As ran in The Fruit Growers News and The Vegetable Growers News – January 2004
Sue Kirby interview by Greg Brown, Associate Editor

Rather than lining the jams and jellies up in two straight rows, be creative, and look at you display area with a whimsical perspective. Then, make a great display for your individual products and be prepared to sell the whole display. That is that message of Sue Kirby-Wisehart.

Kirby-Wisehart is a consultant who advises retail outlets on display design and speaks at retail trade shows across the country. Recently, at The Denver Merchandise Mart, she told display designers to remember that everything is for sale, so have a price in mind for the whole display.

Her first gift store had the distinction of starting out undercapitalized in a horrible location in Los Angeles, she said. With little to work with for fixtures, she began trolling nice neighborhoods on garbage day for reusable display features.

“We had a horrible location in an industrial park in the 1980s,” she said. “But we brought people in on their lunches and they were taken with our whimsical displays and customer service. They told their friends.”

Kirby-Wisehart said she remembers one holiday display featuring life size reindeer rescued from the garbage heap, strewn with Christmas wreath around their necks that one customer bought outright. The display was meant to move more wreaths.
“This lady asked me ‘how much are the deer?’ And, I said, ‘the wreaths are $25.’ The lady said ‘good for you – but that’s not what I asked.’”
Kirby-Wisehart said something clicked in her head and she threw out a price of $250 each for the two trash-rescued reindeer that had been spray painted and decked out in wreaths.
“Without batting an eye, the lady said, ‘I’ll take them. Can you deliver them?’”

From that point on, the store philosophy was everything is for sale.
Ag marketers should be open to the same idea, she said. Whether they are selling flowers or fruit, marketers should consider how the customer is going to display their purchase in their home. Consider the fact that the customer might just want some color on their table and fruit is colorful.” Today the flowers and plants are so popular. The customer wants the natural products and are willing to pay for it.”

Partner for display
If you don’t have what you want to display in, look for someone who does, said Kirby-Wisehart. Bring in a pie safe from a local antique store, or put the scarecrow in grandma’s rocking chair. “Put $2,000 on the heirloom, but don’t put not for sale,” said Kirby-Wisehart.

“You can borrow stuff from nurseries, antique store and junk stores. They’ll be happy for the cross promotion and soon you’ll be known for doing something that nobody else can do,” she said. “There was a great magic that happened when we started to look serious to people. We got the customer excited. Today I say, you better warm their heart or tickle their funny bone with your displays.

Kirby-Wisehart’s store brought in an outdoor ivy arch that created a center of attention and hung products on the arch. “We created a feeling. And everything looked better around that arch.” “If you are not the creative type, empower your employees to do it,” she said. “It became such a game that employees would come in for fun and work off the clock to design the best display. “She said she got to the point that she would bring stuff into the store, not knowing what it was going to do for a display. She even began to get excited about the twigs that blew down from the trees overnight and the pine cones stolen from under the neighbors pine tree. “Even try setting up displays for Christmas card pictures or other seasonal displays. And keep trying to look at things from a different perspective. Spray paint does wonders,” said Kirby-Wisehart. “Just play with display and people will be amazed. “

Sue's tips for display:

  1. Have a theme in mind. Holiday, animal or mineral – a theme helps get creative juices going.
  2. Use a birdbath inside. When you move things from their normal surrounding they can be very interesting.
  3. Become a destination for your entertaining displays. People want to be entertained, even when they are shopping.
  4. Look at things differently. Use broken chairs, and other cast off items to create a display focus.