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Opening a Paint Your Own Pottery or Contemporary Studio
Part Five-Visual Merchandising in Your Studio
By Connie Speer - The Pottery Consultant

     Getting ready to open your new studio, or thinking about overhauling your present business to make things look fresh and new? Which of these statements do you want potential customers to think when they walk by or come to your studio?
     ‘hmmmmm...’  or
     ‘that’s kinda neat...wonder what that is?’  or
     ‘WOWEE - I HAVE to go inside!’

     To make walk-bys and curious potential warm bodies turn into paying customers, you need to wow them into your store. Then once inside the store, you must inspire them. How do you do this? Through Visual Merchandising. First, let’s define Visual Merchandising.

    Visual Merchandising is how you present your studio and its merchandise to attract potential customers and inspire and motivate them to buy. Visual Merchandising is stimulating. Effective Visual Merchandising maximizes sales. A Visual Merchandiser creates an inviting atmosphere and product focal points using store design, layout, window presentations, interior presentations, signs, lighting, and props. Large department stores, restaurants, specialty chain stores spend millions of dollars annually on Visual Merchandising alone just to get you to come into their stores and spend. Take a moment and think about where you like to shop and spend your hard earned money. Don’t you love going into Dillard’s, Starbucks, Calloway’s, Pottery Barn? Sure you could go to Sears instead of Dillard’s, Home Depot instead of Calloway’s, Seven Eleven instead of Starbucks, but isn’t that when you’re trying to simply save a buck? When you have the money to spend, don’t you prefer going where you feel good? Most of your kind of customers like going to Dillard’s and Starbucks. Does your studio look like the local Donut Shop or Starbucks? You can change this through Visual Merchandising.

     Where in the studio do you create Visual Merchandising? You start at the front windows. This draws them to the window and makes a walk by person into a come-in customer. Immediately upon entering the studio is also another very important location. Then, you want Visual Merchandising happening against the walls, on the walls, at the checkout counter, from the ceiling, in the back and on islands in the studio. Think of Hansel and Gretal with the breadcrumbs!

     There is a very important issue to address before getting down to the nuts and bolts of how to make your studio a WOWEE studio. That issue is to define your product. For most other kinds of businesses, they can simply say, ‘it’s the dress, or it’s the car, or it’s the furniture.’ Stop and ask yourself this question right now, ‘What is my product?’ Did you say Bisque? Well, you’d only be half right, and if you stop there, all your work won’t pay off. Because it’s not about the bisque. It’s about Painting the bisque. How many studios have you walked into and seen nothing but wall after wall of white bisque? Especially new studios that haven’t had time to get sample and display pieces painted and out on the shelves. The bottom line is you MUST have many, many painted finished pieces out for display that will inspire and motivate customers to say, ‘I want to do that!’. And they must be displayed through your best Visual Merchandising efforts. That is what it is all about.

     Certain principles can be applied in creating fabulous and effective Visual Merchandising. You will want an overall design and feel for your business that will, for the most part, remain unchanged, but you’ll also be creating specialty Merchandising nooks and crannies that will be changed often. Here are but a few principles to be considered and then applied:

Design – This is the style you will conceive and create. This design can be any and everything from elegant to eclectic.
Color – Color is critical as it warms and helps set our moods and feelings. Check out the next article on Color Psychology. This will get you off to a great start with color in your studio
Lighting – Most contemporary studios are stuck with overhead fluorescent lighting, but you should accent all your focal points with track lights (think floor AND ceiling!), floor lamps, table lamps, neon, Christmas Lights (not just to put on the tree!).
Now add:
Drama – This is to razzle-dazzle, attract attention, and make them look twice. Do the unexpected to catch their eye.
Aromatherapy – Use candles, potpourri, oils, flowers and herbs to stimulate the senses. Don’t you feel wonderful whenever you go to a candle store? Don’t be heavy handed with the smells, just something light and wafting. And consider offering it for resell.
Sound – This can set the mood and bring your environment to life. Not heavy or loud, but light and soothing. New Age and Jazz are more soothing than Country Western or Rock and Roll. At home you may prefer Rock and Roll, but at the studio, you are trying to create a pleasant, inviting, nurturing environment.

