Your Window (Display) To The World

Huntington Beach, Sunday, August 4, 2002: Kalani Robb surfs his way to victory in the U.S. Open of Surfing while more than 100,000 people pass by the window of Jack’s Surf Shop adjacent to the pier. “It’s like a billboard on the 405 freeway,” claims O’Neill Clothing Marketing Director Garth Tarlow, describing the impact of what’s behind those windows.

Not only is it a lot cheaper than a freeway billboard — or an ad in the surf magazines, for that matter — the window display serves a dual function by promoting a brand’s latest marketing campaign and capturing the vibe of the surf shop as envisioned by its owner. The ultimate window display succeeds on both counts.

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While Jack’s Surfboards, because of it prominence and proximity to many of the company of the surf industry, is an extreme example, today’s retail window display has nonetheless become a highly competitive showcase and critical marketing tool for both retailers and brands looking to increase foot traffic and all-important brand recognition. Unlike the old days when a surf-shop manager Scotch-taped a poster inside the window or tacked up some surf trunks on a piece of cardboard, today’s more extravagant displays are designed by high-powered marketing directors, can cost more than 5,000 dollars, and command a long waiting list of vendors vying for the chance to display their wares and spread their message.

Who Gets The Windows And Why
If you took a poll of which brands get most of the window space in surf shops around the world, you would find some familiar names: Billabong, Quiksilver, O’Neill, Reef, Hurley, Rip Curl — not coincidentally the same brands you see near the front of every surf mag. Naturally, retailers provide window space to a company in direct proportion to how much of that vendor’s product is found inside. Shops want to promote their most popular brands, the ones that pay the rent and keep the doors open.

“We devote three-quarters of our wetsuit department to O’Neill, and much of our window space is based on how much support a vendor gives us,” says Mike Sheldon, manager of Huntington Surf & Sport, which — like Jack’s — offers prime window real estate.

The top-rung brands also have the resources to develop a window display from concept to completion by providing all the necessary ingredients: expert design, graphics, hardware, and manpower. Such turnkey support is appreciated by retailers who would rather spend their employees’ time on in-store tasks like customer service and inventory. That type of support further strengthens the all-important relationship between a brand and its retailer, with the sales rep as the go-between.

“The biggest vendors get a little more love than the rest because they bring in more dollars,” explains Eric Maki, who reps for Quiksilver and Channel Islands Surfboards in San Diego and Arizona. “And it’s become a huge battle. I’ve worked for Quiksilver for three years, and Rip Curl before that. Three years ago it was open season. I could {get a window} anywhere I wanted. Nowadays, I have to schedule windows a year — sometimes two years — in advance, depending on the store.”

The demand for window space is intense, and the highest rollers get preferential treatment, but that’s not to say smaller or newer brands are shut out. Sometimes it comes down to a matter of timing and perseverance. “If Quiksilver wanted to do a window, they would probably get priority because we carry a lot of their clothing,” says Jessica Podloski, supervisor for Aqua East in Neptune Beach, Florida. “But it’s also determined on a first-come, first-served basis, by who calls first and requests a window.”

At Surf Ride’s two stores — in Oceanside and Solana Beach, California — vendors book window space up to several months in advance, with seasonality being one deciding factor. “In fall, we do snowboard displays,” says Manager Brian Frederickson, “and the rest of the year uslly do clothing and shoes. If Burton asks us for a window in April, we’d tell them to come back in the fall. We do have one window devoted to surfboards all year long, and at one time we had women’s clothing rotating in and out for eight months because we wanted to increase sales on those items.”

Brave New World’s three stores in New Jersey are less structured in scheduling windows. “We don’t designate a certain time that a vendor is going to be in a window,” says BNW Merchandiser Jeni Danko. “We’re pretty flexible. We don’t go by a calendar. A lot of times the reps come in with banners and promotions, and they’ll help us out. It really depends on what’s going on at the time, like if one of their team members is coming to the store. We try to promote the newest things to get people in the door.”

