Q&A With Stonewall Kitchen’s Visual Merchandising Team

From product development and packaging our products to merchandising displays, quality is our primary focus in everything we do. If you’ve ever had the chance to visit one of our ten retail locations, located along the East Coast and as far down as Washington DC, you’ve been immersed in all of the above. Our retail stores and catalogs are one of our strongest marketing vehicles that allow us tell a story with our products and our brand, which goes well beyond just food. Back in 2013, our headquarters underwent an expansion and a new merchandise center was built for the creation of themes for our visual displays. Since then it has given our Merchandising team a dedicated work space to bring their stories and inspirations to life.

A blend of visual merchandisers, buyers and planners, our team meets regularly to consistently “wow” our retail guests with their newest creations and finds. We sat down with three of our visual merchandisers to get the inside scoop on how they do it. Check out the step by step photos at the end to see how our Thanksgiving Prep table story came to life!

Q: When creating table stories, where do you start? How do you come up with that initial idea to get going?

A: Our visual and buying teams meet weekly to whiteboard story sets. We work on ten stories each quarter. These stories are driven by new products, past year performances, Hallmark holidays and the like. Our stories are always heavily driven by our food products and then complemented by what we call “hard goods,” or the dinnerware, linens and gadgets that you’ll find merchandised alongside our food products. Out of those ten stories, three or four are the dominant stories that are always merchandised on large table sets. In our larger stores, they are the focal point when you walk in and we tend to focus on those more so initially.

We’ll get our whole group together and everyone tackles a story and gets the food products on the tables in our merchandise center. Hard goods will trickle in as we receive samples and things start to slowly evolve. It’s like an onion and you have layer after layer on each table. From start to finish, this usually takes about five weeks or so. All while physical story sets are happening throughout the stores.

Q: Where do you find inspiration to help keep our visual merchandising fresh and exciting?

A: Visiting various trade shows and taking notes from other store sets is always helpful. It is key to always have your finger on the pulse of trends out there, even if it’s just seeing what’s in a showroom or seeing what other people are buying at any type of trade forum. Our new visual team has also helped to freshen up our ideas. Our team is very creative and we all find inspiration from different areas – whether it’s from nature or seeing a vintage tablecloth pattern at a Flea Market and loving it so much that we make a tea towel out of the design.

Q: How do you balance the visual display while also making a table story approachable and shopable for our guests?

A: It really is an art form. As designers, we know the basic principles of design: balance, proportion, rhythm, emphasis and unity. Instinctively, we know how to structure a story and apply our experience to the quantity and placement of our food product, where to mix in just the right balance of hard goods and how to compose a visual prop. It is no different than creating and executing a wonderful recipe – by careful planning and preparation to presentation! By the time a floor set or season change occurs, building these stories is second nature as it’s been refined in our merchandise center nearly to the point of completion. The real magic happens once we are setting the actual themed story in our York store where you can stretch your design muscles a bit and apply your design experience by collecting products together that will help our guests find the products they need and offer them opportunities to also discover new food products and new ways to serve or prepare them. The art form is in the ability to tell a merchandise story visually, one that is enjoyable, exciting and inspiring for our guests.

Q: Our Fall story sets are so fun this year! From larger than life paper lanterns to a product filled wooden wagon and a dramatic stack of crates themed with Thanksgiving prep items, what inspired you to use some of the fall elements that you used this year?

A: Our Thanksgiving Prep story started as the idea of a “butler’s pantry” and a central location that someone could go for everything they could possibly need to create their meal. We started stacking crates and the more we played around with them, the more it started to resemble an actual pantry. All the food products on one level on a “shelf,” re-purposed antique “trays” in the form of drawers with apothecary jars of product inside. To make it shopable, the stack of crates aren’t pushed all the way to the back of the table so guests can still comfortably reach in.

Our awesome Fall Harvest wagon filled with pumpkin products was a prop we found in our warehouse and then gave a facelift with some paint and our rice paper lanterns averaged out at $2.96 per lantern and make such a statement! Good design doesn’t have to be expensive. The key is the composition and installation. It takes a lot of time and patience and tweaking to make sure everything looks just right but the reward of seeing it all put together is wonderful. So far the best part of these sets has been the impact from our guests when they visit us and the reaction. We love to hear them talk about the tables when we’re on the sales floor. It’s the real proof in the pudding when you can hear them get excited about shopping and they want to recreate something similar at home.

Q: While you have a heavy presence in our York Company Store, how do you convey your vision to the rest of our retail locations to recreate in their store?

A: Through directives and photography, it all comes together. We have so many good visual leads in our stores and they know our products so well. When most of our team first started, they taught us. We provide them with all their materials and detailed descriptions to help them understand our vision and we walk through each store post-story to see it all together. All of our stores are so different and keeping that in mind is so important – what we sell in one store might not work in another location because that store isn’t in a coastal town. There are a lot of phone calls, a lot of checking in and a lot of planning.

Check out this behind the scenes look at our table story installation night that look place earlier this fall in our York Company Store after hours!

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Securing the crates for a stable “pantry.”

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Crates are secured… time to make it beautiful!

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Product starts to fill the crates. It was important to our visual team to keep the product all on one level, similar to how you might find it in a pantry.

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Drawers are added for cooking utensils.

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Finished product! Everything you need for a Thanksgiving dinner.

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Our spooky Halloween table story, complete with the larger than life rice paper lanterns!

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The fun wagon that was found in our warehouse that got some fresh paint and made an excellent vessel for our fall products!

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