     Let’s say you need to create Visual Merchandising to promote Baby Showers, Bridal Showers and Kitchen Items. So, how do you do this? (This step-by-step will work for overall VM or focal point VM.)
1) Plan your style.
2) Compose and design it through a sketch.
3) Make a list of all materials needed according to your budget.
4) Install it.
5) Signage.

1) Plan your style.
 Need ideas for styles? Visit department stores, restaurants, craft stores, hobby shops, furniture stores, office stores, baby stores. Nature, antiques, country, 50’s and 60’s, holiday, contemporary, jungle, aquatic, traditional are just a few of the kinds of overall themes you might want to consider.
 Baby – Do you want to create soft baby themes such as light pastels and soft stuffed animals or how about a primary color combo with red, blue and yellows using toys?
 Bridal – You really need to think outside the box on bridal because it is white and your bisque is white. You can add in silver, gold, light blues, corals, pinks and red for roses as accent colors. Do you want to promote the wedding plate, cake server, cake stand, bridesmaid plates, boxes, and wedding décor items?
 Kitchen – With kitchen, you need one or more themes. This is one of the displays that should be changed out every three months. French Country, Southwest?

2) Compose and Design your focal point in a sketch.
 Use the following elements of design principles: Balance, Contrast, Repetition, Proportion and Harmony in your composition. Simplified definitions are below. You should consider studying these principles further if you don’t necessarily have a knack for them already.
Balance – infers two equal sides. Imagine a line and two sides.  Symmetrical balance implies giving both sides equal weight and emphasis in relation to the line. Asymmetrical balance implies giving a difference to the weights either through bringing one side to the fore or making it higher or lower.
Contrast – You can use certain contrast concepts to create this – light to dark as in white and black, shape such as in arranging the bisque from rounds to squares, texture such as burlap with oilcloth, directional such as all square plates in same direction towards a cup and saucer.
Repetition – same items repeated make the eye move and help with flow.
Proportion – the relationship of the materials to one another. Also called scale.
Harmony – Blending the materials for a satisfying overall feeling of uniformity.
You can create all of these elements through your use of your materials broken down for you in the next section.

3) Make a list of all materials needed according to your budget.
 Here are lists of varying materials for your consideration and use. There are more; use your imagination. What you beg, borrow and steal or buy will vary according to your budget.  Tip: Don’t buy everything! Raid your mom or your sister’s houses or your own house. Try browsing yard sales, thrift stores and dollar stores, but IF it is precious to you, don’t take it to the studio! Or simply put a large enough price tag on it that if somebody buys it, you won’t feel bad or you can go buy another one!
     Some of these items are called trim in the VM world. Trim is defined as an item used to enhance a product that adds richness and sets mood. Other items below are for ‘building’ the foundation of the focal point such as in the first item, which is furniture.
 Furniture – wood or metal cabinets, hutches, shelving units, small tables, cubbies, ladders, crates, screens, shutters, pedestals, display cases, stands, platforms, boxes.
 Fabric – tablecloth, place-mats, napkins, hand towels, curtains, doilies, rugs, runners, draping pieces.
 Plants – Dried flowers, fake fruits and vegetables such as chili peppers, grapes, garlic cloves strung together, silk plants such as ivy, ficus, Christmas Trees.
 Real Foods – Packaged teas and coffees, wine or sparkling waters, candy, soy sauce, dried seaweed.
 Themed Party Favors – hats, cups, plates, napkins, tablecloth, wrapping paper, ribbon, balloons.
 Themed Props –
  Baby – real diapers, diaper pins, stuffed animals, baby bottles, teething rings, baby shoes, baby t-shirts, baby blankets
  Bridal – candles, garters, gloves, invitations, ring pillow, lace
  Kitchen – picnic basket, aprons, wine bottle openers, wooden spoons.
 Building tools – hammers, drills, nails, glue, scissors, tacks, tape, etc.

