Virtual Review: Shop Around the Corner

I was perusing some of my favorite blogs and ran across a recent post on 'Hooked on Houses' that showed photos of Meg Ryan's character's home in the film 'You've Got Mail'. I love that film, and not just because it has a few of my fave actors in it. It deals with the ups and downs (literally) of life as an independent business owner.

However, I'm not writing a film review blog here. When I saw one of these photos, I thought 'Why did they choose that paint color for the store exterior?' - and a lightbulb went on over my head.

I have this wacky idea to take retail shops shown in films and do a 'virtual review' of them. Meaning I'll post the photos here, and then talk about what really works visually and also what doesn't work from a retail standpoint, and make suggestions for changes. This, in turn, is supposed to inspire you when it comes to your own store visual impact. What do you think? Interested? Do I need a more compelling 'trailer' to hook you?!

Let's start with number one, and see how you like it....This shot inspired my original thought of 'Why did they choose that color paint for the store exterior?' It really doesn't enhance the architecture, draw the eye away from other things and TO the store entrance, or reflect the personality of the business itself. Which are all important considerations in your visual impact. But in films, setting itself is a character. It is a visual representation of the backstory and the plot. And this setting is a character that is slowing down, getting old, almost obsolete, is a little bit forlorn, and whose appearance belies the depths of what is going on inside. If it was shown as a person, it would be Kathleen's memory of her mother - growing dimmer, fading, losing focus. And once you realize that, you can see WHY the dark forest green was chosen. It hides a lot. It's probably the color that Kathleen's mom chose all those years ago, and she just keeps painting it the same color to honor that choice. (Which could have been made just because the paint was on discount in the OOPS pile and mama was on a budget, who knows?!)

The sign hanging on the building, however, is absolutely stunning. The use of exuberant script for the name and storybook character additions exemplify the childlike wonder held behind those sad doors, and draw you inside to discover untold wonders. Sounds like I'm describing Meg's character, doesn't it? Your signs should describe your business 'character' in the same way.

If this were my client's storefront, I'd talk to them about their business brand image, what they stand for, the mood they want to create in their store, who their customer is - and then I'd express those qualities on the exterior. Paint would be a soft yellow with crisp white trim, and soft green shutters on the windows. The door would be red- a nice warm orangey poppy red, not a hard fire-engine red. More approachable, less intimidating! These colors are sunny, happy, invigorating, and they appeal to children - and to parents of children. They also express the playful spirit of wonderment and exploration that we find inside. And you have to share that on the outside of your store - or customers will never know what you are all about inside. Oh, and I'd remove the trash and plant happy colorful flowers under the tree, too.
Look carefully at this photo, and you'll see Kathleen (Meg's character) bouncing in the door. She's opening her shop up in the morning, embracing another day. I'd bet almost every customer who walks in those doors experiences the same thing.... for just look at what greets them! Color, everywhere. An infinite selection of books with colorful covers (and we DO judge a book by it's cover, don't we?!) on display at many levels, so that customers of every age and height find something to marvel at. The floor is patterned and fun. There are many details to entice the eye, enchant children, and rekindle memories of childhood for older customers. And THAT is a powerful marketing tool: Memories. It's called 'Emotional Marketing', and it relies on recreating an experience or setting that will transport your customers to another time & place. Yes, it takes effort - but it pays off. Want an example? Disneyland. 'Nuff said.

The overhead light fixtures are large, and emit warm light to entice a slower pace, browsing, and an escape into the worlds that books open up to us. Here, there is no clock, no time (except StoryTime), and no hurrying. Smaller lamps are also placed within the shelving to add dimension to the book displays. Especially with overhead florescent lighting, it is absolutely imperative to bring in warm ambient light. Without it, colors look faded, details go flat, and moods deteriorate. Doubt that? Go to Kmart for half an hour. ;(

Stuffed animals, toys, and assorted merchandise is added to the mix as a contrast to the hard surfaces of books. In design, this is standard - offset hard with soft, smooth with rough, light with shadow. From a retail standpoint, this is a classic tip for increasing your per transaction totals: Offer the book and the companion CD, stuffed animal, or backpack, and most people will grab both as a gift, instead of just one. Make it easy, and it works. It also makes your displays look much more interesting.

What I would change here is those freestanding units in the center of the room. There are some low cubbies on them that are dark, not doing the products any justice. And even tho we want things to be reachable for kids here, the bottom shelves on the sides are located below overhangs - I can see a few head bonks happening. Better to bring in some nesting tables, which provide varying levels in which to display merchandise. It's a bit more flexible, and if you use colored tables, more visually interesting, too.
This shot shows a windowed alcove that houses Kathleen's office. I love this! She has some privacy, but is available to staff and customers as well. In some cases, it's absolutely impossible to do this in a business environment, but in a small independent store, you ARE your business. People want to know the person behind it all. Being available sends a very powerful message to your customers and your staff - even if it's just for a part of your business day, this is a smart move. The quirky touches added by the production design team here jump out at me: mini-lights are strung haphazardly (because we all know that Kathleen and her staff hung them late at night after closing when they were exhausted, because that's the only chance they had, right?!), little handmade red paper hearts dance along the shelf edges, and treasured old volumes of childhood favorites are tucked into the glass case by Kathleen's office. It's not generic, it's not cookie-cutter, it's not what you will find anywhere else on earth. And that is exactly what makes it work. Anything you can do to make your store stand out from others (in a GOOD way! ;0) ) is going to help you. This includes your product mix, too! Make it memorable.
This shot of the store's cashwrap shows some great tips:
*Create a large visual behind your cashwrap (register counter). When customers are looking at the staff member behind the register, what they REALLY see is what's behind that person. Is it expressing your store's personality, values, brand image? Are there interesting things to see, information, educational opportunities, or product for sale? Or is there a messy stack of something on a back counter, waiting to be put away? This is very valuable real estate, so use it wisely.

