Visual Merchandising

Posted: 11th May 2015

The way you display your business at an exhibition can have an impressive impact on your sales. In a study done by the National Retail Merchants Association –

One out of every four sales occurred because of the way the merchandise was displayed!
This question and answer guide is intended to answer some of the questions you may have if embarking on a show season and includes top tips!

What shows should I book and how do I know if a particular event will work for my business?

It will or depends on your type of business and the product or service you are exhibiting. You need to find out as much information as possible before committing to an event. You need to be sure that visitors to the show will be the right sort of people who will be interested in your product, and that the setting is correct. For instance if you are considering a large trade show at the NEC – are you willing to work nationally or is your marketplace actually more local to where you live and therefore the local country show more appropriate. If you are a virtual PA the local school PTA event may not be the right place for you unless you happen to know that all the other mums are busy business people.

We would always recommend that you visit a show as a customer before you go as a trader to appraise what it’s really like. Watch how the traders there are behaving – are they actually selling and is money changing hands or are they networking? Ask if they are having a good show – you will usually get an honest opinion.

Look at how the stands are displayed and assess the standard of visual merchandising by the traders themselves as well as the way the event as a whole has been organised. Are businesses in a particular industry all grouped together and if so is that arrangement working?

Speak to the organisers but be savvy. At the end of the day they want to sell you space and those who care if you make a profit are in the minority. Ask if you have a choice of where you are positioned in the room/hall, what the expected visitor numbers are, what promotion of the event will there be. What is their policy on duplication of types of business? What do you actually get for your money? In the winter months outdoor shows can be particularly harsh if there is no flooring in a muddy marquee and you have to supply your own tables and chairs. Do you have to pay extra for lighting and a shell scheme?

What results should I expect from taking part in a show?

It is an arduous and precarious life if your only route to market is through shows. In today’s marketplace shows should really be seen as an additional way to reach new customers face to face and to raise awareness of your business. It is an ideal opportunity to develop a database of potential leads who may like to receive an e-newsletter and news about your business as it develops.

It’s a good way to speak to people and get feedback on new products and services and to publicise your website.

If you set out to a show expecting to sell out, the chances are you will be disappointed but if you set out aiming to sell enough to cover your costs and to get 50 new contacts it is far more achievable.

Do I need insurance, where do I get it from & what should I expect to pay?

You must have public liability for your business to attend any show. This is to protect you and visitors should any accidents happen whilst they are on your pitch and looking/examining your product. Most organisers will want to see a copy of your policy. You may also need product liability or if you are offering advice/consultancy you should have professional indemnity insurance.

There are several insurance companies who offer specific insurance packages for small business involved in the show circuit. An annual policy can start from as little at £70. For competitive quotes try your local insurance broker or The Market Traders Federation – , Ian Wallace Ltd – , Gm Imber & Sons –

What do I do about security?

You will normally find that at most events a sense of community develops very quickly amongst traders and in general a neighbour will normally look after your stand while you take a ‘comfort’ break. An unspoken agreement also tends to exist in that everyone looks out for everyone in terms of stock and security however it is not guaranteed so you must stay vigilant during, before and after an event. Keep your money out of sight and at the back of your stand where it can’t easily be grabbed and don’t ever be fooled into a false sense of security. When it is time to pack up put your takings somewhere safe. It is easy to fall victim to unscrupulous eyes and light fingers when you are tired at the end of the event and opportunists know your cash tin is likely to be full.

Any transaction between you and a customer is just that, so it is wise to give receipts if possible with your contact details on. Your goods are subject to sale of goods acts etc so if a customer buys something and has a dispute you need then to be able to come back to you – not the organiser who might then question your integrity for future events. If you are selling smaller items in large quantities at least make sure that your contact details are visible somewhere. You could try printing your web address on the product or giving a pre-printed receipt or card in the bag.

If you are leaving your stand with stock overnight, ask the organiser what security is provided. Use common sense and take home anything valuable. It is better to arrive earlier the next day and re merchandise than loose your valuable stock – not only will you be upset that your goods have been taken but you will also not have the stock to sell that day either.

How do I make sure that people visit my stand?

You need to think of many different things when building a display but the basic rules are:

–       Attract attention
You can attract attention to your display by effective use of colour, light and shape.