4.) Install it.
 Can you do it yourself or do you need help? Having another opinion when creating the final displays is often invaluable. And sometimes you might need some muscles if you have to build anything. Pick a not-so-busy time or after hours to install the display. You’ll want to be able to concentrate and having to answer the phone or wait on customers, well; you might never get done.

5.) Signage.
 For the outside of the studio or the inside, whether attached to baskets for resell, finished plates for sale, bisque prices, party room directions, bisque prep directions, restrooms directions, etc., you’ll need to make signs. How you create them and what you’ll use is only limited by your imagination and budget. Again, detective work at area stores for ideas is never-ending. Try an art store, Barnes and Noble art books, scrap- book stores, Home Depot, Office Depot, Wal-Mart stores. All have lettering and/or signage materials and ideas.
 Here are but a few signage ideas for your consideration:
     Calligraphy, lettering with dots, computer generated, stencils, stamps, as tents, laminated, in plastic, on chalkboards, on plates, on tiles, painted bisque letters, on gift cards, etc. etc. etc.!
     At this point, be sure to take pictures of your efforts. Next year when you want to re-create the same exhibit, or don’t want to create the same thing, you can open up your binder of VM ideas and see what you already have done.

     Now, there’s still much more to think about!
     How often do you need to change these focal point VM’s out?  The ones that can stay the same for no more than one year are: bridal, baby, and local college. The ones that should be changed every three months are: garden, kitchen, table settings, and other arrangements.
     Then there are the seasonal promotions. Begin to put these items out 3 months prior. Begin large build up and main display two months prior. Do big bang with extra razzle-dazzle one-month prior. Then one week before event do large sale (with LARGE sign saying they can’t be ready for holiday.) Continue that sale for two more weeks, and then dissemble promotion. These are the holidays to create fabulous VM for: Valentine’s Day, Mother and Father’s Day, Easter, 4th of July, Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas and Jewish Holidays. Others to consider are President’s Days, St. Patrick’s Day and Back to School and End of School. Also don’t forget you’ll need a similar buildup and approach for your Art Camps in summer. Those promotions start the same time your first flyer goes out in March.
     When buying all of your materials (or borrowing them!) try to think ahead. Will these be one time purchases? How much are you willing to spend on a one-time purchase? Can you recycle the item by giving it as a gift later, or using it in your own home? Try to buy items that can be used over and over again in different ways. You won’t be able to be that frugal with all ‘trim’, so if you are careful with most, you’ll be happier and wealthier in the long run. And last, but not least, remember, you’re going to have to have a place to store this stuff when not in use in, preferably in a very organized, easy to access, manner.

     Okay, so what about just the bisque? How much space do you allocate on those bare walls just for the bisque? How do you display the bisque? What do you do to punch it up? Let’s talk about this issue as if all your bisque were going to be on display. Some studios opt to display only one of each item for good and varying reasons, but let’s assume you have it all out, (perhaps only a few cases in the back!) These will be averages and at least a springboard for you in laying out your space initially. You will need room to grow and the numbers below are only minimums. They assume length. From the floor to the ceiling, assume at least four shelves. Also, assume shelves are a minimum of 12” deep, some 18” deep, and others 24” deep. And don’t forget the bisque can not sit on metal! Those empty walls and nooks and crannies can be fabulous spots for that kitchen promotion in the meantime.
If your studio is:
1200 square feet and under – 20 feet of bisque
1300 – 1500 square feet – 25 feet of bisque
1600 – 2000 square feet – 30 feet of bisque
2100 – 2500 square feet – 35 feet of bisque
2600 – 3000 square feet – 40 feet of bisque
     Bisque only shelving options include but are not limited to:
 Brackets in the walls with wood shelves
 Industrial wire shelving – mobile or not – must lay plywood across metal
 Wood Shelving Unit

     Suggestions for where to buy bisque shelving:
 Home Depot
 Office Depot
 Antique Shops
 Discount Furniture Outlets
 Commercial Auction Companies

     Be careful that all shelving for bisque is heavy duty enough. You will be totally surprised at what little children can climb on (and that their mother’s let them climb on!) and pull over on themselves. Some shelving may need to be secured to the walls. Some leases say if you do this, those shelves become the property of the landlord. Sad, but true.
     For that ‘make it pop’ effect for the bisque on the shelves, consider these points -  Stand up all large plates, platters, trays by using display stands. Nothing worse to see all the bisque plates only stacked one on top of each other. Make it look nice; stack most but stand up a sample in front or behind the others, or even next to them. Arrange them using your design principles mentioned above. Don’t just junk them onto the shelves. Don’t let them get dusty. Do rearrange often.

