Virtual Review: 'Prince & Co.'

I just can't proceed with this series of reviewing stores in films without first tipping my hat to the only one that celebrates the talents of window dressers/visual merchandisers/ display stylists. Mannequin was released in 1987 and stars Andrew McCarthy and a very young Kim Cattral (long before she was Samantha on 'Sex and the City'). While completely campy, madcap, and overacted, it is still a fun look behind the 'employee only' doors of a department store. For those of us in the display biz, it proves what we've always suspected: Strange things happen after hours. ;0)
If you haven't seen this movie, I'll try to give you the short version:
Guy (Jonathan) makes Girl (Emmy, in a mannequin factory) and then gets fired, guy gets new job as window dresser and finds his creation in the window. One night, girl comes to life. She's actually an ancient Egyptian Princess imprisoned by some kind of magic. She only comes alive when they are alone - so everyone else sees her as a mannequin and thinks Jonathan is a bit 'off' when he's caught talking to her. Emmy helps Jonathan come up with some killer window displays, which of course help to save the store from certain demise - people come in droves to see the windows, and end up shopping. (Any wonder why I love this flick?!)

Now, my review: Let's look at that window display behind the actors in the scene above. This is window dressing taken as far as it could in the 80's. A nice scenic wallpaper is paired with a pvc pipe 'railing' and life preserver to evoke an ocean liner. It's big, it's colorful, it draws attention from the street. Excellent. If you did this in your store windows, you could then add either a mannequin (and I'm just guessing that one who comes to life each night isn't gonna' happen......) or a teak lounge chair to use as props that are ALSO fixtures. Load them up with apparel, accessories, etc. to sell your summer wares. This shot shows a lot of small things - they did that for interest on camera. Don't do it in your windows. Small stuff gets lost. Keep it in the medium to large size range, and don't crowd it.
Jonathan and Emmy are shown here in another scene, this time in the sporting goods department. They have crashed into the display of boxed soccer balls that was stacked in the center of the space.... my position on displays like that is that they tend to incite exactly that behavior instead of purchases. 'Nuff said.

Behind the actors, you see two mainstream ways to merchandise product: Slatwall on the left, shelving on the right. Slatwall is a necessary evil in retail, as it offers excellent use of vertical space and ease of rearranging shelving & hooks to display product on. My big pet peeve with this material is that for some reason, it came in the most godawful colors originally, and no one ever paints it. So too many stores now have mauve, sickly green, and gray-blue slatwall. This does nothing for your products or your store image. Nothing. Tip: PAINT IT! Get some KILZ primer and roll it on. Then roll on two coats of a color that has something to do with your brand image or at least store decor - bright, neutral, black, whatever. Then, if you are using particle board shelving on the metal brackets, paint the shelves too. Make the whole thing one color so that the wall is not the point - the PRODUCT is. Glass shelves work nicely here because they allow light to reach every area.

Shelving is another basic fixture in every store, but there are some tricks to using it effectively. First, most shelf units are too deep. You don't have to stock product allllllll the way to the back - does anyone ever really reach all the way back into a cubby shelf? Just keep the front half of the shelf full. Second, shelves prevent light from hitting products. ...they become small black holes. Back your shelves with mirror (use mirror tiles in built-in units, and a full mirror panel if they are free standing) or paint the wall white behind the shelves so it shows through. This will bounce light and make the shelving seem less foreboding. Mount track light fixtures on the ceiling 3 feet in front of your shelving, and aim the spots into the cubbies.... this will do wonders for your products.
OK, here's the BEST part of the film.... actor Meshach Taylor plays an eccentric window dresser named 'HollyWOOD Montrose' (that's HIS emphasis). He plays this role as a hilarious, drama-prone, flamboyant, and comical character - yet reminds us all of someone we know in retail! Behind monsieur Montrose is a glimpse of the store, 'Prince and Company'. The actual setting is Macy's Department store in Philadelphia (circa 1986, remember), which inhabits the historic Wanamaker Building. And what a building it IS...
When a building has this much history, architectural detail, and style, you simply have to make it part of your brand image. You have no choice. To ignore it and try to go for a cheap disco funk look (like competitor 'Elektra' in the film) would be a death knell to your business. Now, I realize that the building your stores are in likely do not feature their own ORGAN (see center of photo above) nor wall to wall marble colonnades. Not many do! But you have to look at your setting to determine how you can make it speak your language and tell your story. Just as in a film, the environment talks. What is it saying to your customers? Casual, or elegant? Masculine, or feminine? Expansive, or cozy? Opulent, or conservative?
This shot of the sales floor brings up a few important points:
*Note that white is the predominant color here. This is used as a neutral backdrop to set off the products, and to bounce light through the windowless space. Accents of black and dark wood warm it up, and provide delineation of areas.

*See the lamps sitting on the glass countertops? We talked in my last virtual review about how incandescent light is necessary to counteract the cooling effect of fluorescent. These fixtures are at eye level for customers, drawing them closer to the display fixtures with their warmth. They also splash warm light downward onto the jewelry below, making it sparkle. As a matter of fact, do you see how all of the warm ambient lighting is located at low levels in the store? It focuses attention on the merchandise.

*Notice the wide aisles. People need room to walk, stop, browse, turn, and bend. There's a principle in retail called the 'Butt Brush Factor' (thank you very much, Paco Underhill!) and it has to do with our aversion to having people encroach on our personal space while we shop. We don't like an arm touch, we avoid shoulder to shoulder contact, and if we are bending over and someone should by chance brush against our posterior - well, we are OUTTA' there. Shopping ceases. So, give people room! Aisles should be 3' wide at a minimum - and I see so much less than that in many stores I visit. For safety and stocking ease alone, this rule is important.
This overhead shot from the mezzanine level shows repetition of shapes and symmetry in the layout - important in making the store easy to navigate & understand. Their consistent height also keeps the visual sightline open, so that customers can see where things are located as they walk through the space. You can also see some large-scale florals on the tops of pedestals... this is a lovely addition that will bring life and nature into your store, and help you soften the effect of all the hard surfaces. Using large branches, plants, log rounds, grasses, or even fresh flowers is an inexpensive way to express seasonal interest and personality in your store. (And usually, the materials are free!)

Looking thru the arches on the right, you can see some tables arranged as fixtures... they all match. All of the tables are the same wood finish, and are available in varied sizes. This allows for them to be easily combined in many different configurations as the need arises from week to week, season to season. The focus remains on the merchandise, not the fixtures. If you have fixtures that are a mismatch of colors, materials, woods, think about how much fresher and crisper they would all look if painted one color. Black, white, or one of your logo colors (subtle!) would enable you to create new combinations all over your store, using everything you have. Just add a prop and a lot of merchandise, and you have a successful display. (Again, start with a good primer like KILZ on metal and lacquered wood, then paint.)

One last tip: mannequins can be plaster, resin, wire, moss, paper, or metal. You can use anything to create a 'body' form to show off product. You can take old plaster mannequins and paint them hot colors or collage old paper to them or hot glue pennies all over them. Again, it's all about expressing your business' personality and brand image. Be consistent and innovative.

Whether you ever see this film or not, the tips gained from this review can help you build a better business. So now you have no excuse for being a dummy! BahdumPUM.

Photo Credits: Film Poster and production stills from IMDB, property of Gladden Entertainment. Buy a copy of the movie at Amazon.

1 comment:

  1. I have to say I love these movie posts! Keep them coming!