The term Merchandising can be used in many ways. For lowly underpaid low skilled overly sexualized and objectified high-school and university aged men and women it means nothing more than folding shirts and hanging pants while arranging them in a predefined order set by a demi-god from corporate above in a job called “Visual Merchandiser”. When I was young(er) we called them “clerks”. For prescient Hollywood movie directors attempting to make their first film it means retaining the rights to sell all the schlock with the soon to be immortally famous movie’s name emblazoned upon it. Surely someone other than myself has noticed that “Android” phones have a small royalty paid to Lucasfilm, right? Or maybe, to continue the entertainment comparison, for a certain comedy luminary “moychendising” is the punch line to your joke making fun of the aforementioned director and the modern era industry he helped spawn.
The truth, from my (and the dictionary’s) perspective is, that all of that is merchandising. To use the very lame and weak minded approach, merchandising is defined (by Merriam-Webster) as: sales promotion as a comprehensive function including market research, development of new products, coordination of manufacture and marketing, and effective advertising and selling. Yup it’s all that stuff.
If you know me intimately, and I don’t mean that like you are reading that, but if you are a close friend or colleague you know I have a passionate love for merchandising. Nothing thrills me more than seeing a well thought out and executed store or shop plan. I still remember the first time I walked into what was then the “new concept” Abercrombie and Fitch store (I was young(er) then…). The lighting, the design, and in this case the signature smell, all put the focus not only on the clothes, but, and this is the part that we can argue makes it successful, the dare I say “lifestyle” of those who wear those clothes. Want to look super hot and sexy like those partially dressed men standing “guard” at the door? (Trust me, they are not just welcoming young shoppers and their parents with credit cards, they are also standing guard projecting an air of exclusivity for $35 T-shirts that cost some infintesimilly small portion of that to make.) So, do you want to look super hot and sexy like those men? Buy those clothes, and shoes, and colognes, oh sorry, fragrances, and you’ll be just as hot, and maybe you’ll be able to get to know the men at the door intimately. And I do mean that the way you are reading it.
Butt! Butt! It’s not just about the sex, and the clothes, and the lifestyle, and the cell phones with robot names, it’s about the entire package. The whole enchilada as is said. For you see, an overpriced (we could argue it is not actually overpriced if consumers as a whole were fully cognizant of merchandising) T-Shirt cannot be sold just any olde way, like out of the back of a windowless panel van on the side of the road. No! It has to be sold the right way, and as I have been known to say “everything must speak to the quality of product”, so too must the store itself in its entirety convey the quality of the product within. With that I give you an example of merchandising done wrong….
The story begins as most stories do, at the beginning with a little backstory. Pete and I were counting our final days in Halifax before the big move to New Brunswick (more on this later) and he was in the need for some new jeans, so unfortunate is it may be, the mall was beckoning. We opted for the Mic Mac Mall and set course. As we arrived the overly airconditioned comfort of the mall air greeted us and we started the mundane task of wandering store to store looking for attractive and reasonably priced jeans. Our first stop: Jack Jones
The store was nicely designed (I guess) and the lighting was not overly harsh, casting the right amount of shadow to add some interest to T-Shirts and Jeans that were “nice” but not emotion evoking. I guess they would do if I was trying to impress by wearing the “Jack Jones” name. As we browsed I was of course only half-heartedly paying attention to the Jeans as I was not in need, though I was briefly distracted by the display of sexy underwear. No amount of sexy underwear, nor my imagination of what the men browsing the selection would look like wearing nothing but, could distract me from what next caught my eye. Gross nasty machine made polyacrylinylon imitation persian style red and blue area rugs. I know, I know, “Tell us what you really think “The Ruggist”[!]”
Really? This is what you put under a display of $120/pair jeans and $35 T-Shirts? Rugs that themselves cost no more than two (2) pair of Jeans (rough estimate). No! No! No! Bad merchandiser/designer. Not only is this a horrid knockoff of another Brand’s merchandising approach (in this category), it is done badly. The rugs look cheap and cheapen the items the store is attempting to sell. Moreover the “oh we are cool and the rugs are overlapped look” is a tripping hazard from hell in a retail environment. Needless to say (but I will) at this point, I was not impressed by the store, nor was Pete by their Jeans and we departed, but not before I took this photo with Instagram (Tee Emm).