     If you are smart and want to sell lots of plates, large platters and trays, you will have tons of these items painted and in hanging plate holders all over your studio. You will make this a true mission for you, your staff and any hired artists to ‘paint ‘til you faint’ in creating as many fabulous plates and platters as possible. Get as many plate holders as you can, both vertical and horizontal. Get ones that hold two, three and four. Paint the plates in series of two, three and four. In between every section of bisque shelving, above every section of bisque shelving and in every ‘bare’ spot, install one of these plate holders with fabulous plates. Put price tags on the plate holders as well as the plates. If they buy both, give them a small discount. Keep extra plate holders and cool display stands in the back for sale. If you run out, don’t sell the ones on display. Take a deposit and re-order. Don’t run and re-order that day just a couple of plate stands! Wait until you need several or more bisque. Be sure to let the customer know it could be 2-3 weeks, but after you take their deposit, let them know you’ll call them as soon as it comes in.

      This may surprise most studios, but consider area rugs in your studio. Sometimes what they add drastically overcomes what other negative issue may come up. The positives are:
1) Add warmth to overall atmosphere.
2) Help absorb noise
3) Enhance other Visual Merchandising
4) Surprise! Cut down on dust in studio.
     Yes, you will have to vacuum them. Yes, you will have to secure them either through rubber rug huggers or some other fashion if they are small so that no one slips. Where to put them? Anywhere you want to give a touch of warmth or enhance. How about under the bisque shelves? Under a sofa where customers can curl up with idea books? Under a table setting promotion? By the front door, both inside and out?

     Don’t forget about creating ‘Pottery to Go’ Baskets for resale. Have at least a dozen around the studio; several in the front windows and several by the front counter. You’ll need these items:
1) Baskets with handles
2) 1-4 pieces of bisque
3) 5 bottles of 2 oz. Of paint – 1 each of black, white, red, yellow, blue
4) 1 Package of Brushes – 5-6 per pkg.
5) Styrofoam
6) Tissue Paper or Confetti Paper
7) Related VM item to bisque such as hot chocolate bags for chocolate cups or tea bags for teapot or soy sauce and seaweed for sushi set.
8) Clear cellophane bags-large enough to fit around entire basket
9) Synthetic Sponge
10) Simple 5-8 step-by-step directions including washing hands, wrapping painted piece in paper towels, not newspaper, and bringing piece back to studio to be glazed and fired. Include map, address, and phone number in large print and expiration date of at least 6 months for redeeming glazing and firing.
     Use retail cost of all pieces to determine cost of basket. Put Styrofoam in bottom of basket to give it items lift or height, set confetti paper on top of Styrofoam, then arrange bisque, paint, brushes, sponge and directions in basket. Wrap in cellophane bag and tie off with fabulous bow and blank card. Don’t get cheap on the bow. Remember, it is ALL ABOUT THE FABULOUS BOW.

     Hope this article got you excited about creating wonderful and fresh ideas for your own studio. Don't let it overwhelm you. Take it a step at a time. Go window shopping at department stores with pad and pen. Spend a luxurious evening at Barnes and Noble with a Latte going through the interior design magazines. (Careful, you might be tempted to buy many magazines!) Keep your eyes open for what you like and what makes you feel wonderful. Look for new, eye-catching and innovative ways to make your studio a wonderful and profitable business through Visual Merchandising.

The Pottery Consultant is a division of American Ceramic Supply Co.
2442 Ludelle Street  Fort Worth, Texas  76105

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