Accentuate Retail Sales with Accent Furniture

By Carolyn Evans, Staples® Contributing Writer

Last December, my friend walked into a gift store, looked at the festive tree in the center of the store, and handed the clerk her credit card. “I’ll take it,” she said. “The tree, the lights, the decorations — I’ll take it all.” And she did, though the store was challenged to price the tree and lights since they had been using those same ones for years.

You may never experience a grand-slam, hole-in-one sale like that storeowner did. But the lesson learned here isn’t in the size of the sale, it’s in how the store created an atmosphere that made such a distinct impression on this customer. As a retailer, you’re selling more than products — you’re selling the lifestyle that goes with those products.

Sound like a tall order? It isn’t! One super-easy trick is including accent furniture to create vignettes, like the festive tree setup, or to use as store décor. We reached out to successful storeowners and designers to create a five-item checklist you can use to incorporate accent furniture pieces into your store’s design.

1. Make a Great First Impression

“Accent furniture creates an inviting atmosphere,” says Judy Miller, co-owner of Monkees of Columbia, a women’s clothing boutique in Columbia, SC. “When a customer walks in the door, we want to make them feel like we’re welcoming them into our home.” Miller leans toward pieces she would actually use in her own home, favoring comfortable arm or side chairs covered in fresh, bright fabrics. Her own favorite setup? Two pedestal side tables with a glass top resting across the two of them to create a large display surface for merchandise.

Pay close attention to the first thing customers see when they walk in your door. “Always have a table that greets the incoming store traffic,” says Rachel Blindauer, ASID and retail designer from San Francisco. This is ground zero for your best merchandise — that hot new product no other store in town has, or those seasonal items that have a limited shelf life. “Make it a ‘wow’ moment, and ensure it is just as eye-catching as the windows. The table should encourage touching the products.”

2. Connect with Customers

Create a setting that helps customers envision the product in their homes. It’s called visual merchandising, and it’s a surefire way to get folks to feel like they simply can’t leave your store without that special something. “Accent furniture is one of the best ways to do that,” says Jane Carter-Getz, owner of Belle Cose, a gift store in Jackson, WY. “When [customers] see something that’s familiar to them or reflects an atmosphere they want to create, it helps make a sale.” Set a table to display tabletop wares such as glasses and china. A tray of costume jewelry strategically placed on an ottoman can feel decadent in a clothing boutique.

And don’t worry if things aren’t perfectly tidy. “There have been studies that show that if products are not perfectly organized, the store sells more,” says Blindauer. “If the store is too sterile and perfect, people don’t want to pick things up to look at them and buy. Comfortable spaces that highlight great product just work better.”

3. Come Sit a Spell

Encourage people to stay in your store by setting up a comfortable seating area that’s easily accessible. “A lot of ladies bring their boyfriends and husbands shopping with them,” says Miller. To make these fellows feel more at home in a women’s store, she created a men’s space complete with comfortable dark blue upholstered pieces and a television.

4. Make It Functional

Create the illusion of light and space, without overcrowding. Small accent tables don’t take up much space, and they’re multifunctional and easy to move. Only have room for one piece to serve as storage, a sitting area and display table? Consider a multi-tasker like an upholstered ottoman or storage bench. “Make sure you use fabrics rated to wear well and resist stains,” advises Miller.

Carter-Gertz relies on decorative mirrors to manage the traffic flow in her store. “Mirrors slow people down — they stop to take a look at themselves in the mirror, so they’re not rushing past the merchandise.”

5. Remember Who You Are

Accent furniture should stay true to your store’s brand and the feeling you want to create. “Your store should be able to tell a story without you opening your mouth,” says Blindauer. “The store experience should communicate to your customers who you are, what you do and your general mission statement.”

You don’t have to spend a fortune to create a fabulous look. The price of the furniture won’t affect the store sales — clever design will.

Carolyn Evans has a long-running passion for innovative products, great design and interior decorating, and is a believer in retail therapy. After a session reading insightful cocktail napkins, she decided to leverage her experience with start-up companies and financial institutions to build a career as a retail consultant for independent stores and young gift and apparel manufacturers across the Southeast. Carolyn resides in Chapin, SC. Connect with her on Google+.

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