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Outdoor Gear Exchange (OGE) Merchandiser Profile – Liza Cannon

02/18/2015

Being blessed with a great retail space that also comes with enviable spacious street facing window displays is sort of like winning the genetic lottery, if you like those tall, good looking types.

The Outdoor Gear Exchange in Burlington, VT is one such truly “blessed” store.  OGE, as they are known locally, moved from a smaller, less prominent location near Burlington’s downtown, pedestrian friendly Church Street Marketplace to being smack dab in the middle of Church Street in May 2011.  With their new space, formerly an Old Navy store, came terrific, sprawling display windows on either side of their front entrance.

For years, changing the window display was something that happened, as current visual merchandiser (her official title is retail specialist) at OGE Liza Cannon told me, “ when someone remembered to do it.”

Since Cannon’s arrival at OGE in 2013, the stores windows have experienced a renaissance of sorts.

Cannon, a graduate of University of Vermont with a degree in art and French, starting working as a sales associate at OGE after taking some time off after college to travel overseas.  About a year after working the sales floor, the OGE management team decided it was time to dedicate roughly 30 hours per week to visual merchandising.   Liza applied for the job – which included still working on the sales floor the other ten hours of the work week – got the job –  and since last summer has been churning out smart, irreverent and highly original displays ever since.

Cannon is responsible for switching out four sets of large windows in addition to one interior “stage”, which is permanent elevated structure in the store.  She operates on a 4 week rotating schedule – so each window is up for a week, unless its seasonal theme, like Halloween or Back to School.  Seasonal windows stay active longer.

While her vision of what the displays will look like once installed is crystal clear, her process is a bit less concise. “It all starts in our weekly marketing meetings.  Sales, web sales – about 15% of the overall business – stock levels and special events are all discussed.  We throw out ideas.  We like to tie the windows in with what is happening on the website – that is, if there is a feature article on the website about climbing – I will mirror that feature article with one of my windows.  I go to the buyers for suggestions on hot product to feature. “ She added that they always try to represent all activities, so for winter, as an example, she will be sure to feature a Nordic window, an ice climbing window, a fat bike window, a backcountry ski window and a snowshoe window.

All in all Liza says it comes together on the fly.  She starts with the theme, then the product and then works out the idea in her sketchbook.  Sometimes while sketching the installation, the theme may be altered or for logistical reasons shelved for a later date.  She flips through her sketchbook with me, pointing out a few ideas that either never came to fruition or others that did and I get to see how she pictures the entire space.  This includes figuring out what kind of signage she will need, plus dimensions so it all fits.

While Liza does have money to spend on displays, she is thoughtful to repurpose displays.  A circle of paperback books she made for a back to school window now finds a home above the travel book section.  She calls her display method, “mend, not spend.”  And while she does spend, many of her displays become permanent fixtures around the store.  It gives OGE a sense of continuity by carrying window display themes to the retail floor.  (Co-owner Marc Sherman informs me that their store is 45,000 square feet overall, with 21,000 devoted to retail – the remaining square footage consists of office space, back stock and the web business, not to mention a bike repair shop downstairs.)

Below are photos of Outdoor Gear Exchange’s windows before and after Liza joined the team.  The extraordinary transformation speaks for itself.

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 Outdoor Gear Exchange display visionary, Liza Cannon

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Before the windows at OGE were a collection of products and objects that didn’t tell a cohesive story.

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This is one of Liza’s most recent windows.  She used empty rolls of tape, painted them, glued them together and suspended them to frame the mannequin.  She also added a backdrop.

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 Here is another before.  Windows were sparse on product and failed to tell a specific product story.

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 In this window, the mannequin depicts Hindu Deity Shiva, wielding four extra arms – as seen here – showing strength as an epic ice climber/slayer.

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This is a “BL – Before Liza” corner window that faces busy pedestrian friendly Church Street.

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This is the same space.  Cannon built a wood platform and added trees, attached by drilling branches to the base.  The result is a winter scene set in the woods.

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Another “BL” shot that shows some mixed product message with a mannequin in a skirt and down jacket, along with socks, and a trail sign. What are they selling here?  Co-owner Marc Sherman agreed.  “Our windows sucked.”

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 Above is another view of the tape roll windows.

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Above is the interior stage – rather an elevated section of the store that existed when OGE moved in.  Liza painted the Vermont poster shown.

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 Part of Liza’s Back to School window display from last fall.

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 Part of the display is used again in the book section of the store.

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And here is Liza’s sketchbook rendition of how she planned to design the window.

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Making good use of extra “body parts” for a Halloween window.

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 Liza’s most talked about window so far – skiers positioned atop toilets waiting for the big dump.  Shoppers loved it.

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 OGE is dually blessed with a workshop located downstairs.  This gives them the ability to make fixtures and signage for cheap and customized to what they need – when they need it.

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 Some of Liza’s supplies.  She goes through a lot of spray paint.

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Dynamic duo!  Liza with OGE co-owner Marc Sherman.  And yes, she painted the scene inside the canoe for a display.  It now sits in Sherman’s office.

If you have a budding visual merchandiser among your staff, I would love to see examples of their work and learn more about their process.  No matter how seasoned we may be in our chosen profession, it’s a wondrous thing to share tips, tricks and ideas with fellow creative types.

I hope this month you have been inspired with some new ideas.