I’ve been charmed by this vintage postcard, which shows Lobster King Harry Hackney with his Lobster Waitresses in their prize-winning costumes for the Atlantic City Beauty Pageant Parade, ever since I wrote about using contests for window inspiration back in 2008.  As I said at the time, you can imagine the buzz in the kitchen as word got out to Harry’s staff that they were going to compete dressed as lobsters.  But they certainly look happy that they won!

Never underestimate the power of a contest to get your staff excited.  Although we pride ourselves on always having creative window displays, we find that a contest does wonders for getting our employees to think outside the box. It’s been some time since there has been one that we’re eligible to enter, but many communities such as Enid, Oklahoma use the idea effectively to build holiday spirit in their town. It’s not too soon to start planning competition for Halloween or Christmas in your shopping district.

Display contest are sometimes also sponsored by vendors or trade organizations. From time to time one of our suppliers has created a contest, and if we win we always share the prize with those who did the creative work. Here’s a great example: you might not think that potatoes would be serve as a great inspiration for displays, but the Idaho Potato Commission has been running a contest for 30 years. I love the one with Idaho spelled out in spuds! 

Local arts groups can get retail stores involved in promoting their programs through visual merchandising contests. One year Jazz at Five, a local outdoor music series, invited us to do a window for their competition on the theme of “Improvisation.” It was a perfect way to get lots of exposure for their concerts, and to involve retailers in their efforts to bring visitors to our downtown area.

If you are part of a neighborhood shopping district, why not create a little retail excitement by hosting a window display contest of your own? You could either have the shopkeepers themselves do the windows, or invite guest artists. Ask the public to vote for their favorite, either in person or online.  Your staff will undoubtedly rise to the occasion  – and they’ll be grateful that they don’t have to dress like lobsters.

Happy retailing, 

Carol “Orange” Schroeder