Machine Made Rugs at Jack Jones
As the search for Jeans continued we eventually found our way to H&M. I should preface this by saying I was formerly a huge fan of H&M when they first hit North America. They had fresh European style, sizes that made fat people feel as fat as they should, and quality that endured. That was about seven (7) or eight (8) years ago, and now they’ve lost all of that as they homogenize and conform with what the masses will consume. **sigh** But, unlike Jack Jones, when they borrow a display concept, they at least do it with some attention to detail, just not all of the details.
Take for example the rugs shown in the photo below (again courtesy of my Instagram app). You’ll notice they are both of the red/blue persian genre, but unlike the “rugs” at Jack Jones, these are actually hand made pieces from Iran. Kudos!!! “Real and authentic rugs will lend an air of authenticity to our clothes” thought the merchandizer/designer and they are right. I thought “Well at least they care enough to put some real quality in here.”, but then I thought about it. Oh sure, they’ve put real and authentic handmade rugs in here, but hey’ve also chosen to use the most stereotypical style and colour combination I could possibly think of. This rug is the commodity of the rug industry, just as their clothes are a commodity of consumer culture. They get an “A” for effort, but you and I both know that the rugs under that display, though authentic and handmade, may not have cost much more than the machine made rugs, given the glut of this style on the market. So, really this just says to me “buy our mass produced clothes of which there are too many” which is not an appealing message.
Handmade Rugs at H&M
Speaking of consumerism, thank god for it! It keeps us all employed, but I digress.
At this point my mall adventure with Pete ends, but unfortunately for you, the story does not. Several days later, Nicholas and I were killing time on a Saturday afternoon and decided to take refuge from the Nova Scotia Humid weather and once again headed to a mall. This time we found ourselves at the Halifax Shopping Centre. As we skillfully avoided the crowds of ladies buying lady things at the newly opened “Victoria’s Secret” and also the crowds of nerds and Apple Aficionados buying appley things at the newly opened Apple Store, we walked by one of my favourite stores in terms of merchandizing: Hollister. This is the image that greets you right at the door.
Handmade Rug at Hollister
As has become typical for me I love to rant nearly endlessly about things I think are done wrong, but then briefly laud those things done well. What can I say? I like to complain. So, Hollister has it most right in these three examples. A handmade rug of non-stereotypical design. A colouration that is close to the good old stand-by, yet different enough to add interest. A comfortable seating area I can sit in while others shop. It is also not immediately lending any quality to the product itself, rather it is lending it to the store and the lifestyle of those shopping therein. Furthermore, and more to the point, it is targeting this lending message, not to its target customer (teen boys and girls), but to the parents (with credit cards and/or money) of those customers. Parents who can sit and relax and be impressed with the quality, while their children spend money on clothes that, by extension, must also be of quality. In short, Hollister knocks off the concept quite well.
But to be fair, they really aren’t knocking it off, they are following the model set by their parent brand. The best, most orignal incarnation of this concept was done by the aforementioned Abercrombie and Fitch (proud parent to Hollister). They had leather seating and an AWESOME Nepali made rug (made for the European market on top of that) that invited those accompanying the customer to sit, relax, and enjoy the lifestyle (and eyecandy)!! The rug was also very distinctly styled and not what the uninitiated would “typically” think of as a handmade rug. It was original, just like the same old Jeans and T-shirts Abercrombie is selling, or so we are supposed to believe and perceive.
So, I am sure you are asking “What does any of this have to do with the rug industry?” Well, have you heard of Reddit? This is what it means:
TL:DR – Poor quality drags good quality down. Displays and Merchandising should be well made to reflect the quality of the product. Merchandizing concepts should be original so that your product sticks out in the minds of those seeing it. It should be memorable and immediately associated with your brand. Originality is not just about the merchandizing, but also the merchandise. If I say “fish rug” or “mamluk”, of whom do you think? I rest my case.
I hope you enjoyed and as always, thank you for reading.
Edit: This was sent to me by a friend regarding my Abercrombie and Fitch references. It might be worth the read. http://deflowerednation.wordpress.com/2010/02/25/ab-fitch-ceo-a-lifelong-wannabe/