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Six shop display ideas for small business

'Ask yourself does it catch the eye? Does it look interesting? Does it make you want to explore the shop more?'
Tanya Overton, The Manufactory

Top tips 

  • Focus on a colour or thematic display
  • Know your local area well
  • Balance and signage are key
  • Play with contrast and lighting

Tanya Overton, owner of homeware and giftwares store the manufactory, initially set out to change her two window displays weekly. Keeping a diary record of what items and colours are featured each week, Tanya rotated these to keep up interest. As the manufactory sells both vintage and new items, she tried to focus one window on showcasing vintage items and the other on new items.

Through a great deal of trial and error, Tanya has settled down to a schedule of changing her displays over two weeks for 'non-occasion periods', as customers don’t pass the shop every week. 

One important thing she learnt was to be aware of calendar events and window dress accordingly. 'It may sound obvious, but by planning ahead for the four weeks leading up to special occasions such as Mother's Day or Father's Day, your displays can really focus on what you sell that would be appropriate for these occasions,' says Tanya. 'I start Christmas windows the week after Cup Day, so there's seven weeks to highlight the products that I want to sell that would make awesome gifts for loved ones.' A cog wheel that Tanya used as a central element in one of her Christmas displays was bought a week later by a pub.

Tanya shares with Business Victoria what she learnt through dressing up the manufactory.

1. Focus on a colour or thematic display

Look at your inventory and group them into colour schemes or themes such as male-oriented products for Fathers Day or vintage fashion items for the spring races. Tanya categorises her stock into themes such as haberdashery, botanicas, industrial, natural history and giftware. This makes it easy for her to choose one theme and group related items together in her displays.

2. Know your local area well

While taxidermy is a big trend at the moment, Tanya is sensitive to her local area, which attracts those who wish to live sustainably. Realising that running a window display full of taxidermy animals would be a big mistake, Tanya sells little resin deers and large wall hanging white moose heads and deers made of plastic that pay homage to the theme, but are not offensive.

3. Balance is key

Tanya advises that you start your displays with the larger items and place these high and low, offset from each other, then fill in the rest of the display with your other chosen products. A few larger items are much more arresting than many little items.

Don’t forget to stand back and look at your window display from the footpath, but also from across the road. Ask yourself does it catch the eye? Does it look interesting? Does it make you want to explore the shop more?

4. Consider your window furniture

Keeping one core piece and simply changing the 'dressings' makes for a much easier change-over. For example, one of the manufactory's display windows has a wrought iron round table which serves as a platform for different displays. Another larger window now has a pair of red industrial ladders with reclaimed timber shelves that Tanya uses to change displays on the shelves.

'Once it's easy to do, you're more likely to want to keep refreshing the displays,' she says.

5. Play with contrast and lighting

To create a visually interesting display play with contrast. Tanya's shop front is predominantly black, so she uses brights and whites as window dressings to really stand out. Vintage lighting, bright parasols and even chairs set off a white ceiling, while timber and natural coloured items complement a black floor.  

Use timers for your pendants and floor lamps in your shop. Having your shop front display lit from the inside for the evening is crucial. We put a lamp at the rear of the shop onto a timer, so any passers by can see into the depth of the shop. We have had many a request slipped under our shop door about a particular item that was seen at night.

6. Signage is everything

Less is really more. Consider a large black canvas with a few highlighted white words. Then think of a bright yellow background with loads and loads of words and pictures all in different fonts, sizes and colours. As the manufactory is located in a heritage overlay, Tanya had the extra task of demonstrating to Council that any signage she wanted to add would respect the original fabric of the building.

'I walked around my area to see what signage contributes and what detracts from businesses,' says Tanya. 'Our business signage actually enhanced the building, and that is really something to aim for. Once you theme your signage with your window displays, you are onto a winner.'

The result

The business increased its sales, especially around special occasions, by experimenting, keeping a good record of past displays and planning ahead.

Harmonising its signage with the building also created extra impact.