Colour is what customers see first. More than anything else, colour makes people stop and look. For many customers the colour is more important than the size, the style or the price in the first instance.

–       Arouse interest
Your display should have an attention getter — something that brings the customer over to look further. For example, if you are displaying a pasta machine, display it with pasta coming out of the machine, or with a variety of pasta shapes. Shoppers will stop to look at the display to see how the machine works.

–       Create desire
Your display should make customers want the product by showing that it is just what they need. The display should demonstrate the qualities of the product, its use and its benefits.

–       Win confidence
Show customers how you can help them put it all together. Display related objects that tell customers you have more than just the pasta machine — include an Italian cookbook, cooking equipment and table settings.

–       Motivate the purchase
If the first four steps were done well, the customer should now walk in and buy the product. Don’t be afraid to ask for the sale. Try to think of the process as filling their need not taking their money.

How do I start to plan my display?

Step-by-step displays:

  • Decide who your audience is.
  • Decide what colour scheme, mood and theme to use.
  • Plan the display. The larger the job, the more planning it needs.
  • Think about the space you have available and how you will divide it.

The Balance

exhibition stall 1

The point in the display that appears to be the most dominant is the point of emphasis. It is the place where the eye goes first. In a display, the point of emphasis is usually in one of two places: the optical centre or the upper, left corner. Whilst this display is very textural and busy the bright colours on the panel create the impact.



exhibition stall 2

The Lines lead the eye from one place to another through the display. They may be vertical, horizontal, diagonal or curved. When any type of line is repeated, its effect becomes stronger. When different lines are used together, they create contrast. If too many different lines are used, the result is confusion. Julie Anne’s stand is very symmetrical and because you naturally read a stand from left to right it takes your attention from top left to centre of the table and then up to top right.



exhibition stall 3

The Proportions: The size relationship of any part of the display to any other is proportion. No one object in a display should seem too large, too heavy or too small in proportion to the other objects. In this example The Large image, screen and shelving unit create the balance in relation to the size of the merchandise and the colours help it present a unified image. Your eye almost takes a circular route from the image of a lavender field to the colour on the screen and Barbara to the table and therefore the products.


exhibition stall 4Create emphasis by using contrasting colours or textures or shapes; A red or yellow dress in a display along with several dark dresses,  a round platter or bowl on a rectangular place mat, smooth, shiny silverware on a black, velvet cloth. In this example the texture of the wood create great contrast to the synthesised glass jewellery.

·        Decide what types of merchandise to feature and which specific pieces to use. You do not have to display every item you posses – remember less is more! Choose pieces that will work together to create one idea.

·        Decide on the staging pieces to use (screens, shelves, blocks or mannequins, for example).

·        Select a background to go with the colour scheme.

·        Decide on the kind of lights. Effective lighting is vital to selling. People buy your merchandise because they see it.

·        Choose props that enhance the merchandise, don’t over do it, they are there as staging not for sale.

 What sort of things do I need to take with me?

Make a check list whilst planning your display which will include things like table cloths and props etc. Think through the whole process from leaving the house to coming home again including the journey, the arriving, the setting up, the selling, and the packing up and so on. It is useful if you plan to do shows on a regular basis to create a tool box with things like hammer and screwdriver to blue tack and sticky fixers (Velcro pads)

The following list may give you some extra ideas

·        Spray gun of water – Spay any cloths lightly and the creases will drop out as the cloth dry’s

·        A ground sheet helps keep the cold from your feet  and your stock dry

·        A cover for night (large crocodile clips and a waterproof cover or old clean curtain.

·        A couple of small blocks of wood – saucer sized in MDF or similar – can be placed under feet of uneven tables to stabilise it.

·        Extension leads – the longer the better ( should be PAT tested by an electrician)

·        Cable ties – you never know when they will come in useful to just hold…

·        Flask of hot drink and your butty box – refreshments at most shows can easily eat into your profits.

Final thoughts

This guide has only scratched the surface. If you would like to speak about merchandising please call Sarah in the WiRE office 01952 815474. Alternatively if you would like WiRE to deliver a workshop on merchandising at your network meeting please call us to discuss the options.

If the idea of exhibiting at a show sounds scary or too expensive, why not team up with other WiRE members to share a stand. You can support each other through the process and then next time you will be a confident exhibitor.