear. It is an excellent color to indicate affordability as well as a terrific color spot to lead the eye through a composition. Yellow is the color of curiosity, receiving of information and it encourages people to be more aware and alert. Think about yellow caution lights and street warning signs – all are yellow because people see yellow immediately and think about what it means. Yellow feels happy and warm and creates serotonin in our brains.

Yellow is a wonderful window display color, encouraging people to look at the display and think about walking into the store. Inside the store, yellow brightens the overall energy of a space. Like red, in small doses, yellow sells product by making it look appealing, friendly and affordable. As a wall color yellow can be overwhelming unless it is toned down by white or softened to a yellow ochre.


Orange is considered to be the least favorite personal color in the world. Interestingly, it's highly preferred by trend setters and creative people. It's warm, friendly and encourages conversations, laughter and the letting go of inhibitions..

In a store, orange toned down to terracotta takes on a warm, welcoming glow. It is an ideal color for walls or floors. If you want people to buy more and be more receptive at the wrap desk, add terracotta elements to the counter top merchandise displays.

Orange is considered to be the “common denominator” color – the one color that says affordable to the most people.


Green is the cool fresh color that represents nature, the outdoors and "clean." Some tones of green are soothing, healing and calming and encourage gentle behavior. The reverse of red, it’s said that 25 minutes in a green room feels like 5 minutes. Green is one of the two most popular colors in the world. Perhaps because without trees, we wouldn't be able to breathe.

Green is a recessive color. Instead of shouting, it moves into the background. Greens don’t pop with energy unless a lot of yellow is added to make lime green. Dark greens indicate wealth while light greens often come across as  inexpensive unless they are more muted, sophisticated tones like Celadon and gray-greens.     

Emerald green is a wonderful wall color as it represents nature and all other colors look great against it – just as they look with leaves.


Pink is the color of love. It opens the heart, lowers blood pressure and encourages people to eat, drink and be merry without getting into arguments. It has many of the same properties of red but as it’s toned down (by white) it becomes stimulating but not annoying.

In retail, pink makes people feel good, happy and relaxed. It encourages sales and people will stay and shop longer in a pink environment. Pink stimulates desire, hunger, romance, addictions and love.

The lighter the pink, the more openhearted and relaxing the environment. The darker the pink, the more vibrant and energizing. Fights may start in a hot pink room but not as quickly as in a red one.


Blue is considered to be the  other most popular color in the world. It represents air and water - the other two things we need to live. Blue is the color of communication and has different meanings with each major shade change. Bright blues encourage talking and interaction. Combine it with terracotta and you have a very friendly environment. Light blue can lower the body’s temperature. It’s a wonderful color for small areas. Light blue expands space and is great for low ceilings. It also encourages flights of fantasy and imagination. This makes it awful for a classroom or office walls.

If you are prone to feeling blue, don’t paint any walls in your life that color. It will bring you down! Too much blue is difficult to live with because it has zero heart energy. It’s more heady. If you love having blue in your environment, balance the blues with oranges, reds, pinks or yellows.

Navy blue is the color of authority. It is rarely used in retail as it isn’t a “selling” color but it's a great accent wall color.


Throughout history, purple and lavender were considered to be spiritual, religious colors. Today, purple and lavender are used frequently by almost everyone. Colors in the purple family represent individuality, uniqueness and sophistication. Purple is the combination of blue and red. That brings in the properties of life force energy with communication. It’s a powerful mix! Lighter purples and lavenders are terrific backdrops for many types of retail categories. They are true colors from nature.


Brown is the color of the earth. It is grounded (no pun intended) and trustworthy. While navy blue is ideal for a lawyer as it says "I'm the authority", brown feels honest and is a great color for a therapist. As a wall color in a store, it can be interesting as long as there are bright accents to punctuate the dullness. Brown is seen most often – and best, in the form of wood.

Wood exemplifies traditional values, quality and long lasting strength.

In most retail and home uses the perception is that light toned wood is used for less expensive merchandise. The darker the wood, the more expensive the merchandise. Look at The Gap and Ralph Lauren. Light wood versus dark wood. Where this fairly simple theory falls apart is with exotic white-bleached woods, which are often found in very expensive shops. But the difference between bleached pine and some Amazonian wonder is pretty easy to identify.


White is the color (or non-color) of purity, cleanliness and protection. It is a wonderful basic canvas for other colors and requires merchandise with a strong contrast. White gets dirty easily and must be repainted (usually) yearly. Dirty walls make merchandise look cheap and used.

If you have poor lighting in your store white walls will reflect what little light you have better than any other color. Of course poor lighting can kill sales.

White ceilings are a necessity for low lights, and if you paint your ceilings any darker color, make sure you add extra lights to compensate for the light absorption.

Remember that white added to any of the colors mentioned will create a pastel and the properties of each color will be inherent in the pastel but greatly toned down.


Black is the color of protection and power. It’s not exactly warm and fuzzy. It is virtually a uniform for many people in big cities. Feeling protected by black may also be part of the psychology behind why it’s so popular in crowded cities.

In an urban environment, black can be depressing and dreary - or very sophisticated. When it is used on walls, floor or ceilings, extra light must be planned to avoid the store looking too dim.


In the world of neutrals there are grays, beiges and off whites. They are very safe – and boring. Of the three, beige or taupe is the best choice as it’s warm and an excellent neutral. If you feel the need to use any of these for your stores, please get brave and add a colorful focal wall.

Gray is dull. When it's used on floors in the form of stone, carpet, tile, cement or stained wood, it can look perfect. If used on the walls, gray is an excellent accent color but like black, may be too dark for the entire store.
Where gray really depresses a shopping experience is in the use of pale gray fixtures or slatwall.


Don’t be afraid to use your imagination! Whatever colors you see combined in nature will work equally well in your store. Nature doesn’t make mistakes.

Use color to your advantage. Speak its language and it will speak back to you in the form of customer appreciation and more sales!