Merchandising Know-How: Is it time for a color change?

Take a look around your store. Is it time for a new paint job? If so, you have a lot of options to consider. However, working with color can be tricky. If you are going to stick with white, you may have fewer sleepless nights wondering what a fresh coat of paint in a not-so-basic color might mean for your sales.

Take a look around your store. Is it time for a new paint job? If so, you have a lot of options to consider. However, working with color can be tricky. If you are going to stick with white, you may have fewer sleepless nights wondering what a fresh coat of paint in a not-so-basic color might mean for your sales.

I say step out. Try a color you haven’t tried before. Take a risk. After all, it’s only paint. But, before you take that trip to the paint store, you need to know what image you want your store to project. Are you looking for calm and reassuring or adventurous and edgy?

Check out stores in your community to see what colors they utilize and how those colors make you feel. Starbucks green has become its signature, and it's used on everything from signage and cups to store interiors. It’s relaxing and comforting and persuades people to stay a while (the coffee helps, too). Red has become Target’s trademark color and no doubt about it, Target is a hot store. Home Dept is synonymous with orange — an active color that makes one want to get busy and build something. You can create your own trademark color, and you may already have it in your store logo. If so, utilize this color inside the store and build your brand.

Color has always been important because it can influence your mood, tell a story, promote a brand and make shoppers either slow down or speed up. Your store should offer a color palette that’s appealing to the eye and encouraging to the wallet. It must also support your price points and be in tune with your customer demographics. Big box discounters tend to paint their stores white and utilize bright lighting—a look that denotes "discount." But high-end stores use a softer color palette to match the price points of their inventory. Whatever you decide to use, products must be enhanced by the background colors you choose.

  •  Store fixtures in one color make it easier for the merchandise to stand out. Brightly colored products need a subtle background to be noticed whether they are on the wall or on a freestanding fixture.
  • Color can help differentiate departments and help guide customers through the store making it easier for them to shop. Adjacent product categories or departments can be distinguished by colors and textures that offer the best backdrop for the products. Colors can separate or join product categories.
  • Colors like green and blue recede, while red and yellow protrude. If your shop is a “railroad car” configuration —long and deep—consider using a color on the back wall that brings it forward.
  • As we found in our Retail IQ test (click here to read), the favored retail wall color is lavender because of its comforting qualities. It’s a surprising color to find in an outdoor or fitness store, but it might just get your customers' juices flowing. If lavender isn’t your cup of tea, find another color that will work for you.
  • Warm colors, such as yellow, orange, red and violet, are generally active and cheery. They tend to be somewhat informal and blend with products. Restrict them to small areas.
  • Cool colors, such as green and blue, are restful, soothing, receding and can be somewhat formal. When using them, team them with warm colors.

Neutral colors, including taupe, tan, ivory and gray, can be warm or cool. Background colors of warm neutrals are inviting and don’t go out of style. However, insert a splash of color to avoid them becoming a little too boring.

An easy way to do color research and get good ideas is to thumb through home decorating magazines. Don’t worry; you can hide them under brown paper covers. Another good resource is merchandising magazines like VM&SD (Visual Merchandising & Store Design) and DDI (Display & Design Ideas). You can find their email addresses in the Magazines section of the SNEWS® MerchandisingHUB. Go for it and have fun with color!

Sharon Leicham is the creator of The MerchandisingHUB, the author of "Merchandising Your Way to Success" and "How to Sell to Women" and is a regular columnist for SNEWS® writing on merchandising and marketing topics. You can access all of her columns by going to, where you will find tons of information targeted at the needs of the independent specialty retailer. You can email us with questions and comments at

For more retail training support and know-how, be sure to check out the SNEWS® Business 101 tools and stories, including our 10-part Retail Merchandising Training series produced by SNEWS®, including a useful online calculator for performing the most common retail merchandising calculations -- free to All Access Subscribers.


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