Adds HSS’s Mike Sheldon, “We try to get everyone involved {in window displays} as much as possible. If a smaller vendor shows interest, they need come to us with a proposal. It helps if they have new shorts or a specialty item coming out, which can coordinate with an ad campaign.”

Again, the sales rep’s role is vital in securing valuable window space. “A lot of it is based on how much they like you,” laughs Dana Saraceno, who reps for Vans and Fresh Jive in Southern California. Saraceno says reps sometimes secure window space by offering incentives and discounts on orders. “I would have terms and discounts, plus an added discount if I could get a window for 30 days in July or August. It would be great to get a window at Jack’s or Huntington Surf & Sport during the U.S. Open. The foot traffic is phenomenal.”

The incentive approach works to a point, but most retailers seem careful not to simply auction their windows to the highest bidder. “We try to work as a partner with the companies,” says Sheldon. “We don’t want to ransom our windows. It works both ways. It promotes them, and helps us sell product in the store. Others may charge for window space, but we don’t.”

Billabong Retail Visual Merchandising Manager Jeff Trenschel says some brands will pay for window space, “kind of like a billboard,” but adds that the symbiotic relationship between a brand and a retail store is very fair, and, “Those who’ve been around the longest will get windows at the key times of the year.”

Secrets To A Successful Window Display
Big or small, expensive or cheap, the majority of window displays today are designed by and paid for by the vendors featured in the display, with final approval coming from the store. Some can cost next to nothing, while others cost thousands of dollars in preparation and placement.

“I’ve seen really powerful displays that have cost 200 dollars, and I’ve seen really weak displays that have cost 2,000,” says Trenschel. “It all depends on how you do it and what you use. Price doesn’t necessarily have any effect on the results. You can spend as much as you want.”

Major players like Billabong have experts working full-time on window displays and will often contract outside firms to assist with construction.

Regular window rotation is also important. Most displays change out from between two weeks and two months. Regular rotation keeps the front of the store looking fresh and reduces the harmful UV effects of sunlight on both graphics and products, although many of the more sophisticated graphics are specially treated to resist UV damage.

Window content is split between lifestyle messages, such as graphics of models and teamriders, and actual product placement. Many successful displays are a combination of both. Deciding which approach will get more people in the store is based in part on the store’s location and the configuration of its windows. Sometimes choosing between a poster of Teahupo?o or a display of boardshorts can be a source of debate.

“Above all, you want something that’s going to stop somebody in their tracks when they see it,” says Scott Overland, sales rep for Etnies and Da Kine. “Obviously you want your brand name in there so that impression is made. It’s similar to flipping through a surf mag and stopping at an eye-catching ad. People get hit with a lot of visual stimuli, so you really have to present something killer in a way that’s never been seen before. Etnies does logo- and image-driven displays for name-brand recognition. We had a large image of Strider {Wasilewski} standing tall in a big Pipe pit that was pretty impressive.”

Early in its existence, Volcom utilized window displays as an inexpensive alternative to magazine ads to establish its image. “We learned that displays were an effective way for us to get our name and image out into the consumer’s face for an extended period,” explains Volcom VP Of Retail Marketing Tucker Hall.

But vendors should be careful not to go too esoteric with displays, lest their message gets confused or lost in the process. “I’ve seen some window displays where I had no idea what was being promoted, or by whom,” says Frederickson at Surf Ride. “I personally prefer to display product rather than lifestyle images — or at least have a blend of both. If people driving by see a nice poster of a wave in Hawai?i, they might not tell whether you’re a surf shop or a travel agency.”

A window display is only as good as the number of people who see it, so the location of a surf shop and the size and configuration of its windows are the driving factors in determining its design. For example, a shop located on a highway with little foot traffic would obviously benefit more from a large graphic of a Nixon teamrider and logo rather than a watch display.

