Visual Merchandising Tours: Outdoor Retailer Summer 2016

Outdoor Retailer is a feast for the eyes for anyone who wants a concentrated glimpse into what makes a brand jump off the page and come to life. This August I had the honor of leading the Visual Merchandising Tours on behalf of the show and the theme was: Storytelling. Engagement. Creating an Experience. Creating a following.

Each tour visited between 8-11 booths and ended with a Q&A session in the Retailer Lounge. After the final tour, a winner was chosen for a Visual Merchandising Assessment and the winner was Trailhead Paddle Shack! I’ll document our assessment journey in the coming months, so be sure to follow along.

The challenge at the show was making choices that presented a variety of styles and ideas so that participants would appreciate the value in being authentic and identify with the differing personality of brands. Not an easy task when at Outdoor Retailer, but a girls gotta do what a girls gotta do!

Where we stopped and why:


PopticalsThis brand is in love with lime green which is a great ‘pop’ color and one that gets attention and truth be told that was what first captured my eye. But then I was surprised by the enormous Razor on the aisle and a booth employee said, “I bet you want to take that for a ride,” to which I laughed. We began a conversation and I was provided an opportunity to learn more about the brand.

Takeaway: Consider a ‘lead in’ pop to surprise visitors and attract the attention of passer’s by. The Razor was there as a conversation starter, a tool to capture the attention along with the bright green. It worked. But beware: There is a downside, and that is that instead of attention being focused on your product, the attention might go to something you don’t sell. Surprises are wonderful attention getters, just be sure they make sense.



United by Blue: This stop was in celebration of the UBB brand evolution as well as their continued seamlessness in the visual merchandising and messaging of their story. United by Blue, committed to cleaning up our nation’s waterways continues to stay true to their story and their ‘why’ for being in business. The booth is the ‘outdoors indoors’ with signage that layers upon their clean-up story paired with products that support their mission. Mulch, grass, an abundance of plants and trees, all contribute to tell a story that communicates the love UBB has for the planet.

Takeaway: Know your mission and story and remain true to it, even as you grow. Include the outdoors in your indoor merchandising to help us ‘feel’ the story you are telling. Let our limbic brain get cozy with who you are so we can become fervent supporters.


Osprey: Packs can be unwieldy at best for a first time novice and usually they are arranged on a wall where it can be challenging to differentiate what pack will best meet the needs of the consumer. Things like suspension and ventilation are important attributes,  but when pack stories are told, the product becomes relatable to our individual experience.  Osprey’s shares their product attributes with simple language accompanied with one pack that can be easily explored. The creme de la creme is the reference to well-known local trails that makes the connection tangible and engaging.

Takeaway: Distill the messaging on your products and spotlight one or two or three to simplify the choices for your customers and provide them with a little information so that they can interact with your sales staff in a knowledgeable way. Add a local reference that defines how the product you chose might be used to simplify understanding and merchandise attributes.


Patagonia: A company that uses the words environmental and social responsibility and backs up their story with real life, tangible marketing and merchandising messaging. The Worn Wear mobile is Patagonia’s warranty policy on wheels. Combined with the messaging on the booth exterior wheels, their messaging is both bold and reflective of their brand story.

Takeaway: Don’t be half-assed or inauthentic. If your brand is built on a mission or foundation, be bold and let that story shine in everything from what message you provide on your walls to how you interact with consumers and demonstrate this mission in your actions. Empower your storytelling with story doing.


Gramicci: Digital technology is often used for providing product information, end use, technological education, etc., but in this case the screen invites us to join in a story of nostalgia. Grainy images reminiscent of a 16mm set to music while children plan with their father outside invokes emotion, a powerful tug at the limbic system of the consumer. The screen is surrounded by children’s product hung on a wall, the simple shorts many of us wore for our very first hike.

Takeaway:  Consider using technology to tell your story, or the story of your vision/mission and team without ‘selling.’ Let your shoppers engage on an emotional level with who you are and what matters to you.


Canada Goose: Canada Goose is known for luxury outerwear and their booth reflects this high end story. Product is shown in a curated style and allowed plenty of room to breathe in a minimalist style.

Takeaway: Give YOUR high-end merchandise room to breathe and make sure it isn’t stuffed on a fixture arm or shoved on to a shelve and covered in dust. Luxury or high end products require merchandising that reflects the price point.


NRS: This new booth takes some of the mystery out of paddling and especially dry bags for the novice water sports participant. Dry bags that are stuffed and placed on shelves so that customers can eye the difference in size versus being reliant on trying to visualize what size they need combined with letting color generate an invitation are great merchandising decisions for a category that can be unwieldy at retail. The only negative? NRS is 100% company owned and that cool company story is not shared.

Takeaway: Take merchandise out of the box or package and let your customers touch and feel it. And let your brand story be known!


Vibram: This booth exudes a fun vibe and playful invitation to come on in by using vibrant colors, a steep incline to test out the sticky soles and soles stuck to the walls which serve as art.

Takeaway: Provide a way to test your merchandise and have fun with product placement. Be unafraid to create a surprise (and a smile) especially if you are working with fun wares.


Sole: Games are a wonderful way to engage your shoppers in an experience with YOU. This cork wall allowed interaction with the cork story of Sole’s footwear in an engaging way. Marketing kudos also needs to go to Sole for all the messaging in the restrooms throughout Salt Palace about their brand. It would be impossible to leave OR without hearing about SOLE (unless you never used the restroom).

Takeaway: Have some fun with your customers–don’t be afraid to play a game. Events are the lifeblood of today’s retailers because events create experiences. Create an experience!


Yeti: If your story is “Built for the wild” then your merchandising should include a bit of the wild in it’s storytelling, yes? Yeti creates an exterior wall that looks like it could be the shed wall of a mountain cabin and even cooler, does a little cross-merchandising by showing merchandise they don’t sell to create a more authentic story and suggest uses for their coolers. A television screen mounted in the sawed off portion of an old truck bed adds to the wild detailing.

Takeaway: Tell a well-rounded story in your merchandising and consider partnering with other brands or retailers when you develop stories so you can help one another out and even better? Create community.


Timex: How do you layer your marketing and merchandising with simplicity? With the introduction of their Simplest GPS Watch Ever, Timex had some fun with their booth, choosing cardboard materials to tell the simplicity story. The cardboard is utilized in product packaging, wraps itself around brochures and was used to make tables, chairs, even the vase and flowers.

Takeaway: Let your story be told in the details you use! Do you have a sense of humor? Are you devoted to a particular hiking area? Find your bliss in the water? Want to get to know your customers? Identify and use details that support this story. Let your customers know who you are.

This is just a sample of the magic I shared with tour participants, stay tuned for more images in the next few months, and I hope you’ll join me at Outdoor Retailer Winter Market 2017 to get in on the fun (But be sure to sign up early, the tours were fully booked a few weeks before the show!)


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