By Amy Meadows

Boost Sales through Storytelling

In the ever-evolving retail culture, “storytelling” has taken on an increasingly critical role. While it might not be recounting tales in a way we associate with bedtime or our book club, there’s no debating the importance of storytelling to today’s shopper. The customer wants to know more than just what you’re selling. They want to know why you’re selling it. They’re thinking, Please take me beyond the product and the packaging. Let me in on insider information, tell me about your mission, and I’ll be that much more excited about shopping with you!

Storytelling builds loyalty and drives sales. Be strategic and watch your customers respond enthusiastically. As always, your visual merchandising choices are important.

On a recent trip to Richmond, Virginia, I was delighted to discover that the iconic department store Miller & Rhoads had become a hotel and luxury residence tower. This museum case in the lobby showed vintage merchandise and advertising, as well as a detailed glimpse into the building’s history. The corner window had become an elegant dining spot, and I enjoyed my memories of having worked for Miller & Rhoads in the early days of my career in department store display design.
Vintage signage, ghost murals, and other history-rich elements tell their own stories. For example, Lagomarcino’s in Moline, Illinois, is a must-visit confectionery. Family-owned since 1908, the exterior signage gives us a hint of the tradition (and treats) that await us inside.

Tell Me About Your Store

Successful businesses don’t just randomly spring up. Launching a retail endeavor requires passion, dedication, and planning. Your store’s name alone is an opportunity to share a little history or personality. Think about what other things your customers may want to know about your store, such as if it’s a family business and how long you’ve been in the building or neighborhood.

Tempted to update that vintage neon sign? Think twice! In historic neighborhoods and shopping districts, distinctive store­fronts and nostalgic neon signs set the stage for adaptive reuse, trendy hotels, and quirky event venues. Even former places of worship that are now condominiums, arts centers, and brew pubs benefit from historic references. Go beyond the National Register of Historic Places plaque and seek engaging ways to share stories with and show memorabilia to your visitors. Make certain that newer, younger employees understand this backstory and appre­ciate the importance to both residents and tourists alike.

Tell Me About Your Merchandise and the Artisans

Studies show that most nones­sential purchases we make are “souvenirs.” In essence, they come from a desire to maintain the memory of a special experience. I know that many of the gifts I buy for myself and others are purchased because I love learning about the artisan or the designer.

Did I really need any of the items I purchased during my trip East last week? Of course not. But they looked so lovely in the window and inside the store I had no choice, right? I really, really wanted those decorative accessories. Every time I fill that vase or light that candle, I’m reminded of a wonderful visit and an exciting discovery. Storytelling is even more important if you operate occasional pop-ups or introduce newer artists within a more established inventory.

Coffee shops and bookstores have long nurtured emerging artists and hosted revolving gallery exhibits, in the interest of
“shopping local.”

Make Me Laugh

Fishs Eddy’s brand includes catchy, clever display “headlines” in the store and in the windows. The store’s sly humor continues with easy-to-grab cards at checkout, inviting me to take my interest in, and affection for, their business online. More importantly, these clever collateral items allow me to share the story with others. How many times have you returned from an adventure, such as a vacation or a trade show, eager to share your discoveries? Whether buried treasure or fabulous finds for your home or store, start spreading the news!

A pun. An interesting piece of trivia. For me, clever wins the day
— and the sale — every time.
ABC Carpet and Home in New York City uses its windows to feature the five elements: earth, water, fire, air, and space. The displays featured exquisite, one-of-a-kind merchandise as well as mundane, prosaic items like nuts and bolts. These stories remind me that beauty — and inspiration — are everywhere.

Tell Me Where My Money Goes

“When given the choice between two similar brands or prod­ucts, 71% of consumers will purchase from a purpose-driven company over the alternative. Nearly 80% of consumers are more likely to remember a company with a strong purpose and 4.5 times more likely to recommend it to friends and family,” wrote Blake Morgan on (

While you might recognize the acronym BOGO as “Buy One, Get One,” it can also mean “Buy One, Give One.” TOMS and Warby Parker were among the first brands to leverage customer loyalty and altruism beyond the cash register, providing duplicate items (shoes, eyewear) to groups in need.

Philanthropy on that scale isn’t an option (or expectation) for independent retailers, but there are ways to alert your shoppers to some “feel good, do good” opportunities with local artists, indigenous groups, eco-friendly products, etc. Just as the Forbes quote indicates, I’m far more likely to purchase one brand over another if I believe my money will go further or benefit efforts/ activities that are important to me.

Launched by the Vera Bradley company, goodMRKT “is a community of makers and creators who confront the challenges of the world and dare to make a difference. It is the foundation of a new movement where products have a purpose, giving back is a given, and passionate entrepreneurs build a better future with the “‘goods that do good.’”

With a permanent location in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and short-term appearances in SoHo and other neighborhoods throughout the country, goodMRKT carefully curates its vendors, and that attention is noticeable in its visual merchandis­ing approaches — clean, simple fixturing and recyclable signage materials.

Today’s shoppers want more than just impersonal transactions. They want to engage with the product’s story, its maker, and the business that’s selling it. They want to see their money being put to good use, by aligning with stores that share their common interests and values. That’s one of the reasons so many people are turning away from chain stores to experience and enjoy the personal feel of a mom-and-pop shop. So be sure to take every opportunity to make your stories come alive and create a loyal customer following.

While the goodMRKT set-up shown is at a recent Retail Innovation event versus the brick-and-mortar locations, a quick chat with their VM director confirmed a consistent approach across sites. Pro tip: We also shared stories of finding great deals on tables, risers, and more at World Market. Put that on your list!

Have an interesting display to share? Or a question about visual merchandising strategies for your business or your district? Visit for more information.