“Our biggest store is on a pretty busy highway, so unless you’re stopped in traffic you don’t get to see the windows too well,” says Danko at Brave New World. “Big posters and graphics are better than, say, a blue shirt, because that shirt could have been made by anybody.”

Conversely, stores with major foot traffic — like Seventeenth Street Surf Shop in Virginia Beach, the Quiet Flight in Orlando’s City Walk, and the shops along Huntington Beach’s Main Street — have the luxury of promoting both images and products with good results.

Wyatt Simmons of Studio Concepts Custom Fabrication, a company that specializes in retail displays, says today’s trend is toward large graphic displays with “pop,” but Simmons doesn’t discount the value of inserting products as well: “Right before Christmas last year, O’Neill put bootie boxes in the window at Killer Dana as part of a holiday display. They ended up selling out of the booties {they’d ordered for} that whole year because they made good stocking stuffers.”

In that case, it was easy to quantify the impacts of the window display on sales, but usually it’s not that simple. There’s no tried-and-true formula for linking sales increases to window displays, but it’s a sure bet that a cluttered, poorly thought-out window display does more harm than good.

“A powerful window will give the front of the store life,” says Reef’s Florida rep Rick Zappone. “It will create a draw for customers. By constantly changing your windows, you’re constantly changing the look of your store, which will keep your repeat customers interested.”sales rep for Etnies and Da Kine. “Obviously you want your brand name in there so that impression is made. It’s similar to flipping through a surf mag and stopping at an eye-catching ad. People get hit with a lot of visual stimuli, so you really have to present something killer in a way that’s never been seen before. Etnies does logo- and image-driven displays for name-brand recognition. We had a large image of Strider {Wasilewski} standing tall in a big Pipe pit that was pretty impressive.”

Early in its existence, Volcom utilized window displays as an inexpensive alternative to magazine ads to establish its image. “We learned that displays were an effective way for us to get our name and image out into the consumer’s face for an extended period,” explains Volcom VP Of Retail Marketing Tucker Hall.

But vendors should be careful not to go too esoteric with displays, lest their message gets confused or lost in the process. “I’ve seen some window displays where I had no idea what was being promoted, or by whom,” says Frederickson at Surf Ride. “I personally prefer to display product rather than lifestyle images — or at least have a blend of both. If people driving by see a nice poster of a wave in Hawai?i, they might not tell whether you’re a surf shop or a travel agency.”

A window display is only as good as the number of people who see it, so the location of a surf shop and the size and configuration of its windows are the driving factors in determining its design. For example, a shop located on a highway with little foot traffic would obviously benefit more from a large graphic of a Nixon teamrider and logo rather than a watch display.

“Our biggest store is on a pretty busy highway, so unless you’re stopped in traffic you don’t get to see the windows too well,” says Danko at Brave New World. “Big posters and graphics are better than, say, a blue shirt, because that shirt could have been made by anybody.”

Conversely, stores with major foot traffic — like Seventeenth Street Surf Shop in Virginia Beach, the Quiet Flight in Orlando’s City Walk, and the shops along Huntington Beach’s Main Street — have the luxury of promoting both images and products with good results.

Wyatt Simmons of Studio Concepts Custom Fabrication, a company that specializes in retail displays, says today’s trend is toward large graphic displays with “pop,” but Simmons doesn’t discount the value of inserting products as well: “Right before Christmas last year, O’Neill put bootie boxes in the window at Killer Dana as part of a holiday display. They ended up selling out of the booties {they’d ordered for} that whole year because they made good stocking stuffers.”

In that case, it was easy to quantify the impacts of the window display on sales, but usually it’s not that simple. There’s no tried-and-true formula for linking sales increases to window displays, but it’s a sure bet that a cluttered, poorly thought-out window display does more harm than good.

“A powerful window will give the front of the store life,” says Reef’s Florida rep Rick Zappone. “It will create a draw for customers. By constantly changing your windows, you’re constantly changing the look of your store, which will keep your repeat customers interested.”