*Use the counter space near your register to display 'Point of Purchase/POP' merchandise, also known as 'impulse buys'. In Kathleen's shop, we see a few stacks of small books, what may be a container of bookmarks, etc., and behind her there is a hook with canvas book bags on it. These all relate directly to a customer's purchase of a book and are low-cost products, and therefore are an easy add-on to their purchase. (You remember sales 101, right? 'Would you like fries with that?' IN this case, it's 'Would you like a bookmark to go with that? How about a bag for the gift to go into?' They are already buying - it's not hard to add another item for a lesser price to that. The power of suggestion goes a long way.)

*Again we see a small lamp, casting warm light onto the counter, and fresh flowers in a cup. These add a softness to the hard counter surface & edges, and create a feeling of home, warmth, calm, and comfort. You want to slow down here.... which gives the store ample time to tempt you with those POP items mentioned above. This is also the place for flyers for your upcoming sale, event, or new product introduction. A nice idea is to offer them up in containers, rather than having leaning stacks of paper all over the counter.

*Even with all of this going on around & on the cashwrap, it is still important to leave plenty of room for customers to place their selections AND their purses or checkbooks. Don't make the space too small, or even one item that they buy will seem large in proportion to it - and that may make them reconsider their choice. A large, wide counter area will make their selection seem smaller.

You can see by all of this that retail is driven by psychology. It is by manipulating space, visuals, lighting, sound, smell, and mood that we influence customers to enter, stay, browse, buy, and return. It is an endless exercise in change, endurance, growth, education, and imagination that enables retailers to stay on top of their game and at the forefront of their customer's minds. Yes, what you sell IS important - but even the very best merchandise won't sell at full price if it's presented in torn boxes on dirty shelves. Visual impact is a huge part of business, and utilizing the principles that have been proven to work can help you build a better business.

If you liked this post, let me know! I've got a few other 'locations' scouted to bring you in future posts... and if YOU have favorite movies with shops, boutiques, or other kinds of retail sales venues in them, send me the title or link. I'll look them up and see what I can do to include them in this series.

Disclaimer: I'm pulling photos from other resources, but I'll be identifying and linking to those resources in each post, and crediting the film studios - as this is their property. I see this done a lot on blogs & web sites, and am under the general understanding that since I am not being paid for providing this info & photos, and am crediting the original and secondary source, I am ok doing this. If you know a solid and legal reason to refute that, please let me know. Thank you.

By the way, the saddest part of this film is when Kathleen closes her failed store. On the last night, as she leaves for the last time, she stands in the doorway, looks at the barren, empty space, and remembers 'Twirling' with her mother when she was a child, in that very shop that her mother owned. It is the death of a shared lifetime dream, and her deep despair leaps off of her face and into the viewer's heart. Anyone who has ever faced this situation knows that awful feeling. At that point, it's not about numbers or P&Ls or spreadsheets. It's about the soul of your business being let go....and a little bit of yourself along with it. Let's do what we can do together to keep you from having to face that particular 'end scene', shall we?

Photo Credits: found on 'Hooked on Houses' blog; photos and title property of Warner Brothers Pictures. Buy a copy of this film at Amazon.


  1. What an interesting and thought-provoking post! Even though I'm not in retail, I really enjoyed your analysis of the Shop Around the Corner. Meg's store was one of my favorite parts of the film, and you made me look at the details of it in an entirely new way. Thanks!

  2. Excellent post Deb; it is one of my favorite movies.

    The same psychology goes into staging and selling a home; unfortunately sellers in my market area have never quite "gotten" it or warmed up to the idea.

    Would love to see more.

  3. What a great idea...I hope you do more. This is one of my favorite movies too.

  4. Julia, thanks for the use of the photos you posted on YOUR blog! I appreciate it, and am glad you liked this look at it.

  5. Great info! You gave so many great tips on display, color, lighting, the check out counter...things many shops overlook.

    You did a beautiful job with Poppyseeds, their new look just oozes charm!

    Keep up the great work!

  6. Hi ya Debi,

    always a delight to visit - I love the phsychological evaluation - every indie retailer needs you in their back pocket! P.S. My hubby is in the film biz, consequently we're always viewing films on multiple levels - you're spot on girl!

  7. Anonymous5:23 AM

    Nice post!

    Good collection of movies.