Gift Shop Plus Fall 2023
Q&A with Michelle Sherrier: Seasoned merchandiser films crash course for retailers By Julie McCallum

After spending decades in the retail industry, Michelle Sherrier has seen and done it all.

A seasoned merchandiser and buyer in the gift and apparel space, Sherrier is sharing her expertise with retailers through her newly formed MC Design Academy. Available for free on YouTube, the instructional videos are filmed in real stores with real merchandise to give retailers accurate examples of challenges faced when setting up displays and merchandising inventory.

“MC Design Academy is designed to be a space where I get to share my expertise with you, where you’ll get to learn all about visual merchandising, design, display, retail and more,” Sherrier said.

Gift Shop® Plus recently connected with Sherrier to learn more about her new endeavor.

WHAT IS THE BIGGEST MISTAKE RETAILERS MAKE WHEN CREATING DISPLAYS IN THEIR STORES?

Michelle Sherrier: Not having a clear idea of the display or concept. I have seen where a display starts out strong with new receipts and a strong theme, and then they start adding stuff from last year — one of this and a few of that — and suddenly, it’s a garage sale.

My suggestion is to put your merchandising days on a calendar along with where this display is going to end up, and create a visual board. Make sure to include everything from large-scale display pieces that you plan on using, any greens or foliage, and then start to add items purchased for this concept. Look at it on paper first. Does it look cohesive? Is it enough or too much product for the space? If it looks weak in regards to the product, start to shop your store. Add that to the board.

Now look at what you have left from last year. Are there a lot of items with only one or two pieces in each style? If so, put those to the side. Add in everything that has four or more items in each style. Broken and old inventory will kill a strong story. I am not saying not to use those items; I am saying use them at the cash wrap or create a smaller statement somewhere else in the store that is not your focal, beautiful new display.

HOW CAN MC DESIGN ACADEMY VIDEOS HELP RETAILERS?

Sherrier: When we started talking about creating this content for MC Design Academy, it was all based on looking at the market and realizing there aren’t a lot of “how-to” merchandising videos out there. I was getting so many direct messages (DMs) from retailers wanting to know what books to read, what podcasts to listen to, videos to watch, etc. Retailers are starved for this information, especially the retailers that are doing their own merchandising and struggling with things like holiday transitions, what to do with leftover merchandise, how to tell a strong story or how to build up your architecture on a table display.

So, the idea was born to create content that we would film on an actual retailer’s floor, with real amounts of inventory and real challenges that everyone faces. It is all filmed off the cuff — nothing is “pre-set.” I am literally setting my client’s space up and talking the retailer through it as I am doing it. It is real inventory and real challenges of merchandise not fitting, along with figuring out what to bin, how to cross merchandise and what to do with the random stuff that you have from last year.

WHERE CAN RETAILERS FIND A VISUAL MERCHANDISER TO WORK WITH?

Sherrier: I have been asked this a lot. It seems like finding a merchandiser is like finding a unicorn in some areas of the country. It’s like a secret society. I suggest to people to search Instagram with hashtags like #merchandiser #retailmerchandisier #visualmerchandiser #storemerchandiser #storedesigner. Make sure that you add your city to the beginning of the hashtag.

WHERE DO YOU FIND DISPLAY INSPIRATION?

Sherrier: This is my favorite question I ask our guests on the podcast! Back in my days of Anthropologie, we had a mandatory day
a month where we had to go out of our stores and get inspired — museums, shopping other retailers, etc. I am old school — magazines, international fashion and home magazines, food magazines (a great way to get ideas for flatlays like jewelry and tabletop items), even some crafting magazines.

Pinterest always has amazing inspiration. Before my show season setups, I will look for everything from window display items (hint: a lot come from kids’ party posts) to tablescapes for fall or holiday. I could spend hours going down the rabbit hole, but it’s always worth it.

TELL US ABOUT THE WORK YOU ARE DOING WITH SHOWROOMS? WHAT ARE THE TAKEAWAYS RETAILERS CAN GLEAN FROM MARKET SHOWROOMS?

Sherrier: Wholesale showrooms, much like retailers, change each season. Wholesalers want the retailer to be excited and inspired when they come to market. Retailers are visual, and if you see a display that you love, you are drawn to it. My job is twofold: 1) to create displays that are easy to shop and sell from, and to make sure we are showcasing the new rollouts and 2) to create displays that storytell and draw the retailer in. It is always my goal to “one up” myself visually each show and, hopefully, each show the retailers walk away with pictures on their phones, wanting to recreate it on some level in their store.

I think retailers have their heads on swivels at shows, always looking for new products while racing from one appointment to another. Ideally, they are also taking the time to look at not only the big displays that catch your eyes but also the smaller details like how they show jewelry, personal care items or apparel. It’s challenging though; it means slowing down and really looking at everything, and that can be a challenge, especially if you are only at the show for two days.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE PART OF MERCHANDISING?

Sherrier: Change! My favorite phrase is “change is good.” I used to move my room around as a kid — like once a week. The bed would move, the dresser, lamps, stuffed animals, stuff on the shelves — everything. It’s not a surprise that this is what I do for a living. I also love to see the same item that we have shown several times morph into a completely different feel just by how and what we cross-merchandise it with. Example: Voluspa is merchandised with gold holiday ornaments and gold candleholders, giving it a very “royal” holiday feeling, and then changing it up for spring and showing it with crystals in the same colorways like ambers and purples to give it a warmer almost organic feeling. This, by the way, is one of the lessons on the YouTube channel. The reinventing of product each time is one of my favorite things; the excitement I get when it looks totally different is always my favorite. Then, to hear from my client that the product sold out or the customer’s reaction is the icing on the cake.

ARE THERE DESIGN TRENDS RETAILERS SHOULD PAY ATTENTION TO?

Sherrier: Well, that mushroom trend is not going anywhere. I love it shown like a botanist — neutral with small, organic details like ferns or moss. I love the non- traditional colors this holiday! Creative Co-Op showed mustards, burnt reds and oranges, and deep forest greens. Zodax showed a lot of these colors as well, and my favorite trend was the paper “folded” trees and ornaments. BeHome did phenomenal oversized trees in these colors. I love to cherry-pick lines to create concepts, so it was fantastic to see how all of these lines work so beautifully well together.

Julie McCallum

Julie McCallum is publisher of Gift Shop Magazine. She is formerly the editor-in-chief of the publication, as well as editor of Museums & More, and she has more than 25 years experience in publishing.




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