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Timing Is Everything
Timing Is Everything

How soon should you introduce your holiday store displays?

Holiday-related store displays can be a tricky business. Make the changeover too soon, and you risk alienating customers who don't like to be rushed into the next holiday. But wait too long, and you might be placing your store at a disadvantage to more festive competitors.

So how soon is too soon? Does it vary by holiday? And should the changeover come all at once, or more gradually, over time? Here's what the experts say.

Extend the changeover

Ullika Pankratz, president of UP Design Lounge, a visual design firm in Portland, Oregon, that specializes in merchandising design and store window displays, generally believes in introducing holiday-themed displays two or three weeks before the holiday, or a month at the most, but she says there's significant wiggle room.

And craft shop timetables can often be a bit more liberal, as customers use the merchandise on display to do their own holiday decorating.

"Let people get excited about what's going on in your store," says Pankrantz. "Feel free to start decorating a week or two before most retailers." She's a big believer in mingling seasonal designs and colors with holiday-specific displays, so there's always something new going on.

"It's a fast-paced world, and people like to see change," she says. "Change your window every month, especially if your store has significant foot traffic out front."

But that doesn't mean rushing from one holiday display to the next. Sometimes it's just a subtle change to a window or to a display table or other focal point that sets the scene toward a more dramatic change to come.

Ken Stolls, president of Brooklyn-based Global Visual Group, a world-leading visual merchandising company, also believes that a full display changeover should take place two to four weeks prior to the holiday. But he, too, makes exceptions.

"You're going to start sooner and keep displays up longer if you're a jewelry store preparing for Mother's Day," he says. He also believes in making the display changeover a subtle event, with seasonal displays gradually giving way to the holiday. "Layer in the change," he says. "In one week, maybe buy a seasonal colored backdrop for the windows. In week two, incorporate florals."

In following this strategy, you might have your store decorated in spring colors in May, but then two weeks before Mother's Day, you start adding elements that work seamlessly with your spring theme but that are specific to that upcoming holiday.

Stolls also cautions against being too eager to take down certain holiday displays. "People are still shopping the day after Christmas," he says. The reality is that few customers will be offended if your Valentine's Day displays go up a little early or stay around too long. It's the year-end flurry of holidays that carries the most emotional response from shoppers and pressure from competitors.

Pankrantz advises resisting the pressure to dress up your store for a new holiday for as long as possible. "Try to stay away from Christmas lighting until the day after Thanksgiving," she says. "Let's try to be at least a little bit traditional."

Sensory displays

A subtle changeover, or layering approach, has another advantage, says Pankrantz, in that it gives you more to report to your social media audience.

"Take photos and post your display on Twitter or Facebook or other social media," she says. "Instagram works great for me because I can take a photo and change the lighting in editing and it looks beautiful." Your social marketing should also invite customer feedback. Encourage customers to offer opinions on your decorating timing and style.

Pankrantz also believes in serving all of the senses — not just sight — with holiday displays. "Light seasonal candles or use plug-in diffusers and oils for a festive scent. Encourage touch and taste with the presence of lotions and chocolates or cider or something to eat or drink. And use holiday music, but be a little unusual," she says. "Stay away from the stereotypical and go with something a bit more obscure and interesting."

She adds that music can also be a welcome distraction in a small store where one solitary shopper might be alone with a store clerk, as music can help alleviate potential awkwardness.

The bottom line is that holiday display timetables can be a tricky thing to navigate, but craft stores are better off setting up a little early rather than waiting too long, as every display item has the potential of being a sale.

The rule of thumb is that a holiday is a perishable date, says Stolls, meaning that once it's over, the cash registers stop ringing on that particular holiday forever. So listen to your customers and have happy holidays throughout the year.

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