You would never guess that the young Frenchman on the right in this booth at the New York Gift Fair is fluent in Japanese, but then you also wouldn’t guess that the French pastries they are selling are actually made up of washcloths and hand towels. The fabrics are cleverly folded to resemble cakes and tortes, and then packaged and displayed in a way that fools the eye.

Customers find this touch of the unexpected amusing, and in these trying times we all need to be amused. That is why we carry windup sushi, gold fish pencil sharpeners, crocodile staple removers and parrot bottle openers in our shop — in addition to these clever Japanese “pastries.” It is worth it just to see our customers smile. As an added bonus, they enjoy giving these witty items as gifts because the recipient thinks the giver is clever.

By the way, in a surprisingly international touch, this Japanese line of French pastries has an all-American name: Prairie Dog. I certainly didn’t expect that!

Window displays are also a wonderful opportunity to deliver the enexpected. One of our former employees glued wings on to display loaves of French bread and hung them from fishline for a baking window. And in New York, I saw two clever windows by Louis Vuitton. The first showed a full-size knight in armor carrying (unexpectly) one of their women’s handbags. The other, which was quite an elaborate setup, had a plexiglass showcase in the center, cordoned off by velvet roping. A bank of realistic security cameras were all aimed at the showcase, which had the name of one of their signature handbags on a showcard. Unusual enough — but the unexpected element came in the fact that the plexiglass showcase had been smashed, and stood empty except for the showcard. Realistic shards of plastic littered the floor around the scene of the “crime.”

What can you do to surprise your customers? Getting them to do a double take, and to talk about your merchandise or displays, is well worth the effort. Try brainstorming with your staff to see if you can take a fresh approach to something in your store today.

Happy Retailing,

Carol “Orange” Schroeder