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SIA Merchandising: Working Through the Creative Process


By: Ali Levy

Creative block. It happens. While I absolutely love the work of visual merchandising, sometimes I get stumped for ideas. Fortunately at this time of year I am flooded with ideas because new fall/winter product is arriving on a daily basis.  But as the season goes on it becomes harder and harder to come up with something new.

When I’m not sure what to feature in a window display, I take the following into consideration:

  • What time of year is it and what is the main product push?
  • Are there any specific promotions going on that can guide my display decision?
  • Is there a local event happening that I want to promote via window displays that have a community/shop connection?
  • What’s new and hot and needs to be put on display ASAP?
  • What are other outdoor and snow sports shops doing and how can I differentiate our shop visually?

Then using these questions I get to work planning, ensuring I rotate hard goods and soft goods. Which leads me to share my most recent window revelation. Explaining it will hopefully give you some ideas for working through your own creative process.

The skis that just arrived at the specialty outdoor shop where I work struck me instantly with the beauty of their top-sheet graphics. With Halloween on the horizon, the Icelantic skis begged to be featured in a spooky – almost creepy – sort of window display. The graphics feature incredibly lifelike yet mythical animals, with distorted features and piercing, haunting eyes. I knew this was going to be fun to put together.

icelanticicelantic 2

We received a pair of RAMP skis that feature a Native American/Pendleton blanket themed top sheet. I was drawn to these because the colors also spoke to the changing seasons – fall foliage in hues of reds and oranges. I was hit with a flood of ideas! A Native American theme to include wood and textiles that would enhance the geometric pattern. I took pictures of the ski graphics I wanted to put in the windows and headed to the Dollar store and thrift shop for some inexpensive props.

I knew I wanted to find some fabric to play off the RAMP skis. I went to Joanne’s Fabric where I absolutely scored a great deal of 60% off a Pendelton-esque fleece material. Next stop – the dollar store. They had a great selection of spooky masks and creepy critters like black crows. I found some sheets of zombie-looking eyeball stickers that I knew would be a great way to add some eerie goodness to the Icelantic skis. I picked up a few other things – all under $7.00. Onto the thrift shop where I found some orange yarn for 25 cents. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with it, but the color worked. Finally, I scored a free wood palette from a glass store. Again – wasn’t sure how I would use this, but knew it would make a great platform for a display that I could reuse over and over.


 Now back to the store to put it all together.

Fabric scored on sale! Creepy eye sticker sheets from the dollar store.


Now to assemble our mad displays. I have a tool kit for my visual merchandising days at the shop. All I needed for the two window displays I was working on was some fishing line, straight pins, and Velcro squares. Don’t forget to take the opportunity when changing windows to do some housecleaning. Remove any dead flies, dust, clean spots off windows, etc.

I found these S hooks at Ikea. I thought wire would work to secure the skis to the palette, but fishing line worked much better.

 s hooks

 I set up how I wanted the skis to be displayed and then just had fun adding the extra elements. Skis were attached to the wood palette with fishing line to keep the graphics lined-up and secure.

icelantic 3

The finished product: I added another scrap piece of wood I found outside and some old leather tele boots that belonged to the shop owner. At night this display really comes alive.


and the RAMP display…


We have a wood stove where I work and as a result I use a lot of chopped wood in displays. I wrapped some of the 25-cent orange yarn around the top of a log and added a vintage Adirondack pennant that I had at home from my own collection. Overall this display cost about $5.50. It’s colorful – tells a story and I even posted it on Instagram.

We all feel blocked for ideas now and then, especially in January when you have been looking at the same product since September. That’s why now is the best time of year, since new product arrives daily. It’s like Christmas every day! It’s easy to come up with creative display options simply based on color and graphics. Take a stroll around your store and see what hits you. How can you create a color and/or product story and what additional elements can you include, using other merchandise or props? Sometimes there is a solution right under your nose on your retail floor.