by Courtney Llewellyn

If you’ve ever worked a retail job, whether that was a grocery store or in the local mall, you know how important visual merchandising can be. Humans are visual creatures, and they respond strongly to certain cues. You can learn to take advantage of that, even in your nursery or farm stand.

Joe Baer, the CEO of Zengenius, a creative agency focused on visual merchandising, talked about some of the key principles of this practice during a NAFDMA webinar earlier this year. “We love to shop and that’s what we like to celebrate through visual merchandising,” he said. “The whole goal is to elevate the perceived value of your products.”

Visual merchandising influences everything a customer can see, including signs and graphics and even what’s in the parking lot. It’s paying attention to your brand and the image you want to create, Baer explained. It’s also what’s inside your store, including the experience in the entrance – that critical first impression.

“The customer is trying to assess the layout and flow of your farm market; you’re trying to lead them,” he said. “It’s about creating the best shopping experience that you can. You want to inspire your customers.” And you can do that with great product presentations, visually enticing displays, ease of shopping and even storytelling.

To do that, use basic art and design principles: proportion, scale, patterns, balance, contrast, harmony, emphasis and variety. Balance can come from the proper placing of fixtures or graphics. Symmetry can sometimes be a part of creating that balance. Mirroring things can create comfort. Use these principles to create a rhythm to your shop, whether it’s a shed at the side of the road or an entire greenhouse.

Another important aspect is lighting, of which there are three levels. Primary lighting is the overall light in a space; secondary lighting includes spotlights – additional lighting that allows you to call focus to something; and backlighting is used simply for accents (rope lights, for example). Make sure you and your team learn how to direct and properly aim lights for the best displays.

“Color creates impact. It’s such a great tool for visual merchandising,” Baer said. He noted the historical ways color has affected emotional responses. Blues and greens can be more calming. Red is a notorious retail color because of its energy. Yellow draws attention in and generates warmth. Orange is friendly, exhilarating and vibrant. He suggested using color charts to help you lay out your goods in the most aesthetically pleasing way possible.

Where you place what matters too. With vertical merchandising, using tall shelving fixtures or walls creates strong vertical rows of product from top to bottom. Baer said it’s a great way to organize product and make it easy for customers to easily look and see what their options are. Horizontal merchandising should run left to right. This allows customers to look at your inventory easily. Pyramids create a focal point to draw customers in. Or you can place things in blocking – it’s all about how you mix it up and arrange it to create a more interesting display.

Humans also like consistency and repetition. If possible, set up similar tables or fixtures in the same way. Always place your signage on one particular side. Keep the same set up from one farmers market to the next.

It may also help to research the different visual merchandising techniques (Baer noted YouTube is a great resource for this). In boutique merchandising, you’re combining products with textures, and the store is more open and free with how you’re combining elements together. Cross merchandising focuses on the main product that’s impacting your business, but asks what are two or three products a customer might want to pair with it. It might encourage them to purchase additional items.

Impulse merchandising is a very important technique, especially in checkout process – think of single candies, honey straws, cookies, cut flowers or bulbs of garlic. “Impulse merchandising is often the last chance to add to the sale before the customer pays,” Baer said. “At a market where you may have a smaller area you might offer just one or two items.”

And sensory merchandising is how you can really engage customers in the shopping experience by connecting to their senses and triggering emotional responses. “We buy products to fulfill a need or desire or want,” Baer noted. Take advantage of the senses with good visuals, good smells, possibly music, the sense of taste (with samples) and allowing people to touch and hold products.

“Another sense I don’t want you to forget about is the sense of humor and how it’s important to both the human experience and the shopping experience,” Baer said. “Look for ways to incorporate a sense of whimsy and a sense of humor in your store or displays.”

Ultimately, merchandising is neuro-marketing – it’s trying to figure out what’s going on inside customers’ brains when they’re shopping. The three key steps to remember, according to Baer, are offer a pleasant shopping environment, engage the senses with innovative ideas and link positive